A Challenge to Out-Grow The Tall Poppy Seed Syndrome

I think it is time for Australian’s to get over this ‘tall poppy seed’ syndrome!

Last week, the global arts community was hit hard by the passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman (to name a few) after their loss from batting cancer. These two particular artists represent a generation of talented individuals who took their passion for expression and were successful at bringing in an income through it. And enjoyed the benefits of doing so. Bowie and Rickman are also described as ‘the last of working class art school students who could conquer the world.’ (Walesonline.co.uk)

Why is it that we celebrate artists at the most inconvenient times – at their deathbeds? History reveals that artists are most recognised for their works AFTER their untimely death. Van Gogh, for example, made pennies from his paintings throughout his life and died broke, but following his death his works grew to become worth millions of dollars, and gained admirers world-wide.

I was chatting to a friend the other day about what many Australians refer to as the ‘tall poppy seed’ syndrome – the act of spouting negative comments about a successful person. She informed me that this syndrome plays two important roles in Australian culture: 1) to keep the successful individual grounded; 2) to help the unsuccessful people feel like no one is better than they are. The latter sounds like an act of jealousy.

I then proceeded to ask my friend: are Australian A-list actors in block buster films also victims of this ‘tall poppy seed syndrome’? Furthermore, are AFL and cricket athletes victims to the syndrome? I was surprised hear her say NO.

There must be a double standard I am missing somewhere. Isn’t praising one’s work a way of celebrating successes with others? Congratulating someone on a recently successful moment isn’t saying anyone is less or better than anyone else; instead it is saying “We all have our moments to shine and right now is yours. Let’s recognise that!”

I like to put admiration for others in context like this: studies have shown that, in any line of work, employees do better at their job after being praised by their boss. We all work so hard at our jobs (whatever they may be): to keep food on the table, a roof over our heads, our children in line, and maintain a civilised behaviour. But Every once in awhile, wouldn’t it be nice to hear someone say “Hey! Job well done”? For a parent to receive praise from a teacher who reports how well their child is excelling in class would make them feel so good. Or an employee to be told by his/her boss after working long days for the last two weeks in order to complete the annual report, “Hey, great work on that report. Looks terrific!” It ultimately boils down to acceptance – knowing that the hard work has paid off.

Similarly, artists look to their audience members for acceptance and praise.   Artists need to know if their hard work on projects is paying off and worth their sacrifices. To an artist, knowing that their work has inspired one individual means their hard work at perfecting their artistic practice is paying off. Their work is being accepted; they are being accepted.

I’d like to challenge my readers to start approaching artists, especially your local lot, and offer up your praises. Let’s get over this ‘tall poppy seed’ syndrome and admire the art given to us now before it’s too late. Please share your admiration for an artist(s) in the comments section below – tell us why you admire that artist or what is it about that piece of art that you admire so much.

How much positivity can we generate for the arts?

Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.
— Alan Rickman