I talked a little bit about dealing with your inner critic in this post but after a recent conversation with a fellow artist who was struggling with getting theirs under control I thought the subject deserved its own dedicated blog post. The inner critic is something that plagues everyone whether they are an artist or not. For proof of that take a look at the self help section at the bookstore – it’s filled with books on the subject. All artists experience it and if you allow it to, it can wreak havoc with your studio practice, artistic self esteem and keep you from achieving your goals.
As someone who has struggled all their life with self esteem and body image issues I know how paralyzing the voice of the self critic can be. And when I switched careers and became an artist I added more fuel for my self critic to feed on:
- How can I call myself an artist when my degree is in culinary and I trained to be a chef?
- I have no formal art training so how do I even know what I am making is any good?
- I have never even taken a quilting class why would anyone pay me to write about quilting?!
- I don’t know what the heck I am doing, I never went to art school and way more than half the time I am just winging it.
- I will never be able to make art that looks like or that is good as (fill in the blank here)
- How can I justify being in the studio all day, I should be back out climbing the corporate ladder.
and on and on and on…
Now if I had given in and let those voices keep me from staying on my artistic path it’s probably safe to say that this blog post wouldn’t exist because I would be sitting in an office in some corporate building somewhere right now. But I managed to rise above those voices and well, here we are. Now I am no psychologist. I am definitely not an expert in this field but I do have the benefit of experience and one of the things that I have learned over the years is that there is no cure (at least I haven’t found it) for the self critic to silence it for good.
But the good news is that I have found a few antidotes for it that have worked pretty well to allow me to rise above the noise of my self critic it and maybe they’ll help you too:
1: I counter the argument
SC: I have no formal art training so how do I even know what I am making is any good?
You: Well big deal, there are a lot of successful artists out there who were self taught. Frida Kahlo, van Gogh, Gauguin, Homer just to name a few and if you do a google search on successful self taught artists you’ll find a whole lot more. I know what I make is good because I like it, I think it’s good and I feel good about it.
SC: I don’t know what the heck I am doing and more than half the time I am just winging it.
You: There is nothing wrong with winging it – it’s a great way to learn! Experimenting and trying new things are a critical part of the artistic development process and all artists do it. Nobody becomes an expert at something without experimenting first.
SC: You will never be able to make art that looks like or that is good as (fill in the blank here)
You: Making art that looks like someone else isn’t my definition of success and I won’t waste my time on it. It’s a black hole, a lesson in futility and all it does is take time away from my own studio practice and artistic development. I am going to focus instead on developing my own artistic style with lots of practice and experimentation and see where it leads me.
SC: How can I justify being in the studio all day, I should be back out climbing the corporate ladder.
You: The reason that I am in the studio all day is because this is what I do. It’s who I am – I am an artist, I am good at it and this is what I need to be doing.
Another way to counter the argument is to approach it as if you were talking to a friend who was asking for help with their self critic. What would you say to them? What advice would you give them?
2: I don’t let it stop me
There have been plenty of times over the years when I could have let the SC voice stop me from doing something. Two examples come to mind:
The day I got my first rejection letter from Quilting Arts. Oh let me tell you, my self critic did a big happy dance on my self esteem that day and by the time I got to the end of the letter it had me convinced that I would never have any success as an artist. I could have given into it but I shook it off because I knew it was illogical to think that mine was the only submission that they got and rejected. So I decided to try again, and again and I think it was either the 3rd or 4th try that I got accepted. And since then I have written a lot for that magazine and others so take that SC voice!
The other example is the inner war I had with my self critic when I decided to submit my work for the first time to the International Quilt Festival. I had been a couple of times and thought there is absolutely no way that my work is good enough to hang there among all of those famous quilters. It’s a pipe dream I told myself, so I let the deadlines pass without entering. The next year I told the SC voice that I had nothing to lose by entering other than the entry fee and I submitted for the first time. Two pieces were accepted and I won an honorable mention ribbon in the art whimsical category.
Don’t give your self critic the power to stop you from trying, and trying again!
3: I ask for help
I am incredibly fortunate to have a circle of good friends that I can reach out to at anytime for support and guidance for those moments when my self critic voice is so loud it overwhelms me. Yes, believe it or not I still do have those moments! I think being a part of an artist group that is made up of friends that you can have absolute trust in is so important. Even the most self assured of us have moments and setbacks where we need to lean on someone or we need a boost up. If you don’t already have a group start one – reach out to a couple of friends and set up a private facebook group, meet regularly in person if your all local or if not, take advantage of technology and meet electronically via FaceTime or a free zoom account.
I hope that my experiences with my own self critic will be helpful for some of you. Feel free to leave a comment on this post about ways you have of dealing with your self critic so that others may learn from your experience too.