So things seem to be going pretty well in the studio; you’re feeling that elation that is the divine experience of not thinking, not judging, not wondering, but just doing. Like a meditation through painting/making. And then you step back to look at the work. Shit. There’s The Voice. “WTF are you doing??” it says. Of course, I am not talking about you. I’m talking about me.
It is rather constant, The Voice. When I googled “artist inner critic” the results were pretty staggering. Here’s a particularly good take on it, complete with some awesome advice by artist and full-time human being Janice Tanton. Other terms that denote the inner critic are “the judge” or “the gremlin” or “the little man.” (Janice’s term.)
It’s tempting to think that the really brilliant artists are/were free of the gremlin, but we know that’s not the case.
Henri Matisse: “After a half-century of hard work and reflection the wall is still there. ”
Henri Matisse, “La Tristesse du roi” (Sorrows of the King), 1952
Claude Monet: “For almost two months now I’ve been struggling away with no result.”
Claude Monet: “Impression: Sunrise” 1873
And one of the most prolific and best painters of the 20th century, Richard Deibenkorn, said: “When I am halfway there with a painting, it can occasionally be thrilling… But it happens very rarely; usually it’s agony… I go to great pains to mask the agony. But the struggle is there. It’s the invisible enemy.”
Richard Deibenkorn: “Berkley no. 22” 1954
However– it would appear our inner critics can be useful, according to this interesting article on the Behance website 99U.com. The author says: “The trick is to get the Critic back “onside,” delivering genuinely constructive criticism. Like the inspiring mentor who urged you to do your best and didn’t accept anything less – but with a supportive and encouraging tone of voice.”
Abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell, whose intense, energetic work I adore, had a particularly interesting relationship with her complex inner creative persona. In this short clip from a bio-documentary she talks about how she deals with “Little Joan and Big Joan.” I love it.
For the full 57 minute documentary “Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Artist” (Marion Cajori, 1993) click here
It’s no secret that meditation practice or mindfulness is one strategy for helping to silence The Voice, as is allowing yourself to become immersed in that place of just making art. (easier said than done… damn that complex ego-thing.) As Robert Henri wrote in 1923 in “The Art Spirit” (still one of the best books on art-making ever written) : “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” best. feeling. ever.
The bottom line? For me, it’s keep doing the work, and lock the gremlin outside the studio door, like Joan did. And look at what she produced.