Compliments and Criticism

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(Or, “The Artist As A Starving Little Child”)

I think about this a lot. And by “a lot”, I really mean frequently. Performing and creating seem to be the only disciplines where you need kudos to carry on. I guess “need” is a strong word. You could get up there and sing an operatic solo and then dance your heart out, hear crickets, and continue onward with your life. But the goal is, in some way, to please and receive praise. You don’t really catch a CPA standing there after a dashing tax deduction waiting for the slow clap to begin… Not that all humans, as fairly basic animals, don’t want to be appreciated, but seems that the artist (and for the purposes of our discussion all singers, dancers, actors, performers, musicians, and makers of things will be called artists) is the eternal inner child standing up and saying “Look what I can do!”

Not all of us had crappy childhoods. Some artists come from loving homes with 2 supportive parents, and no history of abuse or neglect to speak of. So I cannot say definitively that it’s “Daddy Issues” that make us seek praise. Some artists are compelled by a force inside to speak, at all costs. I know that for myself, a life without a creative outlet is no life I want to live. I have to make things. I have an opinion to express. When I see materials, I start to think about how they go together and what they could become. 

But at the end of the day, you’d like someone to want to have your artwork (most times), or come to your play, or read your book. You are not doing this as a solo, masturbatory, experience. I want you to see what I have created. Is it that I want you to understand me? Is it that I want you to have the same thoughts and feelings that I do at a given time? Sometimes, honestly, I just want to feel like it’s worth it. I guess for the working artists, the ones that get paid for the services, or see more direct results, maybe this isn’t so much of a gaping maw. I don’t get paid. Most of anything that I’ve made that has left my hands and ended up in another’s has been a gift. Recently, I can say I’ve sold a little bit of what I’ve made, but it won’t replace my day job any time soon. I want to feel appreciated. 

Speaking solely for myself, I know that my insecurities are the Sarlacc Pit waiting to devour me. I need to be told I’m pretty, so to speak. I see so many amazing, talented people. People that can paint photo realistic portraits. People with amazing, brilliant minds that come up with incredible concepts that blow me away. I never see myself in that league. I have photography that’s won awards, I’ve won places in shows. I am worthwhile, and I have to remind myself of that constantly. I have to tell myself that the inner voice is comparing apples to oranges, and the only thing I need to be concerned with is doing the best possible work I can do on any project at any given time. No one else can create what comes from my hands. 

The other side of this coin is the criticism. Now, I don’t want anyone to hear their voice in any of the words I’m going to say, so please try to remember that this is a generalization. I do remember compliments. I’ve taken certain ones to heart. But I also remember the criticism. Let’s also preface this by saying it’s healthy. No one is done growing and learning. You have to put on your big girl/boy/third-or-non gender pants and deal with it. Sometimes you have to look for it. If you never edited anything, ever, a lot of what you would produce would effectively be pretty shitty. But if you are a person with already admittedly pretty abysmal self esteem, that shit can spiral around your head and make you uncertain of every decision. And it can’t. Because those motherfucking decisions need to be fucking made, goddamn it. You can’t walk away from everything. There is no satisfaction, and no growth, from abandoning every attempt. It’s like always having sex, and never, ever having an orgasm, for either partner. Just a constant state of foreplay. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to live, either. 

Even though it can feel like the whole process is a childish endeavor, I have to subscribe to the belief that there is a greater purpose to art. It has saved lives and moved nations. Its motivations are vast and elusive. Dissecting the Muse is probably a bad idea. Understanding yourself, and your purpose, can be helpful; but you should try not to be so unkind as to reduce the whole of your drive to a dysfunction. I hope to have a long, productive future of making things that may or may not sell, may or may not be appreciated, and may or may not be loved by anyone. Though I’ll still say, every girl wants to be told she’s pretty. 

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One thought on “Compliments and Criticism

  1. ok so i found this post to be both uplifting and partly depressing, maybe because it is something i also struggle with myself. not necessarily with being told i’m pretty, because i know i am drop dead gorgeous…but seriously. i just read somewhere recently that all artists are in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and unhappiness with their work. they are never content. i think that’s just part of the artistic spirit, be it painter, performer, musician. you do your best, but you always see room for improvement. then when you move on to the next project, you take what you’ve learned and apply it to that.

    i think the catch is teaching yourself to be ok with that. be ok with being in stasis, being unsettled, being in a constant, perpetual state of learning and moving.

    and yes, EVERY other artist you compare yourself to is thinking that SAME thing: “I’m not good enough, smart enough, successful enough.” you already HAVE talent and creativity to spare, my dear. it’s talent AND drive that make people successful, so don’t give up! just keep working on being the artist that YOU already are, and accepting that no matter how successful you will become, and try to accept that you’ll probably never be happy, because you are a TRUE artist 😉 xo

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