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Self-Doubt: The Other Side Of Creativity

Fresh off the dish rack, 16x20 oil on cradled birch panel, this is “Hide ’n Go Squeak".

During a recent chat with a fellow artist the issue of self-criticism reared its ugly head - as it often seems to when creatives get together. I was expressing frustration that my efforts to improve my skills, particularly in drawing, seem to be stuck in neutral lately. Sure - things might look relatively good when seen from any given plateau. However, the certainty that the next level up will offer even better views makes it hard to stay in the moment and enjoy where you are. And the view all the way to the top? Well, that makes you want to cry.

“You’re too hard on yourself”, my friend argued. Naturally my first reaction was to beat up on myself for beating up on myself too much. But that felt a bit too meta. Too hard on myself? Maybe.

For many artists, self doubt is a constant companion. I would argue that, without it, creativity would not exist. That nagging, gnawing, annoying voice that never seems to want to shut up? That's the other side of the creativity coin. In fact self-doubt can, if properly channeled, be a constructive force. It’s been said that nothing great was ever achieved by settling for “good enough”. There is no doubt a fair measure of truth in the notion.

When the idea for “Hide ’n Go Squeak” popped into my head, my inner critic pushed back hard. Really hard. “Are you nuts? A rubber duck?! You’ll be laughed out of town!… You’ve really ‘jumped the shark’ this time, old boy… I don’t know what meds you’re on, but you need to talk to your doctor about adjusting the dosage!…” And on, and on it went.

Fortunately, somewhere in the dusty cobweb-laden attic that passes for my mind, there also lives a stubborn, mouthy old contrarian. He’s the guy that - when self-doubt is outside having paroxysms of disbelief - goes inside, locks the door and gets to work. Well… Ok, it’s not quite that straightforward. The old fart does stop to yell at self-doubt to “stay off my damn lawn!” before getting to work. But he does eventually turn to the task at hand.

I really like how this piece turned out. Putting the finishing touches to the duck, I smiled. But, right now, when I look at this painting I have to work really hard to see past the imperfections and the signs of struggle that were left behind. I’m sure I’ll grow more fond of it over time. I very often do with my paintings. Time not only heals wounds, it also soothes the inner critic.

As for the outer critics - well, I’m always reminded of the sage advice that we really wouldn’t worry what other people think of us if we realized just how rarely they do.

See you around the studio.

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