What It’s Like To Be Cancelled

My life ended on June 21, 2020 and I want to tell you what that’s been like.

I was cancelled. I don’t want to rant about why this is so unfair nor to prove my innocence. No matter your take on what happened, I want to share what that felt like so that you might see why cancelling those who are attempting to grow is such a counterproductive and potentially dangerous trend. If you’re interested, I recorded a podcast at the beginning of this year where I talk about the experience and I think it gives a pretty good overview of what happened to me.

June 21, 2020

I woke up to several people tagging me in a twitter thread for my sleezy behavior at some art events many years ago. I wasn’t that person any more and I wanted to apologize for being an asshole in the past. I had apologized privately for everything, but I hoped it might show my sincerity and commitment to being better to address it publicly. So I wrote up a statement saying I had slept with women at events and sometimes I was a dick. The statement was heavily (and perhaps hastily) worded in an effort to convey my understanding of the gravity of hurting people and my desire to set a good example. The internet, though, misinterpreted some of what I had said and began accusing me of rape. No one has ever accused me of raping them. But twitter latched onto that narrative and couldn’t let it go.


1. The End


Shock

Shock, confusion, emptiness. A pit in my stomach that didn’t go away for a long time. After the initial supportive replies to my apology, things took a dark turn. While I was apologizing for hitting on girls and sleeping with them and hurting people’s feelings, the internet misunderstood and assumed I was admitting to rape.

At first I was in disbelief. Maybe it was just a few people. There are always outliers online. But the narrative spread. And once that was out there, I didn’t see any way to correct it. Because if you say “I’m not a rapist” then the response will always be “that’s what a rapist would say.” There is no defense I can make because there are no actual accusations against me of that. Now that people view all of my words & actions through a lens of assumed guilt, it’s a hard climb out of that hole.

Freeze

I froze. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say. As I saw the thousands of tweets rolling in over those first few days, I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t think anyone really knows how they’ll act in those moments, but it felt like the best and most sensible thing to do to not respond for a while. My well-intentioned words had already dug me a hole and I was terrified to say anything else. My voice had been entirely silenced, taken away and used by others to say something completely different. Maybe I should have been slower writing my apology and it wouldn’t have been misinterpreted. So maybe now I should be slow to say anything more. What if I made things worse?

The dark night of my soul

I think my low point happened when the story was picked up by some bigger online blogs. Not because they made things worse or that I have any delusions about their journalistic integrity (I was never asked for a comment by any media outlet or blog that shared this story). But there was something about seeing it there that made it so real. It took it out of the small social circle that apology was addressed towards and made me a monster to a much larger circle.

I don’t think I can fully describe the heart-wrenching pain of seeing your life & career crumbling around you and feeling utterly powerless to stop it. I thought I was fast approaching my inevitable and permanent end. I don’t cry often, but I cried a lot that night.

The 48 Laws of Power mess

I feel like an idiot about this one.

I’ve read the 48 Laws of Power and I found it an interesting book. I naively saw it only as a way to understand & categorize the crazy power plays historical figures have made. I made some desktop wallpapers to remind myself of those various laws because I have a poor memory and wanted to remind myself of them while I was reading a bunch of history books. I didn’t make this clear and people dug this up later while I was being cancelled. They inferred that these were laws I based my life around and viewed everything I had done (including my apology) through this lens.

I kick myself for this one a lot. I should have realized that it didn’t look like I was sharing a useful resource but instead a handbook on how to be a sociopath. To clarify: I don’t think this is a good book to base your life around. I think it can be used abusively and I see that now and I was too wrapped up in the “more knowledge can’t be a bad thing” to see how likely it would be that people would use it badly.

Forced retirement

My career ended. I had worked for about 10 years as an illustrator. I understand why the companies fired me and don’t blame them. Nobody wants to invite a shitstorm.

The only client I was still working for when this happened was Wizards of the Coast (working on Magic: the Gathering) and they put out a statement saying they wouldn’t work with me any more. They recommissioned other artists to repaint a lot of the soon-to-be-published paintings I had done for them.

