Creativity is like driving a race car. We all want to move forward with a certain amount of speed and agility. But as we anticipate what is around the corner the critic comes in to make us put the car in park, and weigh the cost of our next move. Will our tribe suffer if we take a flyer and make this piece of art? Will our voice be compromised by saying the wrong thing?
The creative process tends to have little to no patience for the critic. We are advised to dismiss the critic, often in violent ways. We are asked to silence him through meditation, personify him and walk it out of the room or imagining he is on our shoulder and physically brush him from our body and to the floor.
But there are two important things about the critic that I think are crucial for artists and non-artists alike.
- The critic is a learned message that has protected us in times of distress. What we perceive as a message of ‘I'm not good enough’ or ‘I have nothing to say’ started as an experience where we didn’t prepare enough, speak clearly enough, define our ‘point’ or message well enough or edit properly. The critic is a mechanism of our own consciences’ design to protect us from making the same mistakes again and again. The negative message we receive from the critic is strongest when we are trying our hardest to ignore him. Acknowledging how he's worked to help you in the past and inviting him to step to the side is the most effective way to handle the critic.
- The critic benefits us by creating boundaries. Artists need boundaries. One of the greatest illustrations that’s been pointed out to me are beer commercials. You cannot consume alcohol in a commercial. This critical voice is a line in the sand for marketers of those products. But it has created some of the greatest and most memorable art when it comes to developing a brand message. Frogs singing in a bog, frozen mugs stirring up sense memories, freezing trains flowing through sun-drenched sporting events are just a few off the top of my head. These limits give our creative endeavors the boundaries they need to truly flourish.
That being said, there is a time and a place for the critic. In my opinion, that is during pre-brainstorming and the editing process.
Before you brainstorm, when you grapple with the source of his message, the critic will help you understand your audience. It will give you appropriate boundaries for the writing and development process. These are not limitations, these are boundaries. Is swearing appropriate? Drinking? Drug use? What ideologies or theologies will empower your audience or limit their participation? What will be inflammatory? Is that what you want? Ultimately, what will move ‘them’? The critic can help you discover that answer.
During brainstorming, writing and development, thank your critic for his help and invite him to stand at a distance. He has done his part. Now you can create with freedom and joy knowing that you’ve honored this part of you that is so often viewed as an anchor.
In the editing process, the critic will help you remember the limitations of your performers/clients/audience/tribe. He will help you narrow your focus and make the greatest impact possible. You will be able to develop your voice with purity and make sure that what you say is clear, focused and heard.
When you present your art, again, the critic must step to the side and let you be liberated of his safety harness. This is your time to be in your gold and speak, write, perform or present with all the joy and awesomeness you bring to it.
If you honor your critic instead of shun him you actually honor something that is very vital to your day-to-day living and your creative endeavor will be a full reflection of you, your story and the beauty you bring to the world.