Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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05/23/2005: "Setting standards"

This weekend I met a friend downtown for lunch. I don't see him very often but I've always thought of him as a good guy...he's an artist and we always find a lot to talk about though the conversation is almost always exclusively about art. This time I was really taken aback by some classist and borderline racist things he said. Normally I would have stopped him in his tracks for saying such things, but instead I just changed the topic.

I left awhile later on what (I'm sure) he considers good terms...with him saying that we need to hang out more etc. and that he'd call me. I guess I feel conflicted because he was one of the first artists I met when I moved to Juneau and our art related conversations always left me feeling inspired.

Someone I respect once told me that I set impossibly high standards for my friends. I don't know if I'm overreacting or what. Part of me would like to stay his friend because I don't have that many people who get as excited as I do about art. Most of my friends are over-educated liberals with similar beliefs on social issues etc. This guy is wealthier by far but also uneducated (academically speaking); maybe this is a chance to expose him to a different way of thinking? Or maybe I just won't return his calls.

On a much less serious note, I just started watching Alias this weekend. OMG, it's so addictive!

UPDATE: I hope the above didn't sound pompous. I meant that maybe it isn't a good idea to surround ourselves only with like-minded people...that maybe we need to have friends who hold opinions that we find slightly abhorent just so we can keep challenging each others ideas.

Replies: 16 Comments

on Monday, May 23rd, dave from Nebraska said

While I wasn't there to hear the convo between you two I'm wondering if there might be some hope for this guy.
Lets say you got together again and he made a remark that offended you. You could tell him as a friend how those words make you feel and why.
He's educated? He should understand. If he respects you, he'll modify his behavior with you. Maybe he'll even change some of his notions.
On the other hand maybe he won't. If he dismisses your feelings then by all means, consider bailing.
HOWEVER.. Sometimes two people don't agree politically, or otherwise. Sometimes two peoples outlooks and perceptions may lie at opposite poles. People are entitled to their options and it shouldn't stop communication between others right in their tracks.
Keep us posted, please.

on Monday, May 23rd, Elise said

I have family members etc. that I love very much don't agree with on a lot of issues, like religion and politics etc. That doesn't bother me as much as people who make mean spirited sexist, racist, or homophobic comments.

I guess I was just taken by suprise or I would have said something. Believe me, I've never had a problem with speaking my mind.

Anyway, he's going to be out of town for most of the summer so it may be a moot point and if he says anything like that again the next time I'm with him, I'll know better how I'd like to respond.

BTW, he's a total troglodyte or I wouldn't be mentioning it here!

on Monday, May 23rd, dave from Nebraska said


on Tuesday, May 24th, dave from Nebraska said

Have you seen the Geico Insurance commercial where the actor says, "It's so easy a caveman could do it." At that point someone off camera gets upset and they pan over to a low brow hairy lookin guy storming off the set as the actor apologises saying he didn't know he was there?
Actually there are a couple of these ads on TV.
PS. I didn't see the "un" in uneducated the first time I read your comments.

on Tuesday, May 24th, greg said

is it possible to keep this guy in "professional (artist) colleague" status, as opposed to "buddy"??

As I have virually no artist collegues to hang with/get inspired by, I would definitely hang with anyone - even if I disagreed with their politics - and just keep the subjetc on art & related stuff.

So... how is that woman in field with book/harmonica painting coming? Cant wait to see it! :)

Gearing up for that commission?

on Tuesday, May 24th, Elise said

Hey Dave, I probably meant luddite, though troglodyte works too I suppose. I just mean this guy lives very much off the grid and the idea of him knowing what a blog is, let alone finding and reading mine, is pretty much zero.

And yes I've seen those commercials, very funny!

And greg, I think trying to keep it as an artist colleague thing is a good idea, though sometimes conversations meander, ya know?

And again, it wasn't his politics that bothered me, it was a couple of comments he made about Alaskan Natives that showed a level of callousness and lack of understanding that really took me by suprise. I am very involved with Alaskan Native issues as part of my job, immersed and incredibly in awe and respectful of the Tlingit culture in particular (the majority of Alaskan Natives in this part of the state are Tlingit) not to mention my brother-in-law whom I adore, who is eskimo etc. so perhaps I'm hypersensitive, I just have a low tolerance for ignorance I guess.

And finally, the woman in the field painting is coming along nicely. I've been working on her every weekend, just waiting for things to dry to finish up the woman and her violin and I'll be done. It's 30x40 so it's a rather large one and it has been taking a lot of time.

The (formerly) harmonica playing one is currently on my easle though I'm still torn as to how I want to proceed. I've worked on her face but I still can't decide what props (if any) I want. Though I had a girlfriend (another artist friend) over for coffee last weekend and she really seemed to like it.

Why is it that you don't have many/any artist collegues to get inspired by? Maybe you need to join a local association or something?

on Tuesday, May 24th, greg said

yeh, that's not so good when one has no respect for the First Nations ... :( that's like bottom line, hello!?!

I think unless it's based on just a negative individual experience with someone, most of that lump-all prejudice stuff is conditioned ... like: dad felt that way too. That at least is easier to wake someone up from. Talk about the incredible sophistication of NW Native art. Tlingit is some of the best! ( I like Kwah-qua-ah hhh...kwakuitl best).

