Monday, March 25, 2013

The critical voice

"Judging your work is one of the hardest challenges in the painting process," says Michele Cassou in her book, Life, Paint, and Passion. "It is the immediate reaction of a consciousness long bent on protecting itself, and is felt with such conviction that there seems to be no arguing with it.  A disheartening judgment is the last resort of a threatened self-image, and it can attack with the desperation of a cornered animal, endangering your openness and enthusiasm."

That voice of judgment seems much louder for me as a painter than it ever was for me as a photographer. But then, it was always more critical of me as a singer than as a pianist or bassoonist, too.  And I suspect, when it comes to singing and painting, that critical voice seems stronger because there's nothing else to blame: no instrument to go flat, no camera to malfunction.

The singer or painter is more exposed, more vulnerable. We stand or fall on our own merits: the outcome of our labors is a direct expression of one individual's passion and expertise (or lack thereof!). So it's not surprising that the temptation is strong to do a pre-emptive critical strike; to condemn your own work before anyone else does. 

Cassou doesn't want us to pay attention to that critical voice.  "The mind is a thief," she continues, "so whenever it tells you anything about your painting, remember who is talking."  But to me ... well, I actually LIKE that critical voice -- or at least, parts of it.  Because that's the voice that told me the first two things I painted on this canvas were (excuse the phrase) "butt-ugly" and I should try again.  And while part of the thrill of the whole painting process is this growing conviction that it's okay to paint "ugly stuff," there's more fun, and even more to be learned, in the process of redeeming the uglies, of working with what was and turning it into something more pleasing, like this.

I'm learning to really appreciate the fact that each painting, even if completely covered, contributes something to the one that follows, whether on the same canvas or on a new one. And what I'm finding is that the ability to turn something I don't like into something I DO like is enormously satisfying and encouraging.  So I actually want to listen to that critical voice, the one that says, "I don't like this but I DO like THAT."  Perhaps I just need to be certain that the voice I listen for is the one that comes from the heart, not the head...

1 comment:

Sherri B. said...

What a beautiful piece...I must investigate this book. The words you quoted truly had an impact when I read them! My critical voice is way too strong, and often keeps me from even starting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.