Inner Critic 24/7

Art critic Jerry Saltz had this salty observation about the creative process, "As an artist, you wake up thinking you know. By noon, you question everything. You’re better at bedtime. Then you wake up at 3 a.m. with the thought, 'My work sucks.'”

Okay. I'm not sure about you, but it's as if Jerry's been overhearing the thoughts I've been having lately. Returning from my five-day intensive art workshop, I was on a high for quite a while. I painted every chance I got. But of course, life gets in the way, and now I'm down to weekends only. The interesting thing is that the further I get away from that magical time, the louder my inner critic seems to get. 

About a month after I started posting my work, I told my mom about my new site and sent her the URL for my paintings. A week later, I checked in to see what she thought. "Well," she began tentatively, "Some of it is pleasant to look at..."

Sigh. So my mother doesn't like my work. Okay. That's fine. But it does add a bit of fuel to that 3 a.m. wake-up voice. 

The truth is that our brains do us no favors. They twist on themselves–starting from one end (Wow! I can't believe I did that! It's so cool!) to the other (Oh my gosh. How embarrassing. How could I have ever thought that was good?). 

Is there a balance? Maybe, maybe not. I do know though that just noticing that the inner critic is there helps give a bit more power over it. So now I know that when I hear that voice start to whisper mean things into my ear, I am listening to a fickle liar with a propensity for hyperbole.

I have noticed that my inner critic tends to get more negative after I've had a difficult day, or not gotten enough sleep, or when I've eaten too much bread. It also noticed that it has nicer things to say after a day of checking things off my list or getting some "likes" on Facebook for a funny post about my kid.

Just being aware of the inner critic's tendency to vacillate helps me picture it more like a that weird neighbor who has no filter--we know to expect something rude or critical; she just can't help herself. But knowledge is power–-now we can brace ourselves as she approaches and find our happy place.

So Jerry, when I wake at 3 a.m. I'll remember that even though my inner critic is telling me that I am wasting time in my studio, I can quickly fall back to sleep knowing that the voice does not necessarily represent truth. I can now dream of paint and brushstrokes and as I wake to a Saturday with no obligations, I can run downstairs to discover new adventures with my brush. And remember that as long as I get enjoyment from it, it doesn't matter that my mom isn't going to display my art on her walls. They wouldn't match her furniture anyways.