Negative black-and-white thinking about your art can be harmful to your confidence and future art-making practice. While you may think labelling the art as “rubbish” or “bad” is stating the obvious, it could be blinding you to all the positive aspects of your art. Whatever your brain focuses on expands therefore looking at only “negative” aspects of your art, they will appear bigger, especially with similar repeated thoughts over time.
Kevin Gyoerkoe and Pamela Wiegartz talk about this extreme viewpoint in 10 Simple Solutions to Worry: “All or nothing thinking, or black-and-white thinking means viewing things in extreme categories. For example, you might describe a presentation you gave as “perfect” or “horrible.” Instead of a more balanced, reasoned view, you overlook the shades of gray, the subtleties of life, and force experiences into either-or categories (ie. describing yourself as “irresponsible” if you overlook a task or calling yourself a “failure” if you don’t meet an important personal goal.”
If by giving yourself constructive feedback you feel encourage to continue practicing then that’s great. But if you feel disheartened by your own feedback—especially if it’s black and white thinking—look for the more neutral “grey areas” instead. If you’re unable to find any small areas of the art you like, can you find one positive aspect? One specific line or dot? You can’t notice what you don’t look for. And “perfect” art is overrated. If we could do it perfectly instantly, we’d get bored very quickly. There’d be nothing new to learn and no joy from each step of growth accomplished over time. Look for the grey and let go of the pressure for your art to “be better” than it is right this moment.
As an artist—whether amateur, hobbyist, professional or master—growth always follows practice. But when most of that growth cannot be seen, measured or quantified, it’s easy to feel discouraged if it feels like minimal growth has taken place. Choosing only to measure your growth by likes, comments, clicks or positive feedback and you miss out on internal markers of growth such as growing confidence, having more peace when making or increased enthusiasm to practice. These are harder to quantify, but will ultimately provide you with more nourishing feedback about your growth and progress. Feelings cannot be turned into data but are far more important than a metric number of likes. Growth IS constantly occurring, in tiny micro increments over time.
Steven Pressfield in The Artist’s Journey offers “the artist has a subject, a voice, a point of view, a medium of expression, and a style… How do we find our own? In my experience the process is neither rational nor logical. It cannot be commanded. It can’t be rushed.” The process is going to take time. In the same way you cannot rush the evolution of a tree, you cannot rush your own as an artist.
Pressfield references James Hillman’s analogy to an acorn in The Soul’s Code: “The totality of the full-grown oak is contained—every leaf and every branch—already within the acorn.” You have everything you need inside your. Practice making art and over time, more of your creative tree will be revealed. This is a slow evolution, but one that rewards along the journey.
There’s no arrival point, no end or finish line when it comes to your creativity. There will be no trumpet sound when a higher level of craftsmanship is reached and you’ll never get there – the place where you’re happy with everything you make and feel completely comfortable all the time. Uncertainty allows creativity to flourish. If you know all the answers before you begin, how can you grow and develop as an artist?
Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve encourages “We don’t make meaningful art through lateral moves but by constantly challenging ourselves to new heights. We cannot create great art without continuing to create ourselves. This work is a process of continuous reinvention. We don’t just do it once. It is a journey of becoming, one in which we never fully arrive.”
If it’s impossible to fully arrive, choose to ignore the imaginary finish line you’ve made up and stuck into the challenge of growing creatively.
Do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset when it comes to your creativity? Carol S. Dweck’s work on the mindset psychological trait explores the differences:
- Fixed believes: your basic qualities (intelligence, talent) are fixed traits so talent with no effort creates success
- Growth believes: your basic qualities can be developed through dedication and work, creating resilience and an enjoyment of learning
In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck explains “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world—the world of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other—the world of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.” With a growth mindset, developing and learning is the goal and talent or natural ability isn’t necessary for success. You don’t even need confidence to start: “In the growth mindset, you don’t always need confidence… when you think you’re not good at something, you can still plunge into it wholeheartedly and stick to it.”
Plunge and stick. How would your art making practice benefit if you took this approach? Ignore the fear and plunge anyway. Stick to it and commit for the long haul. If you feel your skills aren’t up to scratch, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve over time. Dweck argues “Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. This is so important, because many, many people with the fixed mindset think that someone’s early performance tells you all you need to know about their talent and their future.”
It’s important not to take the memory of making ‘bad art’ as a child to convince and reinforce the “I’m not creative” identity as an adult. That kind of thinking is a fixed mindset which creates no space for future development and growth. Take the plunge and adopt a growth mindset to gives yourself the permission to create.
“Becoming is better than being.” The fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.” – Carol S. Dweck