The Power Of Hated Art
It’s heartbreaking as a writer to learn people hate your work. I don’t mean critiqued for poor grammar or flat character arcs. Those are skills authors refine over time. Instead, I’m referring to the professional authors brave enough to share their creations that face horrid reviews amidst a flow of positive ones. They awake to messages by readers who hate their characters or ending and threw the book across the room. Yes, each of those events happened to published authors I know.
Our brains are wired for approval and acceptance to ensure our survival. Think back six hundred years. Being unaccepted by a community meant you must find food, shelter, and fend off threats on your own. That may be an interesting storyline, but we all crave approval and safety. Even in our modern world, this desire runs strong. Children depend on their parents for survival. As adults, we still have this need implanted in our brains, but we forget we don’t need everyone to like us. I would argue, creating something that enrages and moves your reader to any action is a powerful gift.
The Power of Art
The purpose of art is to evoke feeling. Something. Anything. We read, listen to music, and binge-watch television shows to experience drama or romance lacking in our daily lives. Often, we seek a feel-good escape, and while feeling good is wonderful, it doesn’t push us to grow. Negative emotions like anger or disgust stir things within us. They unleash an opportunity to overcome old beliefs and patterns holding us back.
As an artist, if there are readers who hate a character, plot point, or setting in your book, you provide them an opportunity to heal. Whether they use the opportunity to grow or unleash their unresolved issues in an unflattering Amazon review is their choice. Your job was complete the instance they reacted.
Sometimes we dislike books, but that differs from having a charged emotional response. There’s a simple way to tell if something is triggering you: you’ll feel it in your body. You may dislike a book, put it down and never think about it again. Knots forming in your stomach as you read the dialogue means something else is happening. If you grit your teeth every time the love interest enters the scene or the ending makes you throw the book across the room, pay attention. The culprit is not the author. Those are powerful reactions to genuine emotions.
Emotions are chemical responses in the body occurring on a subconscious level. They are not good nor bad, but they signal when something requires our attention. So why would we want to subject ourselves and our readers to these negative experiences?
How We Transform
In yogic traditions, there is a force called tapas. It is akin to a fire of transformation that rids us of that which no longer serves us. Think of the heat of a pan on the stove softening mustard seeds, so they become edible. Tapas is something we all experience in life, whether or not we want it. If we allow it to do its job, it can help us strengthen and heal. Humans, however, like comfort. We blame the people and things that make us feel bad instead of acknowledging valid emotions vying for our attention.
Michael Singer describes this in his book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. He uses the metaphor of having a thorn stuck in your arm. One option is to make sure nothing touches it, so you never feel pain. You create contraptions to keep it safe while you sleep and ensure no one ever gets near it. You put a lot of time and energy into protecting yourself from any suffering. This type of avoidance is how we often cope with our emotional pain points. Ripping it out is the other option. Yes, it hurts, but once it’s gone, we’re free forever.
If you hate a character or situation in a novel, be curious why. Not everyone will have your reaction. Your experiences are unique to you, your beliefs, and your past experiences. Does the overconfident, controlling antagonist remind you of your own mother? Does the selfish, robotic boss remind you of your first love interest? Maybe it’s time to remove the thorns and heal the emotions rather than be angry that they exist.
Don’t Hate the Messenger
Thank you to the brave artists that push us out of our comfort zones. Thank you for moving us to anger and putting us in touch with our deep rivers of emotion. Writers who fear this response often silence themselves and go unpublished. The deep desire for acceptance chokes creativity. That is not the goal of art. No one changes when things are easy, and art holds a special ability to transform us. An artist’s power to change the world comes from speaking their voice without fear of rejection. The most polarizing pieces hit a chord that needs to be addressed. Silence cannot heal the divides in our world.
As readers, may we witness our emotional reactions rather than condemn the artist who stirred them. Emotions are internal reactions in the body to external stimuli. They defy logic. Avoiding them is never a solution. Look at them with curiosity. Allow them to fuel your growth and bring you a step closer to a compassionate and peaceful life.
The only way forward is through. In a divided world that struggles to discuss our political and social differences without hate and anger, we must be brave enough to step into discomfort. Avoidance or overreaction to opinions different from our own resolves nothing. Compassion and understanding fuel rational dialogue. To stand in this place, we must each face our own demons and heal what triggers our unhelpful emotional patterns. Art is a safe place to explore our darkness and discover healing. It is a deep look into the human condition and offers perspectives different from our own. It continues to help us evolve as a species, and the fear of poor reviews cannot threaten to silence the viewpoints that need to be heard.
Thank you to the artists who push our boundaries and make us feel. May you continue to serve those who love and hate your creations. We cannot pretend anger and hatred do not exist, but we can choose to resolve them. These works are an opportunity to expand our understanding and compassion for all of humanity so we may heal and create a more favorable future.
This is a very powerful piece. Wonderful message.