Since you asked, that social scene thing is something else ... I think I described here once how I never fit into the art "scene" in college, when I moved to seattle. Twas the fellow musicians, and the "wow I-wish-I could-draw-like-that" partiers I hung with then. Now as a family man and suburban homeowner, trying to get out & meet people like that is next to impossible. Esp now that I'm job hunting. I should be re-re-re-re-re-redoing my resume right now! :laugh:

Actually, as the kids are older, it should get easier. I need to sign up for this great life drawing session, cos getting out is the only way to do it. The local artists I run across the web & email, ignore me or come across cold. Maybe they have their posse limit set, or are scared to reveal thier artistic secrets!(?) :confused: hhmmm!

Thanks. You're it! Now get out there and inspire me! :laugh:

on Tuesday, May 24th, Joan said

A couple of possibilities:

He spoke that way because he doesn't know any better and no on has ever challenged him to think differently.

He didn't realize how he sounded. I've had situations in the past where I was frustrated for not saying something at the time. I've gotten up the courage to revisit the occasion with the involved person and he/she actually had felt bad about what was said too. You know like when you say something ala foot in mouth but are too embarassed to revisit it.

The person has had a negative experience and some understanding/support of that experience from another person, while sprinkling a general acceptance theme, brings that person to a new reality about the population.

Maybe these don't make sense in writing, but the general premise was accurate in my head at least.

Another line of action is to inclusion of the person into the offended population, very subtle of sharing nativ art and reviews. Good luck.

on Tuesday, May 24th, Elise said

Well Greg, I think it's probably tough for anyone to make new friends after a certain age...or, let me put it this way, in High School, and College, everyone is pretty much in the same stage in life, single, often starting in a new place where they don't know anyone and want to make friends... it's easy.

But after college unless you make a real effort, it's hard to meet new people outside of work. I happen to work for a university so in a sense, I've never left the comfortable womb of academia with more opportunities for socialization than I care for.

On the other hand, it took some doing to meet *artist* friends. I actually put up flyers all over town that said "Hey, are you a local artist or interested in art and do you want to meet some other creative types, meet at the Silverbow for coffee at 9, I'll be wearing the red carnation" or something to that effect. I remember I made a funky sign with a person wearing a black baret. Anyway, about 15 people showed up. We got together for group life drawing, to watch art related movies, etc.

It fell apart after about a year because no one else would organize anything, it was always me...but I've made several good artist friends from the gambit that I have to this day.

Also, if you have any galleries where you live that take pieces for juried exhibits or charity group shows or the like, submit pieces. Try to get on mailing lists, if there is an artist email list locally, try to get on it so you'll know where all the hip clam bake action's going to be. Having even one or two artist friends for when you're jonsing can be great.

And Joan, I think you're right about maybe bringing it up next time we're together. Asking if he really meant what he said and give him my perspective on it if it wasn't just a misunderstanding.

We'll see...

Oh yah, and Tlingit art is some of my favorite!

on Tuesday, May 24th, Howard said

I'm always surprised by who can come up with these types of comments. I was completly blown away by a close friend of mine who stated that the only reason another mutual artist friend recieved art grants was because of her first nations status. At first I just brushed it off as sour grapes but now I wonder if perhaps it went a little deeper than that. The thing that really got me was this was someone I knew and respected as an artist putting down another artist friend based on race. Sometimes people can really surprise you.

on Tuesday, May 24th, Elise said

I know Howard, it's kind of heartbreaking really...when you admire and sincerely like someone and then they throw you a zinger that stops you cold.

on Tuesday, May 24th, Markus Barca said

"I meant that maybe it isn't a good idea to surround ourselves only with like-minded people...that maybe we need to have friends who hold opinions that we find slightly abhorent just so we can keep challenging each others ideas."

There's nothing wrong with that, just so as long you consider their world view as only one aspect of their overall personality. People are complex creatures (I say intersting).

Btw, Juneau has a pretty liberal atmosphere, right? Is there any place you could socialize with conservatives that may have some things in common with you? Like art? I would hazard to guess there aren't very many art buff conservatives in Juneau, but I could be wrong. Heh. What about your university?

on Tuesday, May 24th, Elise said

Actually, Juneau has two voting districts: district 4 includes the Valley (which is kind of the burbs, and votes Republican) and district 3 includes downtown Juneau and downtown Douglas, and we always vote Democrat. Voting district 3 is one of the few blue spots in the state!

Though I don't have many conservative friends, I have an uncle who is more of an Independance Party type (I think) and he sends me a lot of interesting things to consider. I usually don't agree with much (any) of it, but it is different from a lot of the emails I get from other conservative relatives in that the articles etc. are well documented. Sometimes we get into little email debates over issues but not in a bad way.

I may have other "closet" Republican friends...what about you? Are you friends with any liberal pinko commies?

on Tuesday, May 24th, Markus Barca said

Oh yeah. I used to be quite liberal some years ago until I crossed over to the darkside. Fortunately, some of the friends I had then felt it okay to keep hanging around me. :D

on Wednesday, May 25th, Junk Art said

You dont need to just change the subject when a friend says something you dont agree with, friends need us to conflict with them sometimes..

on Wednesday, May 25th, Elise said

Hey Markus, have you seen the Darth Side blog (Darth Vader's online journal)? Some of the early entries were pretty funny...oh, and I do have a few red stater friends in Anchorage, one in particular I get into fights with everytime I see him over 1% for Arts but it doesn't affect our friendship at all.

And hey Junk Art, I checked out your site...very cool stuff. I started out in sculpture, if my advisor hadn't died tragically I might still be doing that today. Anyway, I love found art sculpture.

As for changing the suject when a friend says something I don't agree with, you have to believe me when I say that is extraordinarily rare for me. I usually enjoy a good debate and always try to keep an open mind and not let thing deteriorate into a street fight.

I guess that particular day I was caught off gaurd and wasn't in much in the mood for arguing.