I’m disappointed by the way some of those working relationships ended, though, and I wish it could have been done a little better. But that’s the way it went.

I haven’t worked for anyone in the last year. I’ve been offered some smaller and private commissions, but I’m taking this time away to work on myself. But going through this gives me an extreme empathy for anyone who’s cancelled and doesn’t have an emergency savings fund.

I stopped making art

Art is my life, my passion, my hobby. I live and breath and think and love art.

And I stopped for quite a long time.

I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a pencil for a couple months. It was the longest I had gone without making art in about 15 years or so. Probably longer.

The idea of drawing was too painful and the combination of trauma and anxiety and depression was too much to overcome for a while. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t face it. What could I possibly paint that would mean anything anymore? What was the point of creating, of expressing, of feeling joy again?

Loss of friends

I lost a lot of friends.

They work in the art world and if they were seen supporting me they would be brought down too. The social media network is a giant standoff, everyone standing with guns drawn and carefully eyeing one another, anxiously waiting for the next wrong move. If you don’t shoot the person everyone else is shooting, then you might be next.

So I don’t blame them. Truly. It’s taken a fair bit of work to get me here but I understand why they need to be where they are and doing what they do. I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s life or career by asking them to support me.

The part that hurts the most, I guess, are the close friends who didn’t even shoot me a message before jumping onto the social media bandwagon. When you form close friendships, there is a vulnerability and trust that, when things get tough, you’ll at least have their generous assumption that there is more to the story. I’d hoped at least for a “hey Noah, what the fuck?” Instead they reacted immediately and disowned me publicly and I haven’t heard from them since. That hurt. It made me look back on many years-long friendships and wonder if they were ever what I thought they were.

My wife

The worst pain I experienced in the past year wasn’t because of anything that happened to me. It was the effect this had on my wife.

My wife was a new artist who entered into this social media world over the past few years. Because of my sometimes-controversial online image (mostly due to my let’s-be-arrogant-to-hide-my-insecurity bravado of my younger years that got me into this mess in the first place), a lot of professional artists who she had looked up to had been generally shit to her. She had to deal with a lot early on. I won’t get into that here because that’s not my story to tell. But I’ve always felt bad that my past has hurt the person I care for the most in this life.

My cancellation added whole new layers to the shit she has to deal with.

My womanizing at events predates ever meeting my wife. But people went so far as to call her a rapist, a sex trafficker, or at best a rape apologist. The online world expected her to divorce me and when she didn’t many more people who claimed they would support her, shunned her.

I’m still not sure how to forgive myself for all of the pain I’ve inadvertently directed her way.

But in spite of everything, she has stuck with me and is the reason I’m still alive today.

Nonexistence

I didn’t kill myself or try to, but I sure saw the merits of not existing any more. The brink has never looked quite so appealing.

If not for the love of my wife, family, and friends, I dread to think what might have been.


2. The Valley


Healing, changing, learning, and growing

I had changed my behavior long before my apology was written last year. I had figured out why I had done what I had, why it was unhealthy, and how to change. I wasn’t that person any more. So it made it hard to show the internet much “change.” Because in recent years I’ve been doing my best to be a positive presence in my community. I made art, made resources for artists, and tried above all else to help other artists and make people feel good about their journey.

It’s a bit harder to show transformation when that transformation has already happened. It’s like a “before and after” weight-loss post without a before picture. Ain’t quite as impressive.

So my healing had a lot less to do with my distant past and a lot more to do with the trauma I had just endured.

Trauma

It took a while to acknowledge that being cancelled constituted trauma. Trauma is something that, until recent years, was generally viewed as being a narrow spectrum of experiences and, because of that, I didn’t feel I deserved to use that word to describe what I went through. I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m taking that word away from other people who have endured different trauma.

But recognizing my experience as trauma helped me find the tools to heal from it. I learned that, when you remove the massive scale and severe implications of my specific situation, lots of people could relate to the experience of having their voice taken away, of being shunned from a community that was dear to them over a misunderstanding. I realized that that trauma is much less unique than it felt.

Harassment

I got harassed a lot in the months following. I received a bunch of insults, hate, death threats, etc.

