Push Away the Voice of Your Inner Critic

24 May 2012

I feel so inundated with ideas from every single photo reference around me right now. Sometimes I am super inspired by them, but sometimes they make me want to put my paintbrush down because I get so overwhelmed by all the ways I can start painting from photographs that grab my attention! Today is one of those days where I am inspired yet tired. Tired of striving for perfect. Can anyone hear me?

My winning painting for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Poster Contest for Beaver Creek, Co.
Pro Cycling by Shen, 18 x 24, acrylic on gesso board.
People look at my paintings and drawings and can marvel, but I am sure there are some who look at my work and cringe! In fact, after the great honor of winning the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Poster Contest for Beaver Creek, Co, the comments my work received were quite interesting. They served to confirm my suspicions. I'll say most of them were off the charts extraordinary and hundreds of people liked the image on Facebook, but then there was a comment like, "Horrible" or "What is that?"

I start to question why I do this at all. But I know that answer. I do this because I have a voice. And it is not the voice of the "inner art critic" that I want to give the floor to. It is the voice of my heart and passion. And sometimes that voice carries me in a lot of different directions.

On my studio painting easel right now is a commission for a woman who adored her pot-bellied pigs that are now in pig heaven, and on the other wall is a six-foot commission of five dogs playing poker (and a cat serving drinks), all of which were another client's pets over the years. Do people scratch their heads about the vast array of subject matter I paint, in a wide range of styles and media? Maybe. But does variety make one less of an artist? Less professional? Some would say so, and some would say absolutely not.

I am tired of the constant quest for other people's perfection. So instead of getting bogged down by comparisons and negative thinking, I am acknowledging where I am and where and how I will advance in my painting techniques and style and message.

Wonder Woman by Shen, 18 x 24, acrylic on gesso board.
Wonder Woman by Shen, 18 x 24,
acrylic on gesso board.

Recently, I put together a list of the "Things That Are Important to Me," and I found it quite revealing. It was a list of simple things like family, faith, beauty, and honesty. But then something showed up on that list like "originality" and "pop culture" and I understand why I painted Wonder Woman and The Joker last summer.

I will keep being an artist, just like you will. It is our life calling. I hope to die with brushes (or spray cans) in hand and paint smeared on my face. But I don't want to die with this nasty inner art critic's voice still haunting me. So, I suppose if I am to strive, it will be to strive to see the truth, but only my truth. Because that is the only truth that matters to an artist. 

How have you overcome your inner art critic? Leave a comment and let me know.

--Shen

Shen loves making the flat surface of a painting or drawing come to life. A professional artist and entrepreneur for more than 25 years, she lives to discover new techniques, mix media, and make difficult concepts simple! You will often find her painting live at events of all kinds to "wow" her audience. Her work has been collected by celebrities, corporations, and galleries spanning the globe. She is also an art instructor and keynote speaker, speaking to artists about how to market themselves in new, fun, and creative ways. Shen lives in Vail, Colorado, with her husband and three beautiful daughters. More of Shen's work may be viewed on her website.

 


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indica wrote
on 26 May 2012 9:17 AM

Funny that I read this today. I am suffering from that same affliction at the moment! Why do I paint? Who cares what I have to say? Reading what you have said about the inner critic is helping me to overcome " her". It's amazing how reading what other artists are saying can give a person that little boost that he/shes need to get back in the studio, try something new, reflect, learn and grow. If I have any moments of brilliance as to how to silence the inner critic I will certainly let you know! Thanks for sharing.

