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Quieting an artist’s inner critic

by Erik Beerbower

Every day I hear the voices. Some days I can squash them like blood-sucking mosquitoes, other days they roll right over me like those big boulders chasing Indiana Jones. I have learned to cope with them, to accept that doubt, criticism and anxiety will always be waiting in line to talk to me.

My voices ask a lot of questions: “Are you cut out for this?” “Do you think anyone will buy that?” “How can you sell more art?” They seem to get louder towards the end and beginning of the each month. They are intimately tangled around my bills, like kudzu on a tree in the summer.

Lately my inner critics have begun to empower me. I am beginning to listen to them and I am getting better at focusing on the constructive comments. They have become a welcomed kick in the ass. Now I wake up every morning and shake out the voices that I fell asleep to and tell myself “time to make some art.”

Inspired or not, I still have to put my time in. Art is a job. Surviving on your craft is a difficult task. You have to be able to do everything, conceive the art, make the art, sell the art and market yourself the entire time. That is a lot of pressure. With each new task comes new questions, and if you spend too much time listening to each one nothing will get accomplished. Working builds confidence and provides a buffer between you and your inner critic.

Some days I make great art; other days I am just going through the motions. Inspiration is rarely consistent. You have to grab hold of it when it presents itself. That is why I am learning to tune out the distractions and their voices. Unfortunately that comes with a cost. In order to find time to execute my craft and chase my inspiration, I have not been so responsive at answering my cell phone. Extra voices and distractions further impede my artistic progress. It is a calculated risk, but one I am willing to take in the name of art.

Every artist struggles.

It is a career that lends itself to uncertainty and discouragement. But within every artist lies the desire to create and be heard. Finding your voice as an artist instills confidence in you and is a successful tool to quelling your inner critic. Your voice is your power base; it is where you find strength and refuge. It helps define your style and language, and gives your work purpose. The problem is when you put so much of yourself into your work you leave yourself open and vulnerable to criticism.

The faster you accept that not everyone is going to love your work, the better off you will be. Be secure that your work has strength. Art is subjective, and we all interpret it differently. When confronted with critical voices toward your work I think it is better to take your licks and move on rather than use all those fancy justifications you learned in school to bullshit your way through.

Surround yourself with people who can build you up rather than break you down. Sometimes your closest friends can be your best critics. Ask them to be honest and frank at critiquing your work. Wouldn’t you rather hear it from them than someone you don’t know? They are more likely to give you positive and constructive suggestions that can make your work stronger and you more secure. Reaching out for support can be difficult; it is hard to ask people to judge you. That is the only way to successfully analyze your strengths and weaknesses as an artist. Feedback is essential to spotting gaps and filling voids. The more knowledge you are equipped with the better prepared you are at answering your inner critic’s tough questions.

Nothing quiets your inner critic more than selling some art. Peddling your wares slaps those critics right out of your head. There is nothing more rewarding in this occupation than creating a piece of art that has meaning and resonance to you and having someone buy it. It is validation and respect as an artist. It reaffirms your place as a steward of the arts.

Not to mention it pays the bills.

Artists aren’t starving – they are striving. And the faster we can deal with our inner critics the closer we can get to focusing on the future.

Get your art on.

To comment on this story, e-mail Erik Beerbower at imisculp@mindspring.com.

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