Just recently one of my brave, brave students took her intuitive paintings home and showed them to her dad.
She was generous enough to share the interchange with me and I thought it would be helpful to share it with all of you.
Here's a brief transcript of their conversation:
My student: "Hey dad, I'm taking this cool painting class in Oakland and I wanted you to see something that I created there.
Her Dad: "What is this? I don't understand it? Is this a turnip?"
My Student: "No Dad. Can't you see? It's my radical self acceptance!"
Her Dad: "Hmmmph... Well, when are you going to take a REAL art class?"
My Student: " Oh dad, you are such a funny guy!! Why would I ever want to get something as boring as formal art training??"
In my intuitive painting classes I always encourage my students to be careful about what they do with their paintings once they take them home and particularly about who they show them to.
Once you are in my studio there is a very specific parameter set about making comments on each others work, which is that we DON'T. Make comments, that is. AT ALL.
This creates an atmosphere where people can relax and not worry about things like external approval, judgment, and competition. All the things that can really put a major damper on your creative freedom and enthusiasm.
But the rest of the world outside of my studio is not yet savvy to this particular approach and in fact think that they are supposed to comment on your work.
They think that they need to have some kind of an opinion either positive or negative. They don't know any other way to relate to a piece of artwork.
Which puts the artist in a very vulnerable position because those comments always create an impact and it's usually not a helpful one.
So I suggest to my students that they take care about who gets to see their stuff, reminding them that they don't really have to expose it to anyone and that if they do decide to open themselves up to their friends and family, it's OK to be clear about what kind of response they do want.
Presenting your paintings to another person is a great opportunity to practice having boundaries.
It's a chance to try on for size saying some potentially scary things like: "Yes, I took a painting class and what I worked on is private and I don't feel quite ready for anyone to see it just yet."
And making clear requests, like: "I would appreciate it if when you looked at my painting that you please not make any judgments about it because I'm still feeling tender and vulnerable. I would really love it if you could just be happy for me that I gave myself the chance to be creative."
But of course, sometimes you just need to throw caution to the winds and put your work out there knowing that you can find a way to creatively deal with any response you might get!
Which is exactly what this woman did by risking showing her painting to her dad. I just loved how my student was able to stick to her guns in this conversation and not get thrown off by her dad's response.
It was also a great example about how to pretty effectively deal with your own judging mind which her dad so graciously illustrated by taking on the role of a superb outer fault-finder.
This conversation with her dad could just as easily have been a conversation with her own inner critic. And in fact, some version of her dad's responses are probably something that we have all experienced and internalized at some point in our lives.
Which is why we need skillful ways to deal with those voices whether they are in our heads or in our face.
So I've outlined some things that I learned about dealing with that cranky part of our inner landscape from my students interchange with her dad.
1.) It's much harder for the critic to get a purchase on you if you approach your creative work with a sense of positive enthusiasm.
But how, of course, do you do that especially if the disapproving part of your psyche has gone into overdrive and has your creativity in a serious choke hold?
One of the things I notice with my painting students ( and of course, with myself) is that they are always operating on two different channels when they are creating. There is the left brain channel which is where all the chatter and stories and the not so flattering commentary about what they are doing is coming from.
And then there is the right brain channel which is related to the direct here and now, in your body, felt experience of the creative process.
And it is the right brain channel that allows you to tap into where you are the most authentically and creatively alive.
You can think that what you are creating is awful or bad or not good enough and at the same time you can have a deeply felt, present time experience where you are enjoying the process of creation immensely.
So it's all about where you are focusing your attention.
Do you want to spend your time listening to an endlessly boring string of negative, disparaging criticism or simply allow yourself to have a good time?
You do get to choose.
2.) The critic doesn't really know what it is talking about. So always be suspicious of anything it tells you.
"Is this a turnip?" I mean... come on... can't you do any better than that, Mr. Backseat Driver Of The Creative Process? If you're going to criticize someone's sincere creative effort at least come up with something well thought out that has some vague reference to the thing your criticizing.
But no, no, no... the inner " Always Up For A Potshot" critic is not bound by any such rules or conventions. The truth of it is... it makes things up... all the time. We get into trouble when we take what it says to us as the gospel truth but all it wants to do is to find something that we will react to.
Essentially it's fishing for things that will make us jump up and down and get us totally distracted from actually creating.
Our job is to be a smart little creative fishy and not bite the bait.
3.) Don't allow the critic to define you. Affirm your own creative efforts every chance you get.
You get to set the terms and parameters around your creative work. Always. If the judging mind says "turnip" and you say "radical self acceptance" you are the one that has the last and final and only word on the subject.
Dance around singing made up songs about radical self acceptance. Shout it from the rooftops. Paint it in four foot high red letters on butcher paper and hang it on your living room wall.
4.) Don't ever, ever, EVER take it seriously.
It's always a good policy to treat that part of your mind like you would your dear, old, clueless dad. Which means with a sense of humor, a gentle eyeroll and a firm yet loving boundary.