Below is an excerpt from a newsletter written by a Canadian plein air painter – Robert Genn. He writes two letters a week and sends it to a vast subscriber list, among them a friend of mine who is a plein air painter and lives in California. She finds people who talk constantly about their art in progress with me-me-me syndrome very annoying, and she found this letter right on topic. It also introduced me to a new concept: humblebragging.
“Now that everyone’s blabbing, tweeting and Facebooking minor and major glories, there’s a new way to deliver your stuff. It’s called humblebragging. This is where you lace your accomplishments with enough humility to get your stuff across and yet soften the blow to others. After all, it’s not nice to let people think your life is better than theirs. ‘That crummy painting I struggled with and almost threw out got sold to Lindsay Lohan.’ You get the idea?”
As an artist, Genn doesn’t believe in any of this stuff. He’s worried about what bragging does to art learning and art quality.
“This is just another reason why I try to talk about you, not me. Oh dear, that sounded a bit like humblebragging. Here’s the rub: If you transpose your doing thing to a talking thing, you might just be changing the dynamics of your doing thing. And if you decide to add a shot of humility, especially false humility, that might just screw things up even further. We are our words. We are what we say. What we speak, we become.”
“We all know of artists who constantly need to verbalize their weaknesses and failures. Is the lousy self-esteem they project because their work is actually lousy, or is their work lousy because they’re always saying how lousy it is?”
While I agree with a lot of what Genn wrote in his newsletter, writers are artists who paint with words, and thus people who write, especially ones who find critique groups helpful to improving their writing, need to talk about their work in order to get feedback and to get across their ideas. We just have to try not to be humblebraggers.
Genns definition (taken from Jen Doll, a blogger): “The humblebrag is a way to brag while also seeming humble. It’s a subtle brag, a brag with a wink and a nod, the inside joke of bragging.”
Examples from Genn’s letter: “Full humblebragging baloney often comes with the well regarded institution of the Artist’s Statement: ‘My folks were very poor. I was born in an old paper bag in the middle of Highway 401.’ Truly noble heights are attained when artists write about themselves in the third person: ‘As a child Joe Bloggs was always interested in mud puddles, hence his current fascination with marine subjects.’ ‘Mary Pinnacle’s father was an undertaker–she grew up surrounded by flowers.’”
Hmm, this concept could make for some interesting writing.