My therapist and I have developed a very good therapeutic relationship. (And I think I speak with some authority, having had much more therapy over the years than the average bear.) She has a somewhat different approach than the usual -- CBT, ten sessions or less -- that our health care system prefers. Instead of heading for direct integration of my psyche, she has instead teased out different aspects, or guardians, of my somewhat conflicted self. What I have learned may be useful for others.
If we think of inner critics as trying to protect us from something, what would that something be? Failure? Embarrassment? Shame? Ridicule? Financial or creative ruin? Is it possible to thank the critic for their concern, to appreciate how hard they have worked to keep us safe? To let them know they have been heard, and to suggest their energy might be better appreciated if they waited until a later phase in the process to voice their concerns.
I was in a writing workshop once where we were encouraged to just write in an intense flurry, and tell the critic to wait until we were ready to edit, when what they had to say would be more useful. This is helpful when the nagging negative voice prevents us from actually getting started. If we can just get something down on paper or cloth, then there is something tangible to respond to - and, interestingly, that other internalized force, the creative one, is so chuffed after making something that it can meet the critic as an equal, rather than subordinate to the overpoweringly protective role the critic needlessly takes on.
|Design is closely based on a photo from Tiggy Rawling's blog, "I'd Rather Be in India".|
Prolonged, careful contemplation is an essential stage in the creative process. I have been working on this hooked rug for the longest time. I just did a couple of hours a week usually, and didn't feel especially invested in it. Now that it's getting near the end I am keen to see it finished, yet I find myself ripping out more than I put in. Even though I have been following a photograph of the Indian embroidery that inspired this piece, the translation to hooking means I have had to make many choices in the interpretation. I finish a section, I throw it down on the floor and assess how it works within the context of the rest of the rug. This means I can't be attached to a section just because I've done it and I want to get to the next bit.
Here is where the critic shines. In fact, this can be the part I enjoy the most - gazing upon the work, asking "What does it need?" For me, this feels productive, engaged and open ended. The rigidity of the critic relaxes and makes interesting suggestions. The sharp ruler is put away and sometimes the gold stars even come out. Because critics can also see good, if they are given a chance.
In art school, critiques would happen regularly, where the whole class would comment (constructively, hopefully) on each person's work. This was probably the best aspect of school for me, and the one I miss most. Criticism need not be discouraging or despairing, it can be thoughtful, helpful and kind - as well as pointing out bullshit when need be.