I heard a wonderful analogy on the subject of criticism & gossip which goes something like this:
If someone accused you of standing on a busy street corner wearing a ridiculous bird costume and flapping your wings, would the accusation upset you?
For most of us, probably not. Because it's too absurd. Unless you actually did such a thing as a college fraternity stunt or for a Halloween party, but then so what? And if it was just a case of mistaken identity, again, so what?
Either way, you wouldn't get defensive over whether it was you out in public flapping your wings. And while there are certainly rumors that can damage a person's reputation and peace of mind, most of the negative stuff people toss around is harmless.
So why do we get so upset when we don't get the praise we want for our art?
Because a small part of us agrees with other people's judgments when we don't trust our own.
I've read blog posts by established artists who devote 2,000 words to blasting their critics. Seriously? These artists are at the top of the pecking order, in blue-chip galleries, with waiting lists for their works that sell well into the six-figures. Completely taken over by the opinion of someone with little or no influence.
By contrast, the great portrait artist Chuck Close (featured above) was once publicly told that his paintings were boring to look at. His response was priceless: "Imagine how boring they are for me to paint" (not a direct quote).
What a perfect way to handle someone who is trying to put you down. Agree with them externally while you disagree internally. Let them wonder whether you're serious or not. No one can argue with inner conviction and they can't shake it either.
The big challenge for most artists is self-criticism. How can you feel confident about your work when we don't? I can only suggest - and this is for the students - the following approach...
Take your mind, and your eyes, off of the work.
An occasional glance is enough.
Focus all your attention on the subject and connect deeply with it. Realize that the painting is all about that connection.
The less time spent dwelling on a work in progress the more emotionally detached you become and the internal and external critics lose their power. The moment you stop thinking of your work as a trial designed to measure your talent is the moment you become free of everyone's opinions.
"But I want to sell my art"
"Professors are grading my stuff"
"I'm past 50 and don't have time to waste"
So what? Van Gogh sold nothing and studied little. Had he mastered his mental, emotional, and physical state as well as he mastered painting, he may have lived to see how important he'd become.
Self Portrait/Felt Head Stamp, 2012
Oil on paper, 23 3/4 x 20 in.
Photo, bottom: Gallego studio
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