rook74 wrote
on 26 May 2012 11:06 AM

I usually don't add comments to these articles but this one moved me as well as the persons comment before me. It is hard to put that constant critic to bed. Maybe its a bad phase of the moon because I was in my "dungeon" last night and I was feeling so desperate to feel that inspiration and feeling almost overwhelmed by the amount of art out there. I read a particularly bothersome article elsewhere that was debating the annoyance of artists by the similarities of their work to other artists and accusations that consciously or unconsciously artists steal ideas from each other, so who owns the idea? Who painted the first rose and do they "own" all the other roses? (Because they were first or the best?) I wondered why do I bother? Surely it has all been said, and most likely by someone "better". Well I do it because no matter how agressive my critic voice is it never manages to smother that burning need to create. Just lately I have decided to paint more for my trashcan and for my secret art journal that harbors my deepest and darkest thoughts. I painted about my "spiteful muse" who tells me how awful my art is. As I gave her a face she couldn't stop my paint brush. Score one more for the persistant artists!

cando1 wrote
on 26 May 2012 2:16 PM

I never comment on this kind of thing, but I couldn't resist this. I have one of the strongest, most overbearing inner critics ever! A successful piece is often viewed with amazement - 'How on earth did I manage to do that?' No confidence at all, zilch, zip, zero, despite awards and sales. So two months ago, I began to paint whatever I felt with no regard for what others might think or buy. If I didn't like it, I put it in the pile to be gessoed over or turned into collage elements. If I did like it, I tried to write on the back what it was about it that I liked so that I could pursue that particular path. This has given me a renewed joy in painting and has boosted my creativity significantly. Painting FOR others or LIKE others is deadening for me. It is a lesson worth sharing.

on 26 May 2012 2:44 PM

I was just talking about this with a friend of mine who wants me to help him learn how to do some pencil drawings.  I am constantly battling my inner critic, and for many years it kept me from doing anything with my art--it totally silenced me.

I told him the first thing he had to do was silence the part of him that said, "I can't draw"... It's so sad that this inner critic takes hold of us when we are young, preventing most of us from event trying...then sticks around to haunt us even as we have fed our passion to create.

I do not do commission work--what I do I do to feed my soul, and the best advice I was given by an instructor was to do what gives me joy, without thought of what another will think of it. We don't HAVE to show anyone our work if we don't want to, and if we choose to share, it's on our terms.

I am trying to take Mark Twain's advice, only with an additional twist...

Dance like nobody's watching; Love like you've never been hurt. Sing like nobody's listening. Live like it's heaven on earth.... And create like no one is judging...just express it with all of your heart.

Thank you for sharing, Shen.

scrowedoc wrote
on 26 May 2012 3:22 PM

Our Critic... Our Censor, or as I call it, the Nag. This is such a universal part of the Artist experience. It is certainly not limited to the visual arts, and it is akin to the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. A humorous image (maybe I should paint it??) But, so very powerful. The idea that we are truely tools... creations whose purpose IS to create... means we cannot create "wrong". Artists learn through duplication. Of other artists, of their own work. But every effort is unique and just as it should be. Every piece a lesson. Our critic should let us see mostly positive, and allow us to choose one aspect that it would be nice to do differently in the future. Whether a work is a "master"piece will always be a matter of opinion. Create to experience joy and a flow of spirituality will led you through the process. These are my personal emories from a course I engaged in throgh the book "The Artist's Way". My favorite terms I still repeat "spiritual chiropractic" and "Discovery " instead of recovery from the critic. As is so wisely encouraged, an artist need only to "Show Up to the Page".

on 26 May 2012 3:54 PM

I honestly do believe that we are our own worst critics. My inner voice, like many of you it would seem, is overbearing and harsh. While it is an ever-present annoyance, I think I have to look at it this way if I am ever going to achieve any sanity in my life (at least where art is concerned. My sanity otherwise will always be in question...)

If I lose my inner critic, it means that I don't care about my work any more. And then I might as well call it over! It's just that simple. As for the others, I have learned to live with my high blood pressure from "taking everything with a grain of salt..." You can't please everyone, you just can't.

I absolutely used to die whenever I got a negative comment on my pieces, and since most of them came from my family, it was doubly horrid. Comments like: "why don't you take your work to San Francisco, some crazy person there might buy it..." cut to the core! But then I realized, that I can't squash this need I have to create. So it means developing a tough skin, and an internal noise filter, to block out inner and outer critics, and to CREATE! Good or bad.

