I’ve begun to realise that inside of myself is a good artist and writer, someone with plenty of creative energy and the potential to create things that are valuable and interesting enough to be shared with others. But also inside me is an absolutely brilliant critic, an expert critic who can dissect any creative endeavour and provide an insightful narrative as to why it’s not very good or interesting or successful. A critic who can see through any artifice, unpick any tiny flaws, and ridicule any naivety or clumsiness.
I find the trouble with these two characters is that the artist may be working away happily, inspired and immersed in a project, but then, after some time, perhaps a few hours, perhaps a few days, perhaps even a few weeks, the expert critic will inevitably, sooner or later, cast their eye over it, and tear it to shreds with incredible precision.
And so the artist will lose heart, move on, lose hope, start again. They will listen to the critic because the critic is their brother, the loudest and closest friend they have. They think that without the critic’s approval, there is no chance they will gain anyone else’s approval.
In some Buddhist thinking this character or voice is called Mara- the inner critic. It is the same part of us that doubts, criticizes, pressurises us. It is always with us, sometimes stronger, sometimes quieter, particularly when we’re making big decisions of embarking on new journeys.
But what can I do about this critic?
One thing I have realised is that my inner critic is there to protect me- that is his essential intention. He wants to guard against failure, against suffering, against exposing my vulnerability. He knows that criticism from the real world, from other people, can challenge and threaten my very sense of self and value, and so he wants to get there first, to stop that happening.
As I work in my studio or at home I am trying to become more aware of my inner critic. To notice his patterns of thought, to notice his negative interventions within the process of making. Sometimes they can be helpful- suggesting an alternative path, but other times they can bring fear and anxiety and a desire not to make anything at all.
But as I begin to notice the inner critic, and tell myself that his negativity comes from kindness, and this does help. His words become softer, I can see around them. And if I also think to myself- well, if I’m feeling scared then I must be doing something right, it also really helps too. It helps me to continue in the same direction, to see what happens when I follow my fear instead of avoiding it.
I think David Bowie said that, that you need to go just beyond your comfort zone to create anything interesting. Somehow I feel that’s right, it is at a moment of crisis that I find something new. Perhaps fear is a guide, not to be ignored completely, but somehow to be followed, to be explored with an open heart and mind.