I've received plenty of criticism of my work. It's a part of learning. But I can only recall three times in my life when it's been cruel. The first time wasn't exactly cruel; it was delivered in a hurtful way but was accurate in its content, so I was able to accept it in time. The second time I wrote about in this post. It too was accurate, but unfair and humiliating. The third time came shortly after the second, from an artist and instructor I had great respect for. The criticism was subtle, vague and more personal than just criticism of my work. I'll be honest, that one still whispers to me. It rears its ugly head in surprising ways when I least suspect it and shows up in many areas of my life, not just art. As I continue along this path of pursuing my dreams, I've come to realize that this demon is blocking my way. I believe I've got to face it down and kill it in order to move forward. This is my battle cry.
In the senior year of the illustration program at Ringling School of Art & Design, we were required to create a thesis project in order to graduate. My proposal was that I would illustrate my personal journal. I would create a series of 5" x 7" pencil drawings illustrating passages from my journal and present them mounted individually above their related text. The project lasted the entire year. A group of us decided to get together to discuss our work every Friday. Each week I would present 2 or 3 drawings without the text, and my classmates would try to decipher and interpret their meanings. Some drawings were simply observations of life, but others were quite potent, alluding to relationships with my parents, my fiancee and myself. The work was extremely well received by the illustration professor and students. Confidence in my ability to create meaning and affect people with my art grew while confidence in my artistic ability waned, due to the humiliation I received from my painting instructor.
The year ended with solo shows of each student's project. I asked a professor of the fine art department to give me a private critique because I admired his powerful and emotional paintings. Truthfully, I had hoped that he would recognize the same in mine and give me validation. He came and spent some time looking at the work, then turned to me and said, "Kind of trite, don't you think?" Those six little words gave voice to every doubt and fear I had about my value as a human being. If all those drawings of my hopes and fears that were clarifying the purpose and meaning of my life were "trite," then what does that make me? I have no idea what I said or did after that. What does one say to something like that?
Here I am 24 years later with the audacity to think I can make a living writing and creating paintings that will move people toward kindness, love, and joy. And every time I hit "Publish" on my blog, post a photo on social media, show my paintings or meet new people, I hear that demon whispering how foolish it all is. It tries to convince me that I can't trust others or even myself. It's keeping me small and scared, and I hate it. I don't exactly know how to kill the demon, but I do know that shame festers in darkness, so I'm exposing it. This is who I am. I'm not a great thinker, or artist, or person, but I do try. When I'm not questioning myself or others, I live in a perpetual state of delight and wonder with the world around me. I can get excited about a spot of sunshine! I love sharing these things because I believe I'm not the only one. If I am, then so be it. This is who God made me to be.
Now I see the demon in a different light and realize it might not be a demon after all. It might, in fact, be my guiding light.
I'd love to share with you my most recent paintings and mountain views on Instagram. Also, please see my website for new prints and paintings available in my store or to commission a painting or pet portrait as a gift to yourself or a friend. Another way to connect and share the love!