The inner critic can keep us from doing our best work if we let it. Successful creatives find a way to work around it.

I had a conversation with a writer friend last night that reinforced my belief that writing and painting share many commonalities. He has been working on a project that he is reluctant to share with his editor. It’s not ready for comments yet – he wants to tighten it up a bit first.

I often feel the same about works that are freshly minted; I don’t even like to look at them too closely myself! Often if I can catch a quick glance at a painting rather than stare at it, I can decide if it is done. My writer friend shared with me a phrase that goes around writing circles: You can’t write and edit at the same time. I love that and will try to remind myself of it often. Finishing a painting is sometimes a delicate operation. The inner critic can get involved too soon and tempt you to overwork, or make you afraid to go too far.

Newly minted work

The Grass is Greener, Oil on Canvas 36″x48″

The two paintings in this post started at ‘Art Camp’ – Creative Arts Community at Menucha retreat this August. It was one of the most beautiful weeks of painting outdoors… warm, mild temperatures, gentle breezes and a shady, expansive lawn stretching out before us.

Keeping the inner critic at bay

When I’m painting I try to shut off the part of my brain that judges. I’m still actively trying to fit puzzle pieces together, using trial and error. But I’m not making any blanket judgements about the value or success of the work as a whole.

It’s a difficult balance to conjure. You want to give the muse enough direction to achieve your goal or find it if it’s not defined. But you also don’t want the inner critic to follow her around pointing out every little flaw. That’s a sure way to kill the joy of creating.

I try to get into a daydreaming state, ready to collaborate with the work as it evolves. I’m open to discovery. If my critical mindgets too active, my ego tends to try to protect itself by closing off the opening. Thinking of my process as exploration rather than problem solving seems to help. I’ve seen artists get into a habit of critiquing their work as it is still evolving – questioning every move.

Asking “what if?” rather than seeking one right answer seems to help sometimes. Another thing that can help shut down the pesky inner critic is to remind oneself that often it’s the imperfections of a work that attract viewers and convey individuality. For example, tightly rendered calligraphy might be less personally expressive than fluid, asemic writing like in Cy Twombly’s work.

Finally, I’m finding that in this period of grief my tendency is to hold my ideas and emotions close to the vest. I’m not ready to judge my efforts recently. My ego is on full alert, trying to protect me from further hurt. Painting has been a healing element as always. I feel I’m documenting a new phase in my life while still grieving and re-hashing the past.

What do you do to keep the inner critic at bay? Feel free to share in the comments.

More newly minted work:

Lawn & Lace 36 x 36″ oil on canvas


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