Have you ever had your creative spirit crushed?
In the past, I struggled with receiving criticism from others in any creative endeavor, because at times even a hint of “you’re doing it wrong,” could make me crumble into a pile of colored pencil shavings. I desperately needed to learn to protect my creativity. I can’t say that I’m not like that anymore, but I’m a little tougher on the outside. But not as tough as those I’ve met who seem impervious to outside criticism. Nothing seems to disrupt their confidence. Someone could tell scream “Your art sucks and you are failing at everything!” and they’d just brush it off and carry on with life.
It would be awesome to start out tough and confident, but some of us just aren’t wired that way. Though, don’t worry. There are ways we sensitive flowers can learn to protect our creativity.
The Downfall of a Sensitive Artist
When I was taking art courses in college, I felt my creative energy drain away as I butted heads with instructors and classmates. Everyone had their own opinions on what art should be, how it should be made, who it’s made for, and even if what I was doing was in fact art. It’s important to engage in critiques, ask questions, and figure out what drives you as an artist, but I found that the majority of my interactions in the arts community were making me feel small and inadequate. I began to lose my drive to create because I allowed opinions from the outside world to pollute my creative spirit.
For a while, I did stop creating. I was so confused about who I was as an artist and how I fit into the art world. I needed to do some internal work to build my resilience, and thankfully I did. Many artists go through this and I want to share a few tips that I have used over the years to reclaim and protect my creativity.
How to reclaim and protect your creativity:
1. Define your intention and reason for creating.
This is the first place every creative person should start when they want to share their art with the world.
Anytime you make something and show it to another human, you will hear opinions, complaints, critiques, or questions about your work. Some people will like it, some people will hate it, some people won’t care, some people will tell you to make it into a career, and some may tell you never quit your day job. If you are sensitive to this sort of thing, the best way to protect yourself from negative feedback or even to prevent your ego from over-inflating from positive feedback is to define why you do what you do.
Why do you make art?
Do you create for fun? Do you create to make a statement, to upset people, to comfort people, as therapy for yourself, as a means to capture beauty? Whatever your reason, put it down on paper.
Then, if someone shares their opinion/critique/commentary or whatever, you can hold it up against your original intention and reason for creating. As long as you are satisfying your original intention, then outside opinions don’t really matter.
I have had quite a few people leave comments telling me to try doing something different with my art. Past me would have interpreted these comments as “They are tired of what I am doing and I should feel bad because I didn’t please this random person and maybe I should try doing something different like they said.”
Current me is like “Nah. I did what I set out to do and I’m going to keep doing that.”
Defining your intention for creating and holding true to it builds your confidence and helps protect your creative energy.
2. Don’t waste energy defending why you do what you if being judged (rather than critiqued).
In academic settings, the art critique process involves a lot of explanation of what you did with your art. You can find yourself ‘defending’ your choices. This is a great exercise to teach you awareness of your own choices and art process, BUT this is an exhausting practice if you feel like your creativity is being judged rather than ‘critiqued’. There is a big difference.
Read: How to Critique Art
If you ever find your art being assessed as “bad” or if someone is simply saying “I don’t like this,” don’t waste your time or energy trying to convince them why it’s not bad and why they should like it. As an artist, your energy should be spent on the actual creative process. If you waste your time defending your work, you’re not protecting your creativity.
Thank that person for their opinion and move on.
3. Always, always, always remember, it does not matter if your work is “good” or “bad”. Don’t leave room for internal judgment.
I used to be really critical of my work. This would leave me feeling frustrated and defeated when I would try to create because I wasted a lot of time in the middle of creating worrying about my work looking bad. I polluted my own creative process with judgmental thoughts. Once you release your creations of judgment, your creative spirit can fly free.
There is no place for judgment while creating. Even when you are finished with a piece, don’t allow yourself to stop and judge. Move on to the next work of art. Take notes of what you want to try improving upon, and apply that to the next piece. Do not sit back and tell yourself your work sucks.
Few things have killed my creativity more than staring at a piece I didn’t like and ruminating on how terrible I am as an artist. The best thing you can do is to keep your creative momentum moving forward. Don’t judge. Just make things.
4. Only accept criticism from select people.
There will always be people who will dislike your art. It’s a fact that you can’t please everyone. You won’t be able to prevent negative comments about your creations (especially if your work reaches a larger audience on social media), but if you make a decision in your mind to only accept and internalize the criticism from trusted sources, you can protect your creativity more easily.
This means you have the authority to ignore any and all negative comments from strangers on the internet. You have no idea who they are, their personal preferences, their experience in the art world, or if they know your drive as an artist. Don’t let a 12-year-old on Instagram convince you your art sucks.
Opinions are not facts, and people are far too generous with their criticisms. I assure you, that not every critique should be given attention. Take criticism from the people within your field that you respect or the people who have reached a level you want to reach. Criticism is beneficial when it helps move you closer to your goals.
5. Find a trusted art partner with positive energy.
We could all use a cheerleader for what we do.
The creative process requires that we be vulnerable. When we are at our most vulnerable, negative comments can be incredibly crushing. Finding one person or a couple of people to share your creative process with who understand you, your art, your intentions for creating, and have empathy can work wonders for your creative spirit.
Do not show your work to people who are consistently negative or hard to please, or at least don’t listen to their judgment and opinions. You don’t need to win over anybody’s approval when you are in the creative process. You need to nurture your creative energy and convince yourself to just keep going. Having trusted and like-minded people in your inner circle can give your creative spirit a boost.
I also want to say that it doesn’t matter if someone is ‘lying’ and they tell you your work looks good when they personally don’t like it. The important thing is that you have a support system that encourages you to keep creating.
If you don’t have someone in your life like that right now, read this:
Don’t stop what you are doing. If your creativity brings you joy, then make whatever it tells you to make. If someone said something discouraging, it’s okay! Just check in with yourself. Are you pleased with the process? Do you like what you’ve created? I promise you will find others who will enjoy what you are doing. And maybe what you are doing is just for you. That’s okay too! You don’t need to share your art with others. Sometimes our art can act like a private diary that’s meant only for the creator.
Whatever negative comments or experiences are burned in your memory that prevent you from creating, I give you permission to let them go. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure that comes from embracing your creative urges. Keep painting, drawing, knitting, sculpting, or doodling on the margins of your notes in class. It doesn’t matter if the end result wins awards or earns you money. It’s all in the process.
Go get messy and show us the art that fulfills you.
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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.