Friday, 18 February 2005

The Inner Critic

As of late, I have seen and participated in many discussions where 'the inner critic' came up. This is the little voice that many artists (and non-artists) hear in the back of the mind, picking out of the flaws in their work. The niggling doubt that insists people only compliment your work because they are 'being nice'. You know.

The inner critic can be a genuine problem for many artists, but I do not like the now familiar meme that I have heard in these discussions, which goes something like this: one must banish him, shut him off or ignore him in order to really create great art.

What?!! While I understand the good intention behind it, that is about the last suggestion I would make. It is perhaps the way to create falsely self-satisfying work, but hardly the way to create work that anyone but your mom would like, much less great work. It is not good advice for any artist.

The inner critic is a fabulous tool if you use him right. Nothing can make you push yourself, challenge your cherished notions, get you out of a rut, or make you work until you do achieve your vision like he does. He always reminds you that as well as you may be doing, you could do better. This is not self defeatist, this is aspiring to excellence. The inner critic believes in you like no one else. And if you enter into the creative process with him, he becomes like iron on iron in conjunction with your determination-he hones you into the artist that he insists you can be.

Some may say, 'well I don't want to be well-known, so it doesn't matter what my art looks like. It is just for me.' You are selling yourself short with that argument. You are saying, 'others deserve powerful and insightful art pieces, but I do not'. Why the heck not? Excellence is not about other people or how they perceive you, as many seem to think. It is about what you are saying about yourself, how you perceive yourself. Is putting out a crappy piece of work good enough for you? It isn't for me, and I can thank the inner critic for pointing that out.

Also, when you make a piece that you are satisfied with, that the inner critic looks at and says 'it's pretty good' (and yes he does do this sometimes!), the feeling of accomplishment is amazing-no outside affirmation can give you that-and in ignoring the inner critic, you never get the feeling of his approval either. It is safer, but I would argue on the whole, much less satisfying.

Having said all that, I do know people whose inner critics have become monsters-nothing they do is right-even beautiful works are judged as garbage. I do not know what the cure for a monster-critic is, and it is very unfortunate situation given all the good the inner critic can do for an artist. As I said earlier, he is a tool, not an end, and certainly should not be the dominant component of your art-making. You might have to 'put him in his place' occasionally.
The thing is-the inner critic should never say-'you'll never be any good'. He should be telling you 'I know you can do better than that'. Then you know you are enjoying a healthy relationship with your inner critic.

This whole 'aspiring to excellence' idea is of course very dear to my heart. I don't want to just say 'ah-good enough'. What's the point of that? This is perhaps the craftsperson's aesthetic that I love so much- it has also earned me a reputation as a bit of an 'art nazi'. But I suppose that is not that far off. Yes my work is judged ruthlessly by me. Then other people's objections come as no surprise.
So says the iron-clad armadillo.


tara said...

nicely said! if people could ride the backs of this beast (donned in armadillo armour n all) i reckona lot of problems would cease to be problems. we'd no doubt have a mcuh higher quality of art and media surrounding us and treat each other (and ourselves)with a lot more respect and compassion. methinks.

tara said...

do you think the monster-critic and the tenacious beast of inertia may be related? plotting in close cahoots on ways to turn the lights out... to propogate a legion of inert monsters that are intent on tripping us up? Onward soldiers - follow the natural inclinations and tame the tyrants!

Char said...

Yeah I do think they work in tandem. I think sometimes it is the fear of the monster-critic which drives us into the arms of inertia-a seemingly lesser evil. And yes it's time to fight back against both! :)