MYTH: Real artists have the courage of their convictions. They don’t care what other people think.
REALITY: Oh, it’s sad, but we care very very much what you think!
This is a myth that started out as “Real artists are loners”. Well, some are, and some aren’t. It’s that simple.
But it quickly got tangled into another myth we hold about artists, one that gets pretty jumbled. So bear with me as I untangle some of the threads.
Yes, some artists do need solitude to create. We need time to explore an idea, to follow it through to all its possibilities. Some people can’t listen to conversation or even music lyrics while they write. Me, for one.
Sometimes talking too much about what we’re doing, or our next project, feels like actually working on it. And our creative energy dissipates.
Other artists, however, work well in partnership and collaboration. They find the give-and-take of brainstorming invigorating, forcing them to go further and higher than they ever imagined.
Our own creative processes are so individual to us, it would be impossible to determine any one way any given work of art gets made.
It’s who we hang with, and why, after the work is created, that gets a little dicey.
Artists may act like we don’t care what other people think about our work. You’ve probably met some (or you are one.) You ask them about the work and you get a snotty reply or a cold shoulder. Or you talk with them at a party and they can only talk about how talented and creative they are.
But it is almost pathetic how much we care what others think.
It would be wonderful if we didn’t. A lot less pain in the world, and I probably wouldn’t have to write this series of myths.
But we do care very very much what you think.
And we are terrified you’re going to tell us.
We hope you love it. We hope it knocks your socks off. We hope you think it’s the most marvelous thing you’ve ever experienced.
And it’s so very, very hard to hear, if you don’t.
This need to have our work loved is so powerful, I hate to share it with you.
Because this knowledge is a terrible weapon in the wrong hands.
I don’t mean we’ll necessarily change it if you don’t love it. We have our artistic integrity, after all.
Wait for it…….
Again, some people will stand firm, and others don’t mind using a little less blue or a few more dots, if that will win approval. It’s your choice.
Even my fiery artist friend Lee, who fiercely created his art at all hours when the muse struck, sometimes going days without sleep, would call me up to come and see the new work. And he waited anxiously, child-like, yearning for my approval. Not my judgment–he was extremely proud of his artist title–but he wanted others to see what he saw, and appreciate what he created.
But the world is not kind to artists, especially those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves.
After all, human beings are creatures of opinions. We all got ’em, and we have one on everything. Even the things we don’t know much about.
And of course, we all have a little mean streak in us. It is so easy to criticize what someone has made.
But some people cultivate their mean streak. It is very important to recognize and avoid those people.
Caveat: I know the role of the art critique is a hallowed tradition, especially in art schools. I’ve been to literary gatherings where writers submitted their latest piece and subjected it to a group review.
I know that not all art is beautiful, wonderful, powerful or narrative. There’s a lot of stuff out there I don’t care for.
I myself have served as a mini-consultant for artists and craftspeople, evaluating their current work and assessing whether it is appropriate for their perceived goals and venues.
But I see that function as a way of gently aligning what people say they want, and what they do.
All too often, that critical process is used as a chance to savage the work of someone whose talent threatens our own little jealous lizard brain.
If someone says they are an accomplished seamstress and they want their work to sell, they sabotage their efforts by making shoddy work quickly so they can sell to a lower end market. If someone says they’re a writer, but they don’t blog or submit manuscripts or otherwise get their writing out into the world, then I encourage them to show the rest of us that they are, indeed, a writer.
I don’t try to rip them a new one and denigrate their efforts.
Am I saying we should be namby-pamby and never offer honest feedback about the work of others? Or we are so weak in spirit that we can’t handle a little criticism?
Nope, not saying that. What I’m saying is that we must be aware of our need to have approval–and not let others, whose intentions may be less than honorable, use that as a knife to cut us to the quick.
When we make art, it will be stronger if we focus on what is inside us, what we want to say and what we want it to do.
In a perfect world, we then let go. We know it’s done, that it’s out in the world. And we have to truly not care what other people think. That’s hard, but we can at least try.
In the meantime, be very particular who you show your work to, especially during the creative process. We all know people who, for who-knows-what reasons, cannot celebrate our success with us. They will sabotage your efforts in refined and subtle ways.
Instead, create your own artist community.
These workshops by Deborah Kruger, fiber artist extraordinaire, are excellent. Similar to Julia Cameron’s work and The Artist’s Way. (Just don’t do what so many artists do, and focus on all the meetings and exercises instead of making your art!)
Yes, we all need honest feedback. And sometimes criticism spurs us on to do our most truly powerful work.
But it’s a harsh diet to live on all the time. Someone who tries to destroy your spirit with criticism is not your friend, and not your supporter.
Choose your friends carefully when it comes to you and your art.