It never made sense to me that these strangers hated me so viciously, but I also don’t know what they’re going through in life and the pain they’re carrying around. Maybe a little more empathy in the world would be a good thing.

Bitterness & hate

I don’t want to be a bitter, hateful person and I have done everything in my power to try and prevent that from happening. It would be so damn easy to slip into that way of thinking. But it’s not who I want to be. I know that continuing the cycle of hatred will only bring more misery.

Revenge fantasies

I’m not really proud of this but I’ve fantasized about revenge on some of the people who betrayed me. I’ve got plenty of dirt on plenty of people and could get a lot of them cancelled too. Many of the people who loudly criticized me or stood by the wayside watching it happen did so because they are ashamed of and scared by their own less-than-admirable behavior in the past, and it was incredibly tempting to drag those people down with me.

But it’s not the right thing to do and it’s not the person I want to be. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it.

Reading

I read a lot of books that helped me and I wanted to share them here. I imagine some folks who are going through their own cancellation (or another pain) will see this and I want to share a few of the things that helped me:

Meditation

I’ve always been a pretty bad meditator. I’ve meditated on and off throughout my adult life but never consistently. But I’ve meditated a lot lately. It helps me to understand and face my feelings and return to the present. When I’m spiraling down into feelings of hurt and hopelessness, this practice helps keep me grounded in the present. Meditating isn’t making me some super-powered millennial entrepreneur, but it’s helping me cope with life.

Finding friends

I had some unexpected friendships grow out of this and some others who have stuck with me through this whole ride over the last year. Those people who have messaged me over the last year, even just to say “hang in there” have meant so much to me. I experienced the power of true empathy, and it has in turn made me a better person.

To all of you who have helped support me: thank you. You have no idea how much every single message has meant to me.

I also became friends with some other people who have been cancelled. I’ve been able to encourage them and they’ve been there to encourage me. If you’ve been cancelled and want someone to talk with who won’t shame or judge you, shoot me a message. I’m always here to talk. I know that sometimes a listening ear can make all the difference.

Running

I ran a lot. I don’t like running, but it seemed like good therapy. It gave me time and space to let my brain process all that had happened. And it helped to fill my days when things were hard.

Healing art

The first time I picked up a pencil again after all of this I fought back tears. Art was tied to all of the pain I went through and I couldn’t draw without thinking about all of the trauma.

But once I started doing art again, I kept it up. And in a way that’s been its own healing journey. I’ve reclaimed art as my own. It’s a hobby again and I think I enjoy it even more now.


3. The Beginning


A brand new life

I’ve got a whole new life now. Not everyone gets a chance to start over again but I have. Everything is out there. Every bad, embarrassing, or awkward thing I’ve ever done has been shared on the internet. All of my friends and family know everything. All of the darts have been thrown. Every shot fired. Everything burned.

But I’m still here.

There’s a weird sense of invincibility that I’ve begun to feel. When most of the doors in life shut on you, it opens all sorts of unexpected opportunities. I know now what I can endure and that’s given me the strength to boldly face whatever comes.

Relearning art

I used my new life as an opportunity to reinvent my art, too.

I considered doing the pseudonym thing after all of this happened. Just change my style a bit, make a new persona online, and carry on. It wouldn’t be that hard. But I decided against it. OR DID I!?!?

Yeah really. I thought it would be better to just be me and see what I could do with my art.

I went back into student-mode and have done a lot of studying art this year. I’ve been working on improving my skills and strengthening my weaknesses in art. It feels good and it’s been fun.

Back to work

I accidentally started a business with my wife a few years ago making reference pictures for artists. It was a lot of fun and surprised us with how successful it was.

I let it sit for a long time after this. I was scared to get back to it. I was scared to work with models again and put stuff out into the world again. Pretty much every move I made online was met with harassment.

But I did it. I started launching new weekly reference packs at the beginning of this year and it’s been great. I love getting back to helping people with what I make. The harassment has died down and now I get to make these useful resources for artists again.

My income is still a fraction of what it was before, but I’m learning to appreciate everything I have even more.

