Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting Over Yourself

I've never been the kind of person to toot my own horn, but that doesn't have anything to do with how I actually feel about my talents and abilities.

Like most creative people, I have a love/hate relationship with myself. There are times when I wonder how I manage to put one foot in front of the other.  But then there are times when I think I truly am the "bees knees."

It's very difficult to formulate a realistic and unbiased opinion of yourself and your talents.  We've all seen those American Idol auditions when people who can't carry a tune think they can win it all.  Of course, they're all young people and frankly, getting your bubble burst is part of growing up.  If you haven't been humiliated a few times by the time you're thirty, you aren't trying hard enough!

Getting to the place where you can be truly honest with yourself is a difficult and time consuming process.  Sometimes you'll encounter a very young person with that capacity, but mostly you find it in middle aged and older folks, those that have been around long enough to be "up" and "down" and who know that nothing lasts forever and change is normal, and that a good kick in the pants now and then isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For artists it's more complicated.  It's only in the arts that someone's emotional life is so tied up with ones "work" life.  Those of us who do art for a living aren't just dealing with nay sayers that annoy us, we're dealing with critics that pay our bills.  It's a different dynamic.

Which is why it's important to develop a thicker skin.  Dealing with criticism is part of life but dealing with it well is an art form in and of itself.  Truly successful people in the arts are those that can take the criticism, examine themselves and their work honestly, then make adjustments as necessary.  Not all criticism is meant to be hurtful, it's often meant to be helpful.

Of course, when you're the one being criticised it's natural to take it personal.  For years I rolled my eyes at my mother's insistence that I need to be a better seamstress.  My ideas were great but my execution really sucked.  However, I was young and just wanted to create, I didn't think the way I did it was so bad, and I wasn't interested in taking the time and the effort it would take to improve my sewing skills.

Over time I realized that my lack of sewing skills made it difficult for me to do what I really wanted to do.  So, I took several classes and then spent years perfecting my techniques to where I'm now at the point that I'm comfortable doing anything with a needle and thread. 

After all these years I give my Mom the credit for criticising my work.  If she had been the kind of mother who praised me no matter what I did I might have continued living in my delusion and wondering why I wasn't getting anywhere as a textile artist.  Even though I thought I was ignoring her criticism, it was always there, niggling at me, and I'm so glad I finally paid attention. 

Even now as a middle aged semi-successful artist, I still struggle with getting over myself.  I have to fight the "it's all about me" reactions I have to things.  When my work isn't accepted with overwhelming joy I have to fight the urge to not take it personally, and when I have some success I don't work too hard at patting myself on the back...although I do enjoy it.

Creativity brings joy, but it can also bring heartache.  It's difficult to find the middle ground, where the heartache is minimized and the joy is tempered with the realization that it won't last forever.  There's always another challenge, and I think for us artists it's as much about facing the challenge as it is about meeting it.

So, if you're a beginning quilter, try not to let the critcism get you down.  Learn what you can from it, and enjoy your successes.  Try to be realistic about your skills, and don't expect too much from yourself.  It's a process that takes time and practice.  So get over yourself and have some fun!

And don't let the turkeys get you down....


1 comment:

Deb said...

Thank you for the sentiment! It IS difficult to find the middle ground and it is nice to know I am not the only one who has this difficulty!

Deb at