Since it's Sunday and my "day of rest" in which I can enjoy some down time to think and relax, I was mulling over this past week at my art studio. There were moments of listening to critique and moments of listening to praise. I've written previous blogs about some of the critique artists can get, and learning how to gracefully listen to that critique (without punching someone) is a useful skill. But there is one skill infinitely more important to master and that is how to deal with praise. Not dealing with praise correctly, I think, can destroy creativity and ruin a life and I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that. I'm speaking from personal experience.
When I was a kid, art was the only thing I did well. I was teased a lot and easily crumbled emotionally. But I found that if I created something artistically, the same people that teased me earlier would praise me. So...I wanted to be the best at art. And the insidious thing about it was that this determination was unrecognized by me (or anyone else) as being dangerous at all. What's wrong with wanting to be really great at something? We praise people who have grit like that. But I didn't just want to be great. I wanted to be greatest. And because I probably had some natural abilities in art, and because I applied myself to the extreme to creative endeavors, I was consistently the best artist in all my school classes and life was sweet. Until...
When I entered high school, I met a guy that toppled me from my throne: John Howarth. John was a nice guy and popular. But I kept my distance. I did not like John Howarth, because he ruined life for me. He was the first person I met that was a much better artist than I was, and for the next three years, I was forced to deal with being "second best" (which to me, felt like utter failure).
Thankfully, I can honestly say I learned something from that whole experience. I learned that praise is addictive. It's nice but the more you get, the more you need. It's never enough. I learned that I was USING my art and my abilities to create and bolster a sometimes sagging self image. But I came to believe that creative ability was not given to me as a means to an end. I firmly believe that art is a joy in and of itself. It is the gift, not the means to the gift. And interestingly enough, I can look back at my high school years and the emotional-spiritual processing going on in me and can see that that was a real turning point for me, and my creativity radically increased. When I stopped using art to get attention and "be someone" and simply enjoyed art, creativity opened almost unbidden, like a flower in my hand.
So, I feel sorry for people who are criticized. Unasked for critique especially is difficult to hear and not become instantly defensive. But I'm terrified of people who can't bear to not be "the best". I've been nearly destroyed by people like that. But I'm probably scared of them because I was just like that, so it's like looking in a mirror if I can be honest (and it's my blog, so that's my prerogative). They say that the things that bug you the most about someone else are probably your own weakest areas. I have found that to be true.
So for what it's worth, here's some advice:
If you're criticized for something you do, don't let criticism crush you. Listen to it. I mean, there may be some helpful nuggets of truth mixed in with all the garbage, so sort out the critique like someone sifting through a latrine for a wedding ring dropped into it.
If you're praised for something you do, just enjoy the praise for what it is in the moment it's given. Don't live off it or for it, and don't make adulation and attention that thing you need to base your life on. Personally, I need something much more stable and eternal for something that important. That's just my opinion. Happy Sunday!