18 Apr 2018
Sam loves telling quirky stories about The Big Idea’s community of artists and interviewing successful arts practitioners to gather insights about funding and commercialising their art.
Inner critics. We all have them. That little voice in your head that tells you your work isn’t quite good enough, that you’ll never measure up, that you’re wasting your time. It’s a tough voice to silence because it’s your own voice, and since it’s your own voice, it knows just how to get under your skin.
But if you want to get anywhere as an artist you’re going to need to learn how to work with that inner critic.
I caught up with a few of the artists I’ve been speaking to over the past few months to get their strategies for managing and conquering their inner critics.
Remember why you started in the first place
Most artists have a real passion for what they do. That’s the spark that gets you going in the first place. As projects drag on, it can be easy to forget about this passion, because you’re so bogged down in the little details of getting things done. That’s when the inner critic can strike particularly hard.
If you’re deep in a project, and you can’t hear anything but your inner critic, try to remember what got you into your art in the first place.
So if you’re deep in a project, and you can’t hear anything but your inner critic, try to remember what got you into your art in the first place. That’s what newly-published author Sarah Ritchie does when her inner critic is working overtime to slow things down. If you can bring some of that passion back, you can channel it into whatever you’re trying to do at the moment.
Take a break!
Of course, sometimes it’s not possible to just conjure up the reason you originally became an artist, especially when you’re gnashing your teeth in the middle of a tough piece of work.
So be kind to yourself and take a break. Go for a walk, have a cup of tea, spend some time with someone. Camilla from Zinefest says that she sometimes takes this one step further, and looks at some work that inspires her, by going to a gallery or reading up on interesting artists online. This helps to distract her from the inner critic and the topic at hand, while also reminding her of the underlying passion that got her there in the first place.
Examine the critic
When you’re criticising your own work, have a think about what your inner critic is saying to you. Is the criticism constructive? In other words, can you actually use it to improve the work? If you can’t, then there’s no point in listening to your inner critic - it’s not offering anything useful.
Is the criticism constructive? In other words, can you actually use it to improve the work? If you can’t, then there’s no point in listening to your inner critic - it’s not offering anything useful.
But sometimes, your inner critic can be a great tool to help you do your best work. You’ll probably be one of the most critical people to look at your work - but you’re also the person who knows the work the best. So if your inner critic has something constructive to say, listen! And use that criticism to make your work even better than it was.
This is the same strategy you can apply to external critics, so it’s useful to start practicing now. Where are your external critics coming from? Did they get the point of your work? Did they engage with it in good faith? If they did, then you can learn from them. If they didn’t, then you should bear this in mind and try to move on to the next thing.
The same strategies apply to your inner critic. When you criticise your own work, are you engaging in good faith? Or are you just throwing rocks because of your own insecurities? If it’s the latter, then just ignore that inner critic and show him or her what you’re capable of.
Get something out the door
Finally, your inner critic is going to know more about your project than any external critic ever could. This means that even if your inner critic is giving constructive feedback, it’s going to be very detailed, and it’s never going to stop. Your inner critic will pick up on things and suggest changes that nobody else will ever notice.
This can be great for improving a piece of work, but not so great for finishing a piece of work. Your inner critic could have you tinkering on piece of work for weeks or months!
So while an inner critic can be useful for improving on things, you eventually need to take the plunge and decide your project is finished. Then you can get it in front of other people and learn from it.
And then you and your inner critic can move on to the next thing, and make it even better than the one you just finished.
How do you conquer or work with your inner critic? Leave a comment telling us how you do it!
Image: Igor Miske, via Stocksnap.io