Monday, January 26, 2015
We made the decision to get a new dog a couple of years ago. We discussed it at great length and when we had decided to go ahead we spent some time discussing what behaviours we would and wouldn't accept from her. It was a good thing we did. Within minutes of picking her up we fell in love and it would have been so easy to let her have her way on almost everything. But we have all stayed strong and she is a wonderful addition to the family. I know, you are wondering why I started by talking about the dog and I promise it will all become clear by the end of the post! And besides, it is never a bad idea to start with a really cute picture.
I have been thinking about critics a fair bit lately. There is never any shortage of people who feel they should share their opinions about my work with me. Over the years I've been able to develop some skills for dealing with those people. When I really get upset by things they've said I try to remember that only I can give them that sort of control. I try to consider the source and their reasons for being critical. I raised my kids with what I call the Bambi Rule: If you can't say something nice, don't say nuthin' at all (Yes, I know Thumper said it!) There are so many ways of talking about a piece of work in a positive way while still helping the person move forward with it. It is too bad that so many instructors, fellow artists and yes, even family members, forget that constructive criticism is better than destructive criticism. It is also unfortunate that these aren't the toughest critics to handle. The really hard critics to get a handle on are the internal ones.
I've tried a lot of techniques for getting rid of my internal critics. Some of them look a lot like real people I know and others have much creepier visages and personalities. I've tried ignoring them, yelling at them, ignoring them, railing against them, ignoring them, banishing them, ignoring them.....none of it works for me. There have been days... months... years....when they have kept me from doing any real work. They have certainly kept me from taking great joy in my work. The minute I stop throwing about paint to decorate paper, an activity they abhor so much they pretty much abandon ship, they creep back in and become a chorus of verbal assault. I'll not bore you with the details, you likely have a similar chorus in your head and I don't need to give them any new ideas.
I'm not saying that the critics, both real and internalized, don't have their purpose. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have taken up the daily practice of calligraphy and kept at it until I could make at least a credible piece of lettered work. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have worked at developing ways of making straight cuts and well folded books. If it wasn't for them I would still be sewing crooked seams and puckered quilting stitches. Critics have their uses but it is the constant drone of comments, the overpowering sound of the voices that drown out the quiet creative thoughts that need time and positive energy to grow. So, what to do?
I took Abbey for a walk a few days ago. While I was walking along I was thinking about critics and simultaneously I was thinking about how good Abbey was being even though she hasn't had as many walks as she should have this month. She was walking at my side, not pulling or wrapping the leash around my ankles or my cane. The dog on the opposite sidewalk was yanking and twisting and turning and barking. The time we put into training Abbey was so valuable. And then it struck me, my critics, real and internal, need to have a set of rules to follow. This isn't a new thought, I've tried it before but I've gotten lax and let them get out of hand again. Instead of ignoring or banishing them I need to train them and I need to be firm. Don't know how this is going to go in the long run but I know two things for sure: I'm older (and perhaps wiser) so I've stopped caring as much about what others think and, the universe seems to agree with me. After I walked Abbey I went to the art supply store. I found this pencil case. Now I need another pencil case like I need another critic in my head but really, I couldn't leave it there! Rule Number One for critics from now on, both real ones and internal ones....