Whisperings from the Wormhole with @talluts

Beware the Leave-It-Like-That

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Moby Dick Illustration by Augustus Burnham Shute, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Gather round, me hearties, and let me tell you a tale: a tale about a much-dreaded comment received by many an artist on Instagram and during a studio visit. This comment can sound like a terrifying roar made by a fearsome beast. And it’s called—the “Leave-It-Like-That.

It’s the kind of comment we might receive on our works-in-progress (a struggling fawn just starting its wobbly walk). And we may have blithely thought to ourselves, “Hey, why don’t I post this WIP on the ‘Gram and give people a window into my process!” But…Beware ye who enter here. This generous sneak peek could attract a Leave-It-Like-That (or even its frightening brethren: the “Stop-Don’t-Touch-It” or the “Looks-Finished-To-Me”).

The “L-I-L-T” is insidious because it appears at first like a compliment. It might sound like a “Hold it right there! That’s a work of genius!” but all it communicates is: “I know better than you what’s best for your work.” The commenter sees our work as a rare orchid that we (without the help of their buttinsky advice) might accidentally overwater and kill. Often the person making this comment is well-meaning, but they are doing us a disservice because they aren’t taking the time to really know our goals or what we’re going for in our work. Their tastes may run to loose and quick, but you may prefer detail. Or, they may like bright colors, but we like dark gravitas. They might be a huge fan of minimalism, but we’re maximalists at heart. It’s a risk to allow others’ tastes to influence our work in its embryonic stages and potentially derail our process in the studio.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Sea Shore, 1964, oil and acrylic on two sheets of plexiglass, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection, gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

This whole phenomenon got me thinking about how I feel when a Leave-It-Like-That pops up on MY feed. I’ve seen friends change direction in their work on a dime after seeing an L-I-L-T and become unsure of what to do next. The irony is that these comments are never made with us in mind. They are knee-jerk, taste-hot-takes. Sadly, though, these takes have the power to block and stifle us—if we let them.

Because I love metaphors, I like to imagine the L-I-L-T as a leviathan of the deep, a terrifying sea monster of lore, who can’t resist flopping its slimy tentacle of doubt onto our boat decks as we drift by.

These backseat-driving behemoths will pop up unexpectedly on our Instagram posts: breaching the smooth surface of the comments and story replies as they strike. And it got me wondering—what if we thought of these dreadful commenters as recorded sea monsters of yore? A few examples came to mind immediately. First, I thought of Hans Egede’s Most Dreadful Monster from 1734, which rose higher than the crow’s nest, “blew like a whale,” and sported a short, “wrinkled” body and a long tail. Or secondly, our commenter-monsters could be like the ghastly Scylla of Homer, a six-headed sea serpent, who noshed on exactly six men per passing ship. But thirdly and finally, I settled on the perfect monster: a horde of tiny, spiny, attack frogs that descended all over sixth-century traveler Cormac Ua Liatháin’s “minding-its-own-business” boat. The frog horde is the perfect L-I-L-T because, as a sea monster, it is not only hideous, horrible, and grim, but also plentiful and tends to attack en masse. Usually, where’s there’s one, there’s more.

While I was looking up historical sea monster tales, I was astonished (and morbidly delighted) to discover that there is a term for an unidentified floating object or a marine carcass that might be evidence of a Nessie-like monster of the depths, or it might just be a decomposing whale. But nobody knows for sure, so they just call them “Globsters.” A Globster usually looks like an amorphous blob of white-ish blubber, occasionally with a hairy texture (Look it up. This stuff is wild). In my view, this is what our tender and developing W-I-P’s could turn into if we succumb to the Leave-It’s.

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The Great Sea-Serpent: A Historical and Critical Treatise by Oudemans, A. C. (Anthonie Cornelis), Illustration of the Egede Sea Monster, pub 1892 (pg 114) and The Tasmanian Globster featured in The Mercury, March 9, 1962 Issue

Once I was at a residency in Vermont, and a visiting artist was making the rounds, stopping by all the studios to give critiques. To protect the innocent, we’ll call him Globster Salad. He raved about the beginning stages of a work and strongly urged me to “Stop Right There!” His philosophy in general was to constantly evaluate if you were “connected to the work,” and to stop yourself if you felt the connection dwindling. In his own practice, he would go as far as erecting police tape and garbage cans as a barricade in front of his works in progress. It all sounded kind of bad-ass in a way. But to me, that nervous worrying (“Am I connected? Am I disconnected?”) only served to make me afraid to touch my own work. After he left, I felt blocked, and I needed to find a way out.

