It was the third day of my figure drawing class and the first time we got to work with a model. We all stood around in a circle behind our easels-- dutifully attempting the gesture drawings our professor had instructed us to complete. After a few minutes, she stopped us and told us to turn our easels around so we could see each others work.
I felt exposed. Her request brought me face to face with the tension I feel between my desire to produce flawless work and the fear I have of being seen as an amateur. I wanted to do my drawings but keep them to myself until they were perfect.
My fear kept me in self-censorship mode. I couldn't lose myself in the work. I was too obsessed with how every little stroke I made looked and what the combination of all those strokes said about me as an artist. Instead of being focused on seeing, copying and creating, I felt the pressure to dazzle my professor with my artwork. I was so afraid that she would confirm my suspicions and tell me I didn't have any real talent.
But the point of the class was to increase my skill, not to serve me some kind of final verdict about the possibility of my future artist endeavors. Lately as I've attempted more creative work, I find that I'm often tempted to quit creating. I worry about originality, passion, and other peoples' opinions.
It's funny, sometimes when I go to a gallery and see artwork, or read a book or an article that resonates with me, it inspires me to create. There are other times when I so closely identify with the work that I leave feeling like there's no point in picking up my pen because the art or writing that I want to do is already being done.
Our species has been around for a long time. All the plot lines have been exhausted, but people are still writing. I've heard thousands of love songs, but no matter how many I hear an earnest singer-songwriter will still have the power to captivate me. What makes us different are our experiences, our personalities, and the way we express ourselves. Though we are all alike in so many ways those three things make every person, and their art, unique.
" Yes. Even if you're telling yourself you're not stealing, subconsciously you are influenced whether you like it or not. Through the Beatles' songbook or Stevie Wonder or all the things that you've heard playing in post offices, elevators, and on the radio since you were 2 years old. But the most important thing is what you do on top of it, and how you make it your own and combine all those influences to make something new. I think of it like Play-Doh: You have all these different colors of Play-Doh, and you hope to make this ball that, by the time you mix it all, it's indistinguishable what the original colors are. And it's hopefully not this ugly kind of diarrhea brown, [but] it's this really kind of interesting thing that people want to listen to." - Mark Ronson
One of my friends posted this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson last week: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
As a highly indecisive person I find this statement terrifying. The endless well and depth that many people claim lies within each one of us has been for me nothing but a wavering voice asking endless questions. I've been advised to follow my passions and live my dreams, but those are hollow words for someone like me.
I can't tell you what I'm passionate about but I can tell you what I'm interested in. I'm learning to chase my interests in the hopes of uncovering some passion one day.
"Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times--a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are specially touched by God. But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming and more democratic entity... In fact curiosity only ever asks one simple question: 'Is there anything you're interested in?' Anything? Even a tiny bit? "No matter how mundane or small?"- Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic
I've only ever held jobs where I've been required to attempt to physically or spiritually help people. Self-sacrifice is so deeply ingrained into my psyche that the notion of following my own interests and curiosities seemed almost selfish to me.
For me, being a living sacrifice meant that my life was about finding needs and meeting them without considering my own desires. As I looked out into the world, there was never a shortage of need. After years of ignoring my own interests, I felt like I was dying inside.
A few weeks after I gave birth to my third son I knew something had to change. I had a three year old, a two year old, and a newborn. We stayed home a lot. So I started writing, and I started thinking about drawing again. I started a blog: a little space in the world where I could write down my thoughts. And of course I started worrying about what people would think about me for being bold enough to throw my words out into the abyss of the internet.
Other Peoples' Opinions
I've always craved the approval of other people, and I've always made an effort to fit in. But, there's something about turning thirty. For some reason I just don't care as much as I used to. Maybe it has something to do with being a mother but I'm too exhausted to keep up a perfectly manicured facade.
I've given up the desire to produce flawless work because that would require that it was produced by a flawless artist--and that is not me, just ask my husband. There are flaws in EVERYTHING I produce, but that won't stop me.
I've taken some criticism for writing on controversial topics, but part of being an adult is realizing that not everyone sees the world the same way. It's not my job to tiptoe around so that I never offend anyone.
Part of putting work out into the world is the willingness to be misunderstood. I'm not saying it won't hurt, but I'm saying that it won't kill you. I've found that the people who scream the loudest are just trying to shut you up. They don't like your thoughts and ideas, and they don't want you to be heard--don't let them win.
I'm not saying that you should never take constructive criticism. But you've got to ask yourself: does this person who is reacting so violently to my work even know me? Are they civilly challenging my argument, or are they attacking me personally? If they don't really know you, and they're lobbing personal attacks, don't be rude; just ignore them and keep creating.
"The way to take a punch is to practice getting hit a lot. Put out a lot of work. Let people take their best shot at it. Then make even more work and keep putting it out there. The more criticism you take, the more you realize it can't hurt you."- Austin Kleon - Show Your Work.
I'm not a professional writer or artist. I'm just a woman whose head and body feel like they're going to explode if I'm not creating. Seriously, If I spend too many nights watching Netflix I start to wilt inside.
I do it because on some level I have to. But living under the pressure of constantly creating groundbreaking work can also be soul crushing. Seeing myself as a conduit, a channel, and a vessel has saved my creative practice.
For better or for worse my ideas don't originate with me. They come from bits and pieces of my childhood memories: things I've overheard, experiences I've had, books I've read. The really good ones are brain whispered by the Spirit. They drop into my mind while I'm chasing my kids or cooking dinner. And when I act on them, even if my execution is poor, more ideas seem to come my way.