Social media is still shit

Shockingly, I ain’t fond of social media these days. I post on there and it’s pleasant enough. But the effects personally on mental health and collectively on societal health seem pretty bad to me. It can be so damn toxic and I look forward to more distance from it. I think if I totally left now I’d be too tempted to permanently resign myself to obscurity. There’s nothing wrong with obscurity, but I think it would be unhealthy for me to not have an outlet for my art. Art isn’t the same without a viewer.

More real life

I’ve spent a lot more time with friends & family in the last year.

I was a bit of a workaholic before and didn’t devote enough time to those I love. I’m glad to have the time and sense to spend more time with the people who really matter to me. I’ve learned the value of presence and feel less like I have to justify time spent enjoying life. After what happened, I thought I’d struggle to feel joy again, but one of the greatest surprises in all this has been that I’ve actually come to feel it more.

What comes next

I really don’t know.

I plan a lot less these days. I don’t know what the future holds for me. So I guess I just focus on what I can do each day.

I make stuff, I love those I care about, and I try to grow and learn as a human being. I’ve learned that everything else is beyond my control, and that it’s better to work with what we have than mourn what we don’t. I’m grateful for every day I’m given.

Don’t Go to Art School

I’ve had it.

I will no longer encourage aspiring artists to attend art school. I just won’t do it. Unless you’re given a full ride scholarship (or have parents with money to burn), attending art school is a waste of your money.

I have a diploma from the best public art school in the nation. Prior to that I attended the best private art school in the nation. I’m not some flaky, disgruntled art graduate, either. I have a quite successful career, thankyouverymuch.

But I am saddened and ashamed at art schools and their blatant exploitation of students. Graduates are woefully ill-prepared for the realities of being professional artists and racked with obscene amounts of debt. By their own estimation, the cost of a four year education at RISD is $245,816. As way of comparison, the cost of a diploma from Harvard Law School is a mere $236,100.

This is embarrassing. It’s downright shameful. That any art school should deceive its students into believing that this is a smart decision is cruel and unusual.

Artists are neither doctors nor lawyers. We do not, on average, make huge six-figure salaries. We can make livable salaries, certainly. Even comfortable salaries. But we ain’t usually making a quarter mil a year. Hate to break it to you. An online debt repayment calculator recommended a salary exceeding $400,000 in order to pay off a RISD education within 10 years.

Don’t do it.

Don’t start your career with debilitating debt.

Please. I beg you. Think long and hard whether you’re willing to pay student loan companies $3000 every single month for the next 10 years.

You’ve got other options.

You don’t have to go to college to be an artist. Not once have I needed my diploma to get a job. Nobody cares. The education is all that matters. The work that you produce should be your sole concern.

There are excellent atelier schools all over the world that offer superior education for a mere fraction of the price. Here are a few:

There are more. Many, many more. And none of them will cost nearly as much as a traditional four year school.

And then there are the online options. The availability of drawing and painting resources is incredible.

Sitting at a computer I have direct access to artists all over the world. I have the combined wisdom of the artistic community to pull from at my leisure. For less than a few grand a year I can view more educational material than I would see at any art school. You can get a year of access to all of the Gnomon Workshop’s videos for the cost of a few days at the average art school.

With all of these options it can be a little daunting. So you know what? I’ve come up with a plan for you. Do this:

The $10k Ultimate Art Education

There. For less than a quarter of the tuition for RISD you’ve got yourself a killer education. You’ve received more quality, focused education than I think you’ll find at any art school.

Moving forward

There has never been a better time to be an artist. I’m inspired by the sheer quantity and quality of internet resources available to artists.

But I encourage all aspiring artists to think long and hard about their options. Student loans are unforgivable through bankruptcy and can wreck your financial future. Establishing a career while under the unceasing brutality of student loans makes an already difficult task nearly impossible.

Find another path. Art is a wonderful, beautiful, fulfilling pursuit. Don’t ruin it with a mountain of debt.


Disclaimer: I do not mean any offense to any of the educators at art schools. I have numerous professors who I consider close friends. This is neither an attack on you, nor your teaching abilities, nor the value that you provide for your students. I’m talking about the schools, not the artists teaching at them.

