“Now I don’t have any particular wisdom to impart to you people, except to say this, these four words – don’t have unrealistic expectations.
“If you want to make money, better drop out right now, go to banking school, or website school – anywhere but art school. And remember, only 1 out of 100 of you will ever make a living as an artist.”
Professor Sandiford [John Malkovich, in Art School Confidential (2006)]
How do you respond to feelings and thinking about your creative talents and success, after hearing ideas from others such as pronouncements of supposed authorities like the fictional Professor Sandiford above? Or even your own inner voice?
Creativity coach and author Eric Maisel is “a meticulous guide who knows the psychological landscape that artists inhabit,” as The Writer magazine exclaims in a review of his new book Making Your Creative Mark.
I have just started reading the book, and it promises to address many challenges faced by creative people, especially those who are making a creative career for themselves.
Here are some excerpts from the book, from one of the sections: “Feelings and Thoughts“:
Sometimes we can think a useful thought only after a painful feeling has subsided. The feeling may be too powerful for us to think clearly in the split second of feeling it. That is the way nature built us, to have powerful feelings that can trump thought.
However, when that feeling has subsided, then it is our job to decide what we want to think. Here are two examples of what I mean.
Mary sent her slides off to a gallery where she had high hopes for representation. What she got back was a terse email: “Your work isn’t up to our standards.”
Mary stopped painting for the next three years.
Such dramatically unfortunate events happen all too often in the lives of artists. One sharp criticism can derail an artist not only for far too long but sometimes altogether, making him completely doubt that he has the right or the wherewithal to be a professional artist — or any kind of artist at all.
The consequences of receiving this kind of blow are so severe primarily because of our powerful initial reaction to them, one that is often out of scale with the incident.
When someone says, either in veiled language or in no uncertain terms, that you are an idiot, that you have no talent, that you’re mediocre, that you’re a hack, that you’re derivative, that you’re . . . fill in the blank . . . you will have a reaction.
Often it is a whole-body, hard-to-tolerate emotional reaction that shifts your world.
Virtually everyone has a strong, visceral reaction to being criticized, humiliated, or shamed. These powerful, automatic whole-body reactions, like our blushing response or our fight- or-flight response, are fundamental, hardwired parts of who we are.
Maybe some very advanced human being can avoid feeling these things; maybe some very detached human being can avoid feeling these things. But the rest of us feel them.
It will feel as if something tremendously large and bad has happened — and yet all that has really happened is that we are having a feeling.
Once we have that feeling, the ball is in our court. What are we going to do next? What you do next may affect how you spend the next year or even the rest of your life.
If you take this pain in without doing anything to defuse it, you may lose a great deal of time or, if you manage to continue creating, work much less strongly than you otherwise might.
Much better is the following. When a whole-body explosion of bad feeling erupts in you, use the following three-step technique to calm yourself down and to get a grip on the situation.
First, acknowledge that something happened. We are amazingly adept at being defensive creatures who can deny almost anything.
Continued in book:
Making Your Creative Mark: Nine Keys to Achieving Your Artistic Goals, by Eric Maisel, PhD.
“What I don’t understand, Stevie,” [my high school teacher] said, “is why you’d write junk like this… You’re talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities?”… I was ashamed.”
Stephen King goes on to admit [in his book "On Writing"]: “I have spent a good many years since — too many, I think — being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
Toxic Criticism and Developing Creativity
Healthy criticism can help refine our creative talents and projects, enabling our pursuit of excellence. But when criticism is based on excessive perfectionism or an unrealistic self concept, it can be destructive and self-limiting, eroding our creative assurance and vitality.
In one of his podcast series, creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel declares, “Criticism is a real crippler. I’m sure that you know that. But you may not be aware just how powerful a negative force criticism can be, how much damage it can do to your self-confidence, or how seriously it can deflect you from your path.”
Creative But Insecure
Over the years of reading biographies and interviews with many highly talented and creative people, it has often struck me how many of them talk about being self-critical and having poor self-esteem. At least some of that may come from what Eric Maisel is writing about above.
How To Change “Human Nature” By Morty Lefkoe
‘Are you bothered by a psychological problem that you aren’t even trying to get rid of because you think it’s “human nature” and can’t be eliminated? If so, you aren’t alone. For example, Seth Godin recently published his 13th book, “Poke the Box,” that explains most people’s failure to take action by claiming that people have to overcome their natural resistance in order to take action.”
Regulating Our Emotions To Be More Creative
How do you work with your strong emotions? Creative people experience a wide range and depth of intense emotions, and use that wealth of feeling to create artwork and performances. The idea of overseeing or regulating emotions is not necessarily about suppressing or stifling, but about staying aware and in control of our feelings, to live with a higher level of well-being, and be more creative.