There are two forms of criticism. One type of criticism is received from teachers, friends, artists and press, outer resources. The other is our own criticism; personal inner criticism. Both forms of criticism can help us to push forward and grow our art.
But the flip side to positive feedback aimed at growth is negative criticism. The dark side of criticism stifles creativity, shuts down emerging artists, puts projects to a halt, expects perfectionism, and can even end careers. For some artists, the inner critic is extremely damaging or even scary. Negative self-talk can convince many artists and creators that they are not worthy of pursuing their true passion. Art is not a real job, you’re not talented, you can’t draw, you won’t be successful, the inner conversation gets nasty quick. Without realizing that this inner critic is self-sabotaging and is telling you lies, you can’t fully accept your creative calling. For some creatives, we don’t even realize we are doing this. Forget business planning, goal setting, and the art of the sale, if you are struggling with your inner critic, getting you to be creative or getting you in the studio is the focus.
Every artist has this inner critic and we all battle with this voice of self-sabotage at some point in our career. This post outlines ways to help battle this negative voice so you can get back on the horse and follow your true passion.
1. Acknowledge the Voices
Inner criticism feels like the truth even when it’s a big lie. Inner critics go for the deepest cut on the most sensitive areas of ourselves. Oftentimes we can trace back what our inner critic tells us to some outer critic, coach, parent, teacher who provided a piece of damaging criticism. Pretending we aren’t struggling with this inner talk only turns up the volume. The first step to taming this inner beast is acknowledging what we are telling ourselves rather than trying to ignore it. To silence the critic, we need to identify what the critic is saying.
2. Recognize the Fear
Taking the time to remove the authority this inner critic has over you can be scary but liberating. It can bring up some deep stuff that perhaps you forgot about. With trying to get unstuck from the crippling inner criticism, it can be hard to branch out and begin to heal or start to make work again. Recognize when you are experiencing fear and be gentle with yourself. Take baby steps as you both process and peel away from this toxic and critical relationship.
3. New Expectations
Comparisons to other artists or believing you need to do, behave or look a certain way, already set yourself up for failure. You need to set reasonable expectations for your inner artist. Don’t force yourself to make art an entire day, paint a masterpiece right out the gate, or make something that’s good enough to sell. Don’t set yourself up for failure, that’s your inner critic setting the bar too high. Be gentle on your inner artist and realize that all creatives do a whole lot of “bad” art before they get to the good stuff. Let yourself be a beginner.
4. Manage Your Time
Oftentimes we wait for the perfect time. We need the right materials, the right studio space, the right mood, the right weather, the right cup of tea, the right mood music, etc. We wait for time to be on our side for us to work through these inner criticisms. Instead of buying a big new canvas, new tubes of paint, and setting everything up perfectly so you can make a new great work of art out the gate set a simpler goal of just making something creative for 15 minutes. Small moments of creativity pay off with artistic interest and creative self-trust.
5. Reward your Growth
Reward yourself for trying when you are starting to tame the inner beast. Commend yourself for showing up to the easel, drawing board, studio, or wherever you need to show up. It’s really important to acknowledge your attempt or the tiny baby step you took so the next time you take a step (or a bigger creative leap) you trust yourself even more. Regardless of success or failure, it’s the attempt that counts.
6. Align With Coaches
Sometimes our inner critic is so vicious it’s more like a tick or a parasite. To get rid of a very mean critic sometimes we need some assistance. Align yourself with creative coaches, an art mentor, or perhaps even a therapist to help you work through this. Build a support team around your work and your artist. These people can help you dissolve perhaps larger issues you have that feed the negative talk. Do your research and find those who will best help you reach your goals.
7. Become “Frenemies”
Your critics’ purpose is there to protect you believe it or not, but it’s important to tame it and filter out when it gets a bit too extreme. Your critic will always be there in some capacity because it’s you. Retraining your response to your inner self-sabotaging talk is really what this is all about. When you hear your inner critic speak up as you make your work, rather than seeing it as the enemy, thank for critic for looking out for you and remind it that you know what you are doing. Don’t let your fear get to you. The more you work with taming and friend-ing your critic the easier it gets. Sometimes putting a funny name or a face to your critic helps make it more approachable. Sketch an image to find a picture of what your inner critic looks like.
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One quote I love is from Julia Cameron, “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse.”