10 Books Every Artist Must Read

I love reading books on art. Not just the kind with pretty pictures, either. But the kind with words. It baffles me how few of my classes during art school actually had required texts. Thankfully I was lucky enough to stumble into the world of art books on my own, and I believe I’m a better artist for it.

Here are ten books that I sincerely believe every artist out there should purchase and read—at least once.


  • Art & Fear
  • If you’ve ever started to have thoughts in your head about “am I talented enough?” or “why do I bother making art?” then you need to read this book. You also need to read this book if you haven’t had those thoughts yet. It’s a quick read and very enjoyable. I don’t think any book will get you back to your easel faster than this one.

  • The Art Spirit
  • Sometimes I read too many books on technique, so I like to balance it out with some theory and emotion. Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit is a classic. You won’t find out the “best way to draw anime” in this book, but you might just discover why you’re making art in the first place.

  • How Pictures Work
  • It’s small, simple, and entirely profound. In my opinion the single best book on composition available. The illustrations are all made with cut paper, so all frills are left aside, leaving only pure design and composition. Molly Bang uses a number of comparison pictures to show you how design actually works. You can probably sit down and read it in one go, but you’ll find yourself returning to it time and time again.

  • Imaginative Realism
  • Though this might, at first glance, seem to lean heavily towards the genre illustrators in our midst, this book is great for artists of all types. James Gurney is a phenomenal painter and an equally fantastic teacher. He writes clearly and to the point. No matter what sort of art you want to do, I think you’ll find something pertinent in here.

  • Color and Light
  • This is James Gurney’s second book, and it’s easily as good as the first. I’ve done quite a lot of searching for good books on color and light and didn’t find anything useful enough to recommend… until this. James Gurney has done extensive research into how light and color work in the real world and how it applies to art. He balances the scientific understanding with artistic flare in the most eloquent way possible. And while I’m on the subject let me recommend these two DVDs put out by Gnomon: The Mechanics of Color and Practical Light and Color. Both helped me enormously when it came to learning color theory.

  • Hawthorne on Painting
  • Short & sweet. A small bite-sized book with tons of little nuggets of wisdom. It can be a little off-putting in its format (mostly transcribed critiques of images, but without the images), but it’s worth it. Some people also find it a little wishy-washy and not solidly academic enough, but I find it completely refreshing and hopeful. I don’t think any other book has been able to instill quite the passion for painting that this book exudes.

  • Alla Prima
  • Written by one of the most influential living artists, Alla Prima is an essential tome of observational painting. Richard Schmid can, at times, come across as all-knowing to some people, but he does so with a fair bit of justification. His own skills at painting are incredible and he does a remarkably good job at putting everything into words. It’s the priciest book on this list, but it’s worth every penny.

  • Oil Painting Techniques and Materials
  • It can feel a little dated at times—like when Harold Speed talks about the “new brush” known as a “filbert”—but it’s a timeless book. Anyone starting out painting and looking for guidance should pick this up. The more advanced readers can find some equally useful techniques as well.

  • The Practice and Science of Drawing
  • Also written by Harold Speed, this is a classic drawing book. It covers design as well, but all through the lens of drawing. Since drawing is the basis for all that we artists do, it makes sense to do a little reading on the subject.

  • Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth
  • I could put every book Andrew Loomis wrote on this list, but sadly they’re all out of print (and consequently obscenely expensive). This one, however, was recently republished and is easily and cheaply available. There were PDF’s going around for a while of all of his books, but since they’re being republished I question the legality of them now. All that said, this is a figure drawing book for the ages.

    And there we have it. For a total of just over $160 you have an extraordinary art curriculum that I would dare suggest is better than you can find at most art schools. These are all books that I have come back to time and time again. As my skills improve and I read them again I discover all new gems contained within them.

    Do your art a favor and read any of these you haven’t already.

    brb

    I’m still here.

    My store’s still up over here: noah-bradley.myshopify.com

    I’ll get this site up soon too. It’s like the 90’s when you had “under construction” pages over half of the internet