Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway . – Eleanor Roosevelt
When you look at a piece of food on your plate and decide not to eat it, do you know why? You may be able to answer that question by saying you don’t like the taste, or you are not in the mood, but that doesn’t really address the root of the question, “Why?” Can you tell me why you don’t like the taste? Can you tell me why you are not in the mood? I doubt it. Taste is cultivated by repeated exposure and a series of complex associations the brain makes, which are still not fully understood. The same applies to art.
Art is not something you can convince someone to like…no matter how much you talk about it or try to explain it. It’s not like buying a used car. Conversely, if there is a piece of art that speaks to me, there is very little you can do to dissuade my affection for it. I’m not talking about buying art. People can be persuaded to buy things regardless of whether or not they like them or need them. I’m talking about really loving a work of art…and, no one yet has been able to explain that. Every art dealer in the universe would love to figure out the formula for what makes some people to respond to some art and not others. It’s not unlike falling in love.
And yet, even though there is no relevant answer to the question, it is what almost every artist I have ever encountered wants to know, “What you think of my work?” And, if they haven’t asked me outright, I know they’re thinking it. It amazes me, because when you stop to think about it, it doesn’t really matter what the response is. Regardless of how anyone answers the question, it won’t change the fact that you make art, and it won’t change the art you make. Although it’s true that artists need feedback, the most valuable feedback comes from other artists. The question of whether or not I like it, and it’s companion question, “Why?” are questions artists should avoid at all costs. However, it’s important to understand what you are really asking. Let’s take a look.
“Does this dress make me look fat?” The question asked.
“I feel fat in this dress, can you please tell me I’m pretty ?” The real question
“Did you like the dinner I made tonight?” The question asked.
“I am really proud of the dinner I made, will you tell me it was good?” The real question
“Do you like my work?” The question asked.
“I need someone to validate what I am doing, will you?” The real question
So, let’s examine this situation from both sides. If the person responds,” Yes, I love your work,” you are happy, you continue to make art, but you become fearful if you want to change or grow because the person said they like THIS art. You can’t keeping making the same piece over and over again or your would be miserable…so it’s loose/loose situation even if they respond positively. If the person responds,”No, I hate it.” You are unhappy, you continue to make art, but you question yourself…wondering what you could change to make them happy. Unfortunately, doing so would make YOU unhappy, and on, and on you go down into the vicious circle of self criticism and self doubt, an artists’ worst enemies.
Do yourself a favor. Give yourself a gift you deserve. You’ve worked hard to allow yourself to be an artist, give yourself permission to enjoy it and don’t ask/don’t tell.