Have you ever noticed that, when you share your viewpoint (or your creative work) one negative comment can completely throw you off balance?
Even if the response is generally very positive, that one negative comment sticks in your head and you find yourself going back to it over and over and over again. It literally smarts, and you find yourself thinking about what you could have done differently so that this particularly vocal person could not have found fault.
Perhaps you think that you shouldn’t have spoken up at all. Perhaps you feel shamed, and you wonder who you thought you were to have displayed your creative endeavours in public.
Last week my work was featured on Bored Panda. You may have heard of it…to quote Ron Burgundy it’s kind of a big deal… and I was naturally thrilled and overjoyed when my images were seen and liked by lots of new people.
Then I got this comment – it’s what we in the UK would call a compliment sandwich, or perhaps even a jellyfish compliment.
I’ve been sharing my work for quite a few years now and I’ve had my share of negative comments, ranging from “overwrought and silly” to “like bad wedding photography” and my favourite backhanded faceslap “one or two of these are moderately interesting.”
They sting. All of them.
Naturally the more you get used to it, the quicker you bounce back. You remember that it is always easier to critique than to create and that you should always consider the source when facing any criticism. At this point, ninety nine times out of a hundred, I am immediately able to put the criticism out of my mind, and move on.
But, in this case, I felt sorry for this commenter. Because she’s a photographer too. She’s a creator too. Actually most of the people who make negative comments about my work are. You could argue that this is because they have a more trained eye and can see some of the less refined technical work. But I wonder whether it’s really about a need to be seen, and heard, and acknowledged. That need can either be accomplished through positive creative work, or through consumption of, and commentary on, other people’s work. I know I have experienced it myself when I’m not creating my best work. Instead of getting my fulfilment through my own work, I get it through other people’s work. And, if their work is not perfect, or doesn’t make me feel exactly the way I want to feel, all of my frustrations about my own work come through in my discussions of the limitations of theirs.
Regardless of her motivations, the truly sad thing for me is that I think she’s missed a basic truth about all artwork. A truth that can free us from some of the blocks that stop us from contributing more.
And here’s that basic truth. The quality could ALWAYS have been better and the editing could ALWAYS have been better too.
In fact every work of art ever created, and every work of art that will ever be created, could have been better. Every piece is imperfect in some way.
The point is not to be perfect. The point is to communicate, in the best way you can at that particular moment, what it is that you need to say. To silence your voice until it is “good enough” is to deny us a part of your story.
It is your right, and in fact your responsibility, to share your outlook on life, your viewpoint on the world, your response to the human condition. You. The only one of you that has ever existed or will ever exist. Your perspective is completely unique – even if your subject matter is not. Whether you choose to photograph, paint, write, speak, perform, dance, stitch or lead, your voice must be heard.
If you are seeking perfection before you share that voice, if you are seeking work that cannot be criticised as not good enough, you are missing the point of it all.
My images are not perfect. They could have been better. And thank goodness. Because my work is not my destination. It is my journey. It is my story. And, as all readers know, if you rush to reach the end, you generally miss much of the richness of the middle. And, though we are frequently obsessed with the end of a story, in life we are all fascinated with the middle. The bit before it is fully formed, the bit where we don’t know what the hell is going to happen. Maybe even the bit where it almost completely falls apart…..and then doesn’t.
In the film Shadowlands, C.S Lewis says that “we read to know we are not alone.” I believe, I know in fact, that we create (in every way it is possible to create) to know we are not alone.
If we attempt to hide our flaws, our not readiness, our imperfect, improperly conceived artworks, we will always be alone with our pain, our inadequacy.
We create to know we are not alone. We consume the creations of others to know we are not alone. We want to see the middle to know we are not alone. I believe that the purpose of all of our artworks is to serve. To serve others by serving ourselves. I believe that we don’t understand why or how but that our perspective adds to the collective wisdom and that we create ripples that spread outwards, touching the lives of others in ways we can never know.
So, show your artworks, show your stories. Don’t let the cries of perfection, perfection, perfection paralyse you. Improve in public. Show us your middle. Show us that there is a middle. Show us that we are not alone.