This stymied state of mind felt like a kind of “studio disease,” and it got me searching for a cure: a cure for not believing in myself and my own instincts. I found that Globster Salad disease could be defeated in two ways. First, we can recognize the L-I-L-T for what it is: an inconsequential gnat. Or, if our artistic hero comes to our residency studio and drops the whopper of all L-I-L-T’s upon our impressionable head AND we end up stuck and paralyzed…the next step is to simply go ahead and ruin it. Then, we can rebuild fearlessly. This is how the real work gets made, and this is how we get our self-reliance back.

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Bridget Riley, Untitled [Turquoise and red curves], 1968, Photograph Bridget Riley

Just imagine if Albert Pinkham Ryder had obeyed an L-I-L-T after he made his first washy underpainting. Or if Jay DeFeo had heeded an L-I-L-T or a Stop-Right-There! after year one of her eight-year work, The Rose. Or what if someone had barged into Roy Lichtenstein, Bridget Riley or Agnes Martin’s studios to shout: “Loosen up, already! It’s good like that.”

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Albert Pinkham Ryder, Moonlight Marine, 1870-90, oil and possibly wax on wood panel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1934

Another way we can guard against these comments from the outside (or even the Leave-It-Like-That’s in our own minds) is by revisiting a great quote by Matisse, relayed by his daughter Marguerite. She reveals how her father dealt with this issue of feeling nervous to move forward past the seductive early parts of a painting.

“All her life, Marguerite had heard her father insisting that it was better to risk ruining a painting than to be satisfied with quick results, however harmonious and easy on the eye. It’s always necessary to force your whole being beyond this level, because it’s only then that you start to make discoveries and tear yourself apart in the process.” Like Matisse, let’s not be afraid to tear ourselves apart. Let’s think of our studios as labs with bubbling beakers and Bunsen burners… set up for experimenting, messing up, accidentally exploding things and sometimes wildly succeeding.

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Henri Matisse, Marine (La Moulade) (Seascape [La Moulade), 1906, Oil on canvas © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Painter Amy Sillman seems to be Team Matisse and also willing to fight the hard fight sometimes in creating her work. In an interview in Frieze magazine in March 2021, she talks about allowing her work to meander through both trouble and fortune to an eventual, unpredictable end: “I feel like I’ve learned as a painter that what are, to me, better paintings, get into places of trouble during their making and then work their way out of that trouble and back around again to a kind of ending without a foregone conclusion.”

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Amy Sillman, Ocean 1, 1997, oil on canvas, (John Berens/ICA)

Southern US author Eudora Welty shows us how to avoid catching the disease in the first place. She describes her way of ignoring intrusive feedback and inoculating herself against it in a 1972 interview by Linda Kuehl in The Paris Review: “I don’t write for my friends or myself, either; I write for it, for the pleasure of it.” She goes on to say that if she worried about what people thought of her work, she would be “paralyzed.” She says that she cares very “deeply” what her friends think, “but in the writing, I have to just keep going straight through with only the thing in mind and what it dictates.” You can tell Eudora had had Globster Salad disease before.

So, the next time someone cannonballs into our Instagram comments or into our studios with a Leave-It-Like-That, we’re going to batten down the hatches, stay the course, and just let that six-headed, wrinkly-bodied, spine-covered sea serpent undulate on by. Have faith that we know best how to proceed with our work. And yes, sometimes we might seek feedback on a developing work from a close friend or mentor, but that doesn’t mean the gates are wide open for ALL opinions during this delicate time.

Let’s keep our spyglass trained on the horizon, our ore in the water, and try to ignore those bubbling globsters from the deep.

About the writer: Amy Talluto is a multimedia artist working in painting, sculpture and collage who lives in Upstate NY and hosts a podcast called “Pep Talks for Artists.” This written piece can be listened to as an audio essay in podcast form, as well as many others on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or anywhere you get your podcasts. Amy Talluto’s monthly column “Whisperings from the Wormhole” will bring you artist-to-artist pep talks with topics ranging from self-doubt to artists who make work in their kitchens.