doug tennapel artist

Artists Be Vulnerable, But Guard Your Heart

It’s easy to be a jaded artist. It’s easy to be a distant artist. I resent the claim that those of us who are not jaded somehow had it easy in becoming not jaded. I find it difficult to show sentiment and vulnerability, especially when today’s open media finds people who love to use vulnerability as an excuse to stomp on others.

My stories are very emotive and they come from a real place. These aren’t situations I’m making up, they reflect real life occurrences that inform my plot and character. There is a safer way to tell stories that guarantee I won’t be hurt by my audience and that would be to act distant and refuse to interact with them, or to only pursue content that everyone will approve of. I hate safe content more than anything, because it’s the ultimate insult to the artist to tow the line of culture instead of reform or inspire it. 

I can even come up with a story that looks like I have outrage on a subject but I know it’s the correct subject to show outrage about, so it’s really just another form of safe cliche that bores me.

The artist has to dig deep, shedding culture like a bathrobe before diving into the pool of soaring ideals. These are the dangerous stories. The most terrifying thing one can tell a jaded kid isn’t that life is horrible, but that there is a real, reasonable hope and glory that can be known and embraced. I laugh at the local art shows that depict the usual blood bath of political commentary, porn, shock value and nihilism. Snore. Gee, I didn’t know that life was difficult. Thanks for the enlightenment.

But just because my heart is on display, it doesn’t mean that I leave the gates open wide. There are monsters and bigots that shouldn’t be trusted with your craft. Not everyone’s opinion is informed by wisdom, clarity or even a 4th grade reading level. In my early 20s I read this scripture that changed my art life forever:

Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

This is where I part ways with the existentialists because they display their heart but leave it unguarded. There are the general rules I’ve established in guarding my heart regarding public vulnerability. The best one is that it’s never better to withdraw just to avoid criticism. Be publicly happy, sentimental, and lavish praise on the good, because haters shouldn’t be given control of anything.

The only criticisms that can really hurt me are true ones. The truth often hurts, and it ought to! In fact, most lies are constructed and entertained to avoid hurting people with the truth. So here’s to sentiment, vulnerability, and soaring jolliness in the face of the critics! Man, I’m ready for a pipe.