Week 8 of The Artist’s Way is about “Recovering a Sense of Strength”. When I initially read the title of the chapter, I did not think it would have much relevance for me. Because I am new to the art field, I did not feel that I had lost my strength, so how would I “recover” it?
However, the chapter was really about maintaining the strength to survive and continue on the artistic path. This can be tough in the face of destructive criticism and heartbreaking setbacks. These losses are inevitable, though, particularly in the art world.
Cameron likens artistic losses to miscarriages. They take the form of bad reviews, work that doesn’t sell, not being cast in the role you felt “belonged to you”, losing a client, etc. When our dreams are frustrated, we experience a kind of loss that is hard to articulate and can be difficult for others to relate to. However, as devastating as these losses are, the most destructive artistic losses often involve criticism.
Critiques are an integral part of the art experience and the process of learning. They allow the artist to hear and learn from feedback from the audience. When the criticism is balanced and constructive, it can lead to increased insight for the artist and to better work. However, inappropriate criticism can lead to major setbacks. It can even discourage an artist to the point of giving up.
Inappropriate criticism is broad, generalized, and negative. It is not specific, so the artist cannot learn from it. It is given flippantly and is many times unsolicited. It also tends to be unbalanced and vague. “Don’t quit your day job” is an example of inappropriate criticism. This type of criticism should be viewed for what it is, and should be resisted by the artist.
As an art student, I found Cameron’s discussion of academia to be particularly interesting. Many times art teachers are blocked artists themselves. The very environment of academia with its emphasis on intellectualism and conforming to specific grading criteria can stifle fledgling student creativity. Sometimes the combination of blocked-artist-teachers with their issues, the rewarding of lofty academic theories over experimentation, and the general lack of encouragement can thwart many artistic careers before they even get started.
However, my school experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Even so, I am aware that these issues exist. I feel forewarned that when artistic losses do come, they should not be trivialized. Each loss must be mourned and then responded to. Cameron advises that the best response to an artistic loss is to counter it with a positive action designed to restore hope and excitement. After a devastating loss, Cameron recommends that artists ask themselves, “how can this loss serve me?” The answer will come if the question is asked sincerely and persistently. Pain can then be transformed into artistic gain and survival. The counter-action helps the artist figure out what the next right step should be.
For me, the next steps include completing my AA in Studio Art. While the distant future is fuzzy, the near future and my idealized dream-outcome is very clear. With the tools I have learned in Week 8 of The Artist’s Way – analyzing criticism I receive, transforming pain into progress, and constantly taking the next small positive steps toward my goals – I feel poised to achieve my dreams. I must also admit that I am a die-hard optimist who believes that almost anything is possible with a little time and effort! I hope you all feel the same way!!!
Now, go follow your bliss…
Cameron, J. (2002). The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. Penguin Putnam Inc.: New York.