If you are out there, taking you heart and putting it out in public for everyone to see, there will be bad as well as good critiques. If someone takes the time to give you a bad critique, think of it as they took the time to look at your work in the first place! They could've passed it by without another thought!!! You caught their eye long enough for them to look. Rock on!!!!

on 26 May 2012 3:54 PM

I honestly do believe that we are our own worst critics. My inner voice, like many of you it would seem, is overbearing and harsh. While it is an ever-present annoyance, I think I have to look at it this way if I am ever going to achieve any sanity in my life (at least where art is concerned. My sanity otherwise will always be in question...)

If I lose my inner critic, it means that I don't care about my work any more. And then I might as well call it over! It's just that simple. As for the others, I have learned to live with my high blood pressure from "taking everything with a grain of salt..." You can't please everyone, you just can't.

I absolutely used to die whenever I got a negative comment on my pieces, and since most of them came from my family, it was doubly horrid. Comments like: "why don't you take your work to San Francisco, some crazy person there might buy it..." cut to the core! But then I realized, that I can't squash this need I have to create. So it means developing a tough skin, and an internal noise filter, to block out inner and outer critics, and to CREATE! Good or bad.

If you are out there, taking you heart and putting it out in public for everyone to see, there will be bad as well as good critiques. If someone takes the time to give you a bad critique, think of it as they took the time to look at your work in the first place! They could've passed it by without another thought!!! You caught their eye long enough for them to look. Rock on!!!!

schwabby wrote
on 26 May 2012 8:57 PM

This inner critic for years has kept me from even trying to let the artist in me come out and play. I see others paintings and I know I have the skills (I have a BFA in Computer Art & Design) but picking up that pencil or paint brush is terrifying to me. I have come to realize that the only difference between me and them is that they weren't afraid to try. I am working very hard to overcome that and snub my nose at that inner critic! If my work is bad.....oh well. I read in a drawing book that it might take 5000 mistakes before you are good at art, so you might as well get busy and get those out of the way and get on with it! Paraphrased and I am sorry I can't give you the source at the moment.

WanaB wrote
on 26 May 2012 10:06 PM

I have to confess that I have allowed my inner critic to slow or interrupt my work altogether.  I am now in the process of trying to get my art career up and moving again.  I get overwhelmed quite often, but I am determined not to give up.  Your article is very encouraging!  Thank you!

mbsews02012 wrote
on 27 May 2012 12:04 PM

This article really caught my attention.  Like so many others, I have not responded to many comments before, but here I am adding mine.  I too, have found over the years that I cannot do commission work.  My art is actually in needle and thread, but the media is not of significance.  So many people say to me "Why don't you do your work to sell"?  I have tried many, many times over 40 years of creating, and the result is always the same.  I spend a lot of time creating my artwork, turning it into fabric, sewing it into an article, that I usually do not want to sell it.  It almost becomes "one of my children".  I have found I can produce far more in quantity when I did a project for donation to a charity.  Somehow the inner critic went away when I got passed the fact that it had to be perfect to sell.  When I did it for the love and giving of it, I did my best work, and produced a lot more, and was actually willing to part with it.  I am not saying we should all donate our work. I don't really know the answer.  Unless it is to start with the donation idea, and then put it up for sale when it is done.  I just know the inner critic is so strong that it is something apparently many true artists deal with.  Perhaps after reading all of these comments I will remember this and get over the fear.  Thanks to all of you for sharing.

LynnC@49 wrote
on 27 May 2012 12:35 PM

For me, the more art I create, the smaller the inner critique becomes.  It actually does not bother me much anymore now.  Giving myself the freedom to create what I personally want and feel and am passionate about, versus an idea of what I "should" create has been liberating!

In practical terms, I know not everyone will adore my work, but I create primarily for self expression, my ideas of beauty, form and colour, which have been refined by technique and practice, practice, practice.  

So if others like it, I think that is great, we are on the same page.  However, if they don't like it, I think that is an opportunity to learn about them and how people relate to my work in different ways.  I don't let it devastate me.

