Responding to First Hate Mail Message

January 22, 2017

I suppose "hate mail" might be a harsh description; I wasn't threatened or called anything too derogatory. But I did receive a message from a person that had an axe to grind because of the artwork I'm currently creating. According to this person, cutting up and using real dollar bills for my work makes me a "pompous hack-job" and someone using "cheap tricks with no real meaning"; they said artists like me are "money hungry and is wrong with art right now (sic)".

When I read their message, it actually made me happy: Maybe I'm onto something with "In God We Trust". My primary goal when making art is creating something that will provoke an emotional response in the viewer. Even though their's was a strongly negative response, they were still shaken up enough to react to my work.

In their defense, I understand how a person seeing an artist "destroy" dollar bills would not feel right about the act. Why ruin money that could go to a more noble cause? Is defacing money an unpatriotic gesture? Is destroying stacks of money just a tacky way of flaunting one's financial stature? These are all reasonable questions to ask, especially in the context of trying to decipher the intended meaning behind an artist's work.

I can also understand how someone seeing the ready-made toy race car I made, which is covered in bills, would think my main motivation is profit. After all, one can make the argument I'm glorifying money in my artwork. Are these pieces just meant to be trophies in someone's home or office? In all honesty, yes, I do create art with the intention of selling it to a collector (it's the only way to be able to keep pursuing this crazy dream). But I think it's wrong to assume that exploring financial themes makes me an artist who's only interested in making money. If that was my top priority, I’d stop making art and go back to being a tech entrepreneur (which I don't plan on doing).

Defending this person even further... it can be hard to determine the intentions of an artist without having read their statement about the work they make. I’ve not yet written a statement for “In God We Trust” and that creates some grey area for the viewer regarding the true meaning of my work.

But there are plenty of times when someone comes into contact with artwork they haven't read anything about. Usually this will force them to come up with their own meanings. I actually welcome this situation because if the viewer truly takes the time to interpret the work, they can go beyond the intentions of the artist and arrive at their own epiphany.

Had they read an artist statement before seeing photos of the art, maybe the author of the angry message would've thought differently about my work. Perhaps it would've made no difference at all. Here’s what I think...

For many people, money is still seen as a taboo topic. When it comes to finance, much like politics and sex, they’ve been taught to be careful about when, where, and how they discuss it. However, some people are much more open about their relationship with money. Either way, it’s a very personal perspective people arrive at as the result of many different factors.

I feel like my new series “In God We Trust” will act as a mirror that reflects each viewer’s unique perspective on money. Some may see the artworks as desirable objects celebrating the financial system. Others might dismiss them as you would an obnoxious acquaintance who won't stop spouting about how much they’re worth. My hope is that regardless of their reaction, the viewer looks inward to understand the cause of the reaction - that is where the real meaning of my new series will be revealed.

So, to the person who wrote me (if you decided to read this), you're entitled to your opinion and I respect that. But maybe your outlook on my artwork and who I am as an artist says more about you than it does about me.