I’ve been involved in entomology for almost thirty years, so it makes sense that insects are one of my favorite things to paint. I’m always a bit hesitant to share my “bug” art with others, due to a lifetime of dealing with anti-insect sentiments. I think we can all agree that MANY people are afraid of, disgusted by, or simply hate insects (and their many-legged kin). I’m not passing judgment here, as everyone has their reasons for feeling how they do (and there is a certain instinctual aversion to creepy-crawlies that probably served us well back in the early days of the human species), but it does make things difficult for yours truly. I find all insects (all animal and plant life, really) fascinating, beautiful, and worthy of artistic depiction. However, there are limits to which creatures are considered “appropriate” to portray, and they vary widely from person to person. Some are supportive and appreciative of almost anything, but draw the line at spiders. Others are fine with “pretty” insects (butterflies, colorful beetles, and similar), but cringe at wasps or “ugly” bugs. Then there are those that cannot tolerate any type of creature with more than four legs.
So, what’s an entomologist and an artist to do? Limit my expression to things that are acceptable to the widest audience? Paint whatever the hell I want, knowing that some people will get angry if I even mention that I painted certain things (much less DISPLAYED them)? Only show off my “pretty” paintings? Why should I restrict my art in this way? Is it because all forms of arthropod aversion are not only normalized, but celebrated? People chuckle and/or empathize when someone says they have to burn their house down because they found a spider in the bathtub, but if it was a dog or a kitten they’d be considered a monster (not that I’m legitimizing ANY such extreme actions, but the fact is that one can have a phobia toward just about anything, so why are bug phobias more legit than others?). I’m hard-pressed to think of any other field of biological study where merely mentioning the name of something you’re working on is considered reprehensible or socially “taboo”.
I’ve spent three-quarters of my life avoiding discussion of my chosen career and my passion, and now it has extended to my tentative journey into the arts. Imagine if you were a WoW fan artist and people told you that they’d ignore/unfollow/throw your art into the sun if you dared paint a dwarf shaman. Pretty silly, right? Replace “dwarf shaman” with “centipede”, and you have my experience. I realize there are some false equivalencies at work here, but the end result is the same: I don’t feel comfortable painting whatever I feel like, and that sucks. I know the bulk of people will, if asked, say something along the lines of “it’s your art, do whatever you want”. Would these same people be as supportive if I posted a big painting of a jumping spider? Maybe, but probably not. I could be more thorough about tagging my art to inform people that something creepy is about to show its face, but seriously? That’d still piss people off. I don’t think it’s fair to be expected to deal with heartfelt “BURN IT WITH FIRE” feedback on my art. I don’t know what the solution is, but I suspect there really isn’t one. Being an entomologist can suck. Being an artist can suck. Being both OFTEN sucks.