September 6, 2016
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?
Probably not. Because it's just plain absurd.
Unless you actually did such a thing as a college fraternity stunt, or if you were heading to a Halloween party. But then so what?
And if it was a simple case of mistaken identity, again, so what?
Either way, you wouldn't go on the defensive over whether it was you out in public flapping your wings and making an ass of yourself.
And while there are in fact malicious rumors that can devastate one's reputation and peace of mind, most of the negative crap people toss around is pretty harmless.
So why do we get so upset when we don't get the praise we want for our art?
Because part of us agrees with the judgments of others when we don't trust our own. Or if we lack confidence.
I've read articles written by established artists who devote 2,000 words to blasting their critics.
These artists are at the top of the pecking order, represented by blue-chip galleries, have mile-long waiting lists for their works that sell well into the six-figures. Insane over the opinion of someone with little or no influence.
By contrast, the great portrait artist Chuck Close (featured above) was once told that his paintings were boring to look at. His response was perfect:
"Imagine how boring they are for me to paint" (not a direct quote.)
What a great way to handle a critic. Agree with them externally as you disagree internally. Let them try to figure out whether you're serious or not. No one can argue with inner confidence and no one can disrupt it either.
The real challenge for most of us is self-criticism.
How do you stay confident about your ability when you 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 all you need.
Focus your attention on the subject. Connect deeply with it. Realize that the success or failure of your painting is all about the quality of that connection.
The less time spent dwelling on a work in progress the more emotionally detached you become. The critics, external and internal, then lose their power. The moment you stop thinking of your artwork as a trial that gauges your talent is the moment you become free.
Imagine what that feels like:
Free of worry. Free of frustration, Free of anxiety. It's easier than you think.
But you have to stop obsessing over your work so much. I can't stress this enough, and it's a tough idea to sell.
But I want to sell my art.
Professors are grading my stuff.
I'm past 50 and don't have time to waste.
Van Gogh sold nothing and studied little. Had he mastered his mental, emotional, and physical state as well as he mastered painting, he might 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, Woodstock, NY 2016