The Inner Critic and The Art Police
In the Wild Heart Expressive Arts approach to intuitive painting and art-making we are in a continual dance of trying to navigate our relationship to the judging mind also known as the inner critic.
I’m defining the inner critic as the part of our psyche that is mean or punitive and makes us feel bad by telling us we are inadequate or worthless or just not good enough. And those internal messages get transferred to our art. Which is one of the primary reasons that people don’t make art, or can’t really enjoy their art making if they do get past it enough to actually try and create something.
The inner critic is relatively easy to spot once you understand that it’s something that you’ve internalized and is not a part of your true, essential self. Once you see it, you can recognize that it’s actually pretty toxic and something that you really don’t want to give any attention to because it’s damaging and objectively hurtful to your creative self.
But there’s another part of the mind that is a cousin to the inner critic and is much harder to challenge because we don’t recognize it as something that limits our creative freedom. And often get convinced that it helps us be better artists.
This is the part of the mind that has all kinds of preferences and opinions about whatever you create.
It looks at what you’ve painted and picks it apart with a fine tooth comb saying things like “That part is good, but this corner over here is decidedly bad, that’s ugly, this is beautiful, that works, that doesn’t work and WHAT a weird color choice!”
It’s what I call the Art Police.
This constant process of evaluating and ranking and appraising our creative efforts is not only exhausting but it takes us up into our heads and away from the joy and living energy of the creative process, which makes its home in our bodies and our hearts.
It’s based in the familiar and habitual response of trying to maintain control over what is happening in our art. And ultimately in our lives.
This way of approaching our painting is kind of the only thing that we know to do because it’s how we live our lives. We are constantly evaluating situations in our life. Am I safe enough? Am I warm enough? Where do I find food? Or love? Is this person going to hurt me or help me? And on and on.
We need this part of the mind for our day to day survival. It’s necessary, it helps us get our needs met and gets us from point A to point B. But this part of the mind is also very risk averse and only wants to do what’s safe by making sure that you stay in a narrow band of what is tried and true, what is familiar and what is already known.
The creative process has a whole other agenda. It is ALWAYS an invitation to adventure and to the mystery. The creative process wants to take you out of your comfort zone and towards what you don’t know, what is unfamiliar, and into what you have never seen and done before. The creative process wants you to let go of those well worn and established restrictions and impediments to your freedom and begin to trust in taking leaps into a liberation that can often feel scary or uneasy.
Often it will ask you to paint something that doesn’t make sense to you or that seems weird or confusing or ugly or messy. It wants you to go outside of what you already understand so that you can begin to find out how big and vast and mysterious you really are.
We limit ourselves in so many ways and don’t even realize that we are doing it. We create those limits out of fear because we don’t want to ever, ever, EVER let go of control. Control equals safety and safety equals survival. So on a symbolic level the painting can sometimes feel like it’s asking you to risk survival itself.
One of the biggest ways that we try to hold on to control is by demanding that we ONLY paint what we like and never what we don’t like. Or always what we want and not what we don’t want. As I go around the painting room and ask the very simple question, “What could POSSIBLY happen next in your painting?” I hear all kinds of things.
I hear people say “There could be more black or red, yellow or green. I could paint a figure here or another image over there, but I DON”T WANT TO!! I JUST WON’T DO IT!!! If I do that I will ruin the painting. And I WON’T LIKE IT.”.
In other words if I let the painting lead me, I will be risking letting go of control. This addiction to preference is ultimately the voice of NO. But what this process promises you is a chance to get to the voice of YES which requires willingness, surrender, and opening into the mystery of our real selves. It’s a chance to go beyond the story of who we think we are into something we can hardly imagine.
Maintaining your attachment to only what you like and don’t like, want or don’t want, seriously limits your creative freedom. It keeps you in a cage and you become the willing jailer.
Part of the magic of this process is that it can also help you to let go of patterns of behavior that keep you stuck in your life. I hear people say to me all the time, “I really, really want to change and grow. My life is not working for me the way that I have been doing it and I know something has to give.”
And they mean it. But then they will turn around, pick up the brush and engage with those old familiar patterns of judgment and evaluation and comparison over and over again in their paintings.
We reassure our inner creative selves with false promises, saying things like “I will take some creative risks later. But not in this painting. Not at this time. This one is TOO precious and I can’t take the chance that I’ll mess it up.”
But all we have is now. The only time we can take that risk is in the present. There is no need to wait except for the fear.
We don’t realize how small we are keeping ourselves by maintaining such a stranglehold on our creative process.
The voice of preference is often only the voice of fear and negativity in a really good disguise. We don’t know it is fear because it hides behind the voice of control.
We deeply identify with that voice. But what we don’t realize is how much that voice of preference and evaluation is related to our conditioning. It’s most often based what we have learned and what we have been taught by other people, our culture, from our parents and our experience in religious institutions or school.
We just swallow what we’ve learned whole without question, and believe it is who we are when our true self is crying out and tugging at our heels trying to get our attention by introducing a little black or blue or green into our painting.
Intuitive art making is a very simple process that we try and make way too complicated.
It’s ultimately about listening and obeying our intuitive, creative wisdom. It’s asking the question “What is the next image, shape or color that wants to appear?” And once you get the answer, your job is to just say yes, and to not question what you’re being told.
You don’t need to know where the painting is going. You don’t need to know what it means. And you certainly don’t need to like it.
Just practice watching the voice of “Now I like it, now I don’t “ float across the screen of your mind without getting too attached one way or another. Try to not let the judgment control YOU.
I guarantee that if you can do that for even a little while you will not only fall in love with your paintings, but will eventually fall in love with you.