Men explain to me how to fix my art.


Me and Land Arnold arm-wrestling, refereed by Skylar Gudasz. (Land is the wonderful proprietor of Letters Bookshop in Durham, not the man to whom I refer in the following.) Photo by Crystal Dreisbach. 


In the signing line at my paperback release, which had gone swimmingly so far, with Prom dresses and Krispy Kreme and singing and reading and arm-wrestling, I had really lovely conversations with each person who sat down. Then, as one man was standing up to go, he said, “I saw your last play and gosh, it had one of the worst third-act problems I’ve ever seen.”

I stared at him.

He explained further, “I mean, it didn’t have one. A third act. And it really needed one. You undid everything you were trying to do in the rest of the play.”


I think I said, “Huh, okay,” and then motioned to the next person in line.

Afterward, when we were cleaning up, I told my co-performer Skylar about it and she nodded. She said that happened to her all the time: strange men coming up to her after performances and giving her “tips.” That she should open her eyes when she sings. That she should wear her hair down instead of up. The issue of unsolicited advice by men, following any public appearance, is not new to her or to me.

I don’t know what’s passing through these guys’ minds. Do they think they’re being helpful? Are they trying to connect? Do they understand that we’re artists who make our own decisions on whether our work is suitable for public presentation, and wouldn’t have presented it, otherwise? Does it occur to them that what they’re suggesting to us are things that aren’t right for us as artists or the work of art in question or we’ve considered them already and rejected for excellent reason?

Does it even occur to them to just not do that? 

Because it never occurs to me to go up to a man I don’t know and explain to him how to fix his art. Ever.

Most artists who’ve had a measure of success are on the receiving end of this, to some extent. But it’s an especially acute problem with older men and younger women, and exists within a larger societal context of men feeling free to try to control women in public spaces. Skylar said, “I’m sure women do it, too…it’s just…never happened yet.”

So I’m just going to say it right now: don’t do that. I will not think well of you.


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6 Comments on “Men explain to me how to fix my art.”

  1. inertialconfinement says:

    I’ve received unsolicited criticism from women before, but it was always someone I knew and/or worked with. It was still rude and upsetting. The only time I’ve had strangers approach me on the street/at the cafe/at an event/performance/etc. to offer unsolicited criticism, it’s always been a man. The ones that creep me out the most are the ones that mask the criticism in a compliment in order to manipulate you into thinking, “Wow! That wise, wise person is taking the time to help me out! How grateful I am!” Nope, nope, nope. Don’t do that.

  2. Julie E. Byrne says:

    I liked this, “liked.” xoxo 😉

  3. Thatguy48 says:

    Very annoying, who knows why they do it? Maybe jealous, quirky, or they may genuinely believe they Can help you. You should offer to sit down over a coffee to further discuss their critiques. That would throw them off.

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