How to Silence the Inner Art Critic
And How to Turn It to Your Advantage
One of the toughest things to do is silence the inner art critic. Ultimately, that’s your ego talking. And ego is always anxious to point out our short-comings. The opposite side of the ego’s spectrum is the distorted view that everything you do is pure perfection and that no fault whatsoever can be found in ourselves or anything that we do. I think however, that the majority of this planet’s populace leans more towards being self-critical than egotistical. Most people have a pretty mixed up idea about their abilities, what other people think about them, and more importantly…what they think about themselves. Often times, our own critical voice is more cruel than what anyone else says. Who needs enemies when you have yourself?
Most people are too critical of themselves. They think they aren’t good enough. If this is you, you’re not alone. Children are not naturally self-critical. That’s a learned condition. From the beginning of life, a baby learns without ego getting involved. They learn how to turn over, how to crawl, how to walk. There’s no baby in the world that worries about making mistakes. They just continue learning through trial and error. As they reach their toddler years, they naturally play and dance without caring who’s watching. They draw and color without worrying that what they’re drawing doesn’t look exactly like what it’s supposed to be. They don’t care. Their primary concern is that it’s fun.
It’s the words and actions of others that makes them aware of anything other than that. A parent, teacher, or classmate who makes a comment, no matter how well-meaning can cause that child to self-doubt. A comment like, “Oh, you made the sky pink! Why didn’t you make the sky blue?” Well first of all, the sky sometimes is pink. And who says it always has to be blue? Or, “Oh, you made daddy’s head so big!” Well maybe daddy’s head is big in the child’s eyes. Or more than likely, that child is just going through the developmental process that all kids go through with their drawings.
But in the meantime, seeds of doubt are sown and the inner art critic is born. When they reach school age, they become acutely aware of how they measure up to the other kids and peer pressure raises its ugly little head. Soon, they stop drawing altogether for fear of being ridiculed. It’s only the rare, brazen kid who sings and dances to the beat of their own drum that can bypass the not-good-enough mentality and keep the inner art critic from spouting off too much.
The Only Way to Truly Fail, Is to Quit
For the child that continues to draw and eventually earns a living as an artist, many still have that self-doubt. They hate everything that they do and can nit-pick each of their works apart until you begin to wonder why they don’t just get a nice desk job somewhere where they’ll never have to draw again. The fact is, we artists can be a sensitive bunch. And some of us, though we continued to be creative, never really learned to silence the inner art critic. We are the first to bad mouth our own work, but if someone else does it, then they completely unravel. This can pose a serious problem if the one doing the criticizing is their employer or the client who commissioned them.
And then, when they can’t take it anymore, they do the worst thing possible…they come down hard on themselves and give up altogether. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again…quitting never solved the problem for anything. I have said this to people trying to lose weight who didn’t see results in a week’s time. I’ve said it to people trying to learn a new language who are frustrated that they aren’t fluent in a month. And it totally applies to art as well. Success very rarely comes without a lot of struggle, patience, and hard work. When have you ever succeeded at anything by giving up? Never! Quitting won’t work with any of the above. And in fact, the only way you can truly fail, is if you quit.
Using the Inner Art Critic to Your Advantage
The thing is, you can never really silence the inner art critic altogether. The ego is a part of you. And while it may be an unsavory aspect of yourself to deal with, it can be used to your advantage. You see, when it comes to our work, we should have a critical eye…to an extent. That extent should not go so far as to beat us down by belittling our work and ultimately making us feel like complete losers. But it should include looking for areas in which we could improve.
My own work for example…there are several pieces that I am supremely pleased with and proud of and I am more than thrilled with every opportunity that I have to show them off. However, that doesn’t mean I think that any of them are a work of absolute perfection. On the contrary, when I look at them, my eye is immediately drawn to the areas that need improvement. Granted, no one else notices and that’s a bonus for me. But I do see it and I make note of it. I figure out what the problem is, be it value, perspective, proportion, etc. I make note of it and if possible, fix it. If not, I keep it in mind for the next project.
Dealing With Ego Courteously and Professionally
The fact is, we all have areas that we’re pretty good at and we all have areas of weakness. If you’re just starting off, you may have more weaknesses than strengths. Let your desire to learn and persistence be your greatest strength until you have more time and experience under your belt. But for seasoned artists and newbies alike, you can learn to silence the inner art critic when he/she is being just plain cruel and nasty. And you can learn to consult with it on a courteous, professional level. Let it point out an aspect or two that needs improving. Instead of just falling to pieces over it, ask what’s wrong with it and how it can be improved.
I know some people who have named their inner art critic. You may choose to, or not. You know how your mother used to tell you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? Well, when your ego starts shooting you down, repeat your mother’s words to it. Tell it to go away and come back later when it can manage a constructive conversation. Tip: If you’re around others, you might consider keeping this dialogue in your head!
Once you’ve determined what area you’re having trouble with in regards to your artwork, then search for a class or a lesson to help you. There really is no excuse anymore. The internet provides hundreds, if not thousands of how-to videos for any art related skill or technique. YouTube is chock full of them. Watch free to your heart’s content. Grab your sketchbook and practice right along with the video. And there, I said it…the P word…practice. Practice, practice, practice! Practice like your life depends on it. If you’re already a working artist, your livelihood at the very least, does!
So take it seriously. If art is truly your passion, then do what you have to do to improve and to overcome any and all obstacles. Learn, practice, and then practice some more. Never, ever give up!