The one thing you can almost never tell an artist friend is that you don’t like his art. It’s dicey merely to say that you don’t understand a particular work, much less that it doesn’t speak to you (even if you go out of your way to assure him that the failing is yours). It’s all but impossible to have a friendly relationship, or even a cordial one, if you simply don’t respond to anything he does. In some cases this is a function of the artist’s vanity, but I’m sure that more often it has to do with his deep-seated uncertainties. Many of the artists I know have fragile egos, and though some of them are amazingly successful at hiding this fragility, most are not. As Orson Welles once said to Peter Bogdanovich, “A bad word from a colleague can darken a whole day. We need encouragement a lot more than we admit, even to ourselves.”
Read the rest of Terry Teachout's 2005 column here.