I will always be my own worst critic.
I default to thinking everything I do sucks. My art, my writing, my face, and whatever else I can think of. My inner critic says it all blows, but my inner critic is an a**hole, and it should not be trusted. If you have an a**hole inner critic too, then you, my friend, cannot be trusted to judge your own art–or anything else you create for that matter.
I can be somewhat objective and evaluate the technical aspects of my art. I can tell you if I am lacking negative space and balance, and I can tell you when I need more contrast or need to rework different forms. This is basic critiquing and every artist should learn how to recognize and manipulate design principles. What we cannot be trusted to do is judge the objective value of our art.
Is it good enough to show the world? Is it good enough to sell? Or is it straight garbage to add to the dumpster fire of my life? Things like that. Most of the time, we are biased and wrong in how we judge our art.
I have created work that I hate and it sold immediately. I have created work that I thought was amazing and it sits in my studio for years. I’ve learned that the accuracy of my judgments is lacking–but it’s been easier to just stop trying to judge my work at all.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
When I was writing my novel a couple of months ago, I kept hearing this nagging voice in my head that was all like “You’ve never written a novel. You will not be good at this. This book will be terrible. Who are you to think you can do this?” Before I accepted I was an artist, that voice said the same thing about my art.
Happily, I ignored that voice and continued writing (I’m working through third-draft edits at the moment. Jury is still out on whether or not this thing does in fact suck–but that’s not my biggest concern.) While I was taking a break from writing, I googled “How to know if you suck at writing” and came across a video explaining the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
You are biased.
“The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low-ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.” -Verywellmind
This quote filled me with hope. If I believe I am amazing at what I am doing, then that might actually mean I am worse than I think–so if I believe I suck, does that mean I am actually better than I think? Maybe. I might just have the ability to recognize my own incompetence and lack of skill. I might not be good, but I have the power to recognize that and try to get better.
The Ultimate Balance
In order to move forward and evolve, you have to believe you suck just enough to keep you motivated to learn, but not suck so much that it paralyzes you.
Past me would judge my work so harshly that 1) I didn’t show it to the world and 2) I let myself get so discouraged that I stopped creating. I did this over and over again with writing most of all, but art as well.
If your thoughts prevent you from showing your work to the world or from creating at all, then you have work to do. Dial back the judgment. Your internal critic needs to be quieted.
Grow while recognizing weaknesses:
Present me knows that my art isn’t the greatest, my writing could definitely still use a lot of work, and perfection is unattainable but growth is always a good goal.
You’re not going to be perfect. You’re not going to be the best. Just make art and keep moving forward.
F**K it. Put it out into the world.
Every day I work on art, I still think 75% of the time “Well, this is garbage.” But I still finish the work and put it on social media and in my online store.
I have trained myself to not give a sh*t if my work is good or bad. If I enjoy making art, I put it into the world. Then I go make more art. I repeat that cycle and hope some of it sells. When I get tired of art, I go write. I don’t think I am great at writing, but I keep doing it. Maybe I am the worst, but that doesn’t matter, because I’ll only get better at what I do the more I do it.
Make your art. Put it out into the world. Let everyone else decide its value. But, if they do think it sucks, f**k ’em, because the value of art is subjective. Really, nobody can be trusted to judge your art objectively, especially not you.
Don’t judge your work. Recognize your weaknesses, and keep practicing. If you do judge your work, don’t let that stop you from creating or putting it out into the world. And if you think you’re the best f***ing artist that ever existed, then you probably do suck at what you do, but high five for being confident! Keep putting that art into the world!
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
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