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Criticism: An Inside Job

My studio is being revamped, making me available to sit and think about things. Like writing blogs on a more consistent basis. What popped up is, “Who are you? Who cares what you’re thinking about?” Expletives follow.  Ouch!


Point (Nurturing): “Of course what you say is of value. You’re a world travelled, life-long artist, accomplished psychotherapist, a teacher-mentor of standing in points all around the world. You’ve met and schooled with Julia Cameron, creator of “The Artists Way”, and many luminaries in the world of psychology. Your clients love what and how you say things. You have studied and practiced art for most of your life. Your experience matters; your words matter.”


Counterpoint (Critic): It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are. This is art, not psychology. People are busy. They don’t have time for your drivel. Whatever you write has to be the BEST or forget it. You are shit”.


I know I’m not alone.


The Inner Critic is present in all of us in some way.  Messages are highly personal. Vulnerability is met with contempt. Internal criticism is an unconscious misdirection of the amygdala, the primitive ‘fight or flight’ part of the brain, designed to protect us in life threatening situations. It inspires instant reaction where everything feels immediate and threatening.  Fix it NOW or you’re a slug. Except we aren't in danger. In the art world, our situation is not usually life threatening. Still, we suffer this emotional self-mutilation blindly.


The External Critic: There are two types of external criticism: benign( ignorant and hurtful) or harmful (intended to sting you). The benign critic tries to appear knowledgeable at your expense. The harmful critic intends to belittle you to appear grander. In my view, the idea of “constructive criticism’ is a myth, a permission to kill metaphorically speaking… and a sidekick of external critics. Criticism, for me, is always negative. Uninvited criticism disguised as feedback is equally odious. The concept of “informed feedback” is a better tool to refine your work. It is more useful.  Examples: “notes” given actors, a tool to sharpen performances; a football coach growling feedback to players, coaching them. High quality feedback is received gratefully; it is not personal even though it may help you personally. Not all people possess the skill or knowledge to give meaningful feedback. Also, noteworthy are the non-verbal criticisms: looks can kill.  You know those people, right?  Remember, these Critic messages, verbal or non-verbal, are not worthy of your time. Remember it. Suffering is optional.


What can we do to sort this confusion? Some ideas:


The Inner Critic is an echo of past experiences where one was belittled, a ‘gift that keeps on giving’. Ugh. It is often triggered by external critics. We can learn to meet this devil with equanimity, inviting the beast to pasture. By strengthening the Internal Nurturing Parent, it becomes easier to disqualify the Inner Critic Voice.  This can be done by countering silly (and they are silly) criticisms, like “Who Are You?” with realistic truths, for example, “An Educated Person Who Matters”. Inner Critic is not an artist and does not belong in your studio. Without support, the critic shrinks and slithers away. In reality, there is no place in you for self-torture. Suffering is optional. Plus, you are the professional; . Goodbye damn spot.


The Outer Critic is self-aggrandizing and seeks a bond with your Inner Critic, forming a worthy opponent.  The ego-seeking, malevolent, hurtful critic may be educated but speaks only in the interest of building their own ego, not worthy of your attention. On the other hand, Benign Critics, are often uneducated about art, trying to appear knowledgeable. We support their learning with kindness. We must develop skills to discern and respond appropriately to both the benign critic and the harmful critic. It is important to reject the soul crushing energy of the harmful critic. By strengthening the Internal Nurturing Parent, it becomes easier to disqualify the Outer Critic, as well as the Inner Critic.  Remind yourself , “I am a skilled and knowledgeable artist who matters”. Without inner Critic collaboration, the Outer Critic shrinks and slithers away, in reality, a coward. Too bad; their words might matter if they felt they themselves mattered.


Internal Nurturing Parent: a soft inside voice wisely guides you in your journey, setting limits, asking for appropriate help, encouraging learning, trusting yourself. Your place of chosen values, it helps you set regular studio hours and once there, begin the work rather than doing time-eating endeavors, like endlessly arranging or cleaning the studio. This voice praises the praise worthy in you; corrals the rebellious, mis-adventurer in you, using that energy for productive activity.  It discerns those worthy of attention, those whose feedback matters to you.  Nurturing Parent response to Benign Critics, the consuming public, who are often uneducated about art and trying to learn: support them with loving kindness and good information (more later).


Your own discerning eye for the art you make, minus the Inner Critic, knows when the work is good. Give yourself permission to honor that voice. You’ve worked hard over time to gather this body of knowledge and this level of skill; honor that. Notice the mirror images of Inner and Outer Critic, Inner and Outer Nurturing Mentors. When you refuse to associate with the energy suck of criticism, you will feel a great surge of energy.


As Mamie Yokum (of Lil’ Abner Comic Strip; I’m dating myself) said:


 “I has spoken!”






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