One negative comment cannot undo hundreds of positive ones!

IreneOliver wrote
on 28 May 2012 2:44 AM

Have I overcome my inner art critic? Hell no. It's one of the reasons I can't stop fiddling, striving for perfection and trying to get over my own self doubt. The very best advice I ever accepted was, "Just Do It". Then, hopefully, the rest will follow.

Stetler wrote
on 29 May 2012 11:49 AM

To tell you the truth, I get such a terrified death grip on myself...that it stuns me into "nothing-ness" I have tons of ideas, and I want to see these ideas come to life but mostly I just dream and frankly I'm sick of it. I do get so tired from RA and pain will stop me in my tracts some days but I want so badly to be able to quit comparing myself to other artists. It could be so liberating to be able to stop this and just feel free to create. If you have the solution I'm ready to do it.

Thanks for this article.

Dvanman wrote
on 29 May 2012 1:19 PM

Hi Shen. Of course, as a fellow artist, I have struggled with the same "inner critic" demons as you. A short time ago, I was viewing some commisioned work and thought to myself, "Someone was PAID to do this?! I have seen better art from a grade school assignment!"

Of course, as with all art, the response was mixed. People loved it, people hated it. This was the point where I realized that the old axiom is true. All art IS subjective, and who am I to judge my own art? It will never be what I had hoped for, but people respond. Be it positive or negative, isn't a response what art is all about? I have since tried to put my own perceptions behind me and simply create. I'll leave it to the viewer to decide if they think it has merit. I created it, so it has meaning to me, and if it evokes even a minimally visceral response from a few people, then I have done what I intended.

Your art is beautiful, by the way. Any one person who cannot see the soul you have put into these works is most likely envious of your talent. NEVER stop creating, please. You are awesome.

Dvanman wrote
on 29 May 2012 1:19 PM

Hi Shen. Of course, as a fellow artist, I have struggled with the same "inner critic" demons as you. A short time ago, I was viewing some commisioned work and thought to myself, "Someone was PAID to do this?! I have seen better art from a grade school assignment!"

Of course, as with all art, the response was mixed. People loved it, people hated it. This was the point where I realized that the old axiom is true. All art IS subjective, and who am I to judge my own art? It will never be what I had hoped for, but people respond. Be it positive or negative, isn't a response what art is all about? I have since tried to put my own perceptions behind me and simply create. I'll leave it to the viewer to decide if they think it has merit. I created it, so it has meaning to me, and if it evokes even a minimally visceral response from a few people, then I have done what I intended.

Your art is beautiful, by the way. Any one person who cannot see the soul you have put into these works is most likely envious of your talent. NEVER stop creating, please. You are awesome.

Dvanman wrote
on 29 May 2012 1:19 PM

Hi Shen. Of course, as a fellow artist, I have struggled with the same "inner critic" demons as you. A short time ago, I was viewing some commisioned work and thought to myself, "Someone was PAID to do this?! I have seen better art from a grade school assignment!"

Of course, as with all art, the response was mixed. People loved it, people hated it. This was the point where I realized that the old axiom is true. All art IS subjective, and who am I to judge my own art? It will never be what I had hoped for, but people respond. Be it positive or negative, isn't a response what art is all about? I have since tried to put my own perceptions behind me and simply create. I'll leave it to the viewer to decide if they think it has merit. I created it, so it has meaning to me, and if it evokes even a minimally visceral response from a few people, then I have done what I intended.

Your art is beautiful, by the way. Any one person who cannot see the soul you have put into these works is most likely envious of your talent. NEVER stop creating, please. You are awesome.

on 28 May 2014 6:56 PM

When that inner critic tells me I can't paint, that I'm not an artist and won't let me paint, I have started playing.  I start to paint, but ONLY to play.  I try new techniques, new avenues, but I have no thought of doing a finished piece.  Doing this, I have discovered a lot of new techniques and it has let me go in new directions.