Do you undermine your own creative potential?
A while ago I led a project with a group of young artists. They produced really powerful work – some highly polished and finished, some less so, but all of it exciting and bursting with potential. Yet almost everyone who took part had two things in common: they did not rate themselves as artists, and they had no conception of the value and validity of their work.
Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that the things I was saying to them were the same things I say to workshop groups, tutorial groups and classes of all kinds and ages. Whatever field you work in, you need to respect your creativity. Don’t try to hide from its artistic and commercial potential.
I know we British have a reputation for self-deprecation. It’s one of the few fields in which we still lead the world. Frankly, though, it’s not a reputation I’m anxious to enhance any further. Good work will always speak for itself, but in today’s crowded mediaverse it doesn’t need the added challenge of negativity from its creator.
So think about this:
1) Your work matters.
Give your work the attention it deserves. Do it as well as you can do it. You’re not playing at being an artist, you are an artist, so stop pretending it’s not important to you.
2) Respect your work.
Resist the impulse to say “it’s not very good” or “I can’t really (draw, sing, animate, whatever.)” Most of us have self-doubts, anxieties and fears: express them in your work (and you will,) but don’t let them define or derail it.
3) Respect the reactions of others to your work.
If they like (or even love) it, don’t tell them why they’re wrong. Just say thank you and be glad. If they dislike it, don’t argue, just say thank you for the feedback and think about whether they might have a point. And if they hate it, don’t argue, just say thank you and (if you can pluck up the courage) ask why that piece provoked such a powerful reaction. (Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger, if you let it. That conversation could change two points of view.)
4) Let your work speak for itself.
A piece may be part of a rich and detailed backstory, but make sure it can also stand on its own merits. Also, the feedback you get by allowing others to react to your work without steering them will be fresher, more real and more valuable.
5) Your work is worth something.
Realise that your work has value in commercial as well as artistic terms. Don’t undervalue it. That rich and detailed backstory you’ve spent time building could have all kinds of saleable possibilities that would help you have more time to make more work. It would be nice to have a world in which artists never had to think about money, but until we do, money is useful. And if anyone’s making money from your work, it ought to be you.