If you make some art and share it online, seeking approval from your peers or via social media can be seductive. The ding of acceptance and seeing rising numbers makes the ego/mind happy. The approval is shown in a physical, measurable way so if the numbers are high, you feel good. And higher numbers are better aren’t they??
“Fame in a world like this is worthless.” — Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 A.D
But those numbers are a distraction, empty of real meaning and approval. We chase the numbers because we believe they can evaluate our art and give us external validation – the permission to continue to make if the feedback is good. But if the numbers are small, or the feedback is not so good, does that mean you feel disheartened about your art? Do you judge your own enthusiasm, enjoyment and self-approval on the judgements of others? And if so, why does their opinion count more than your own?
Seth Godin argues “The narrative of social media grooming is a seductive one, but it’s as much of a dead end as spending an extra hour picking out which tie to wear before giving a speech.” Spending more time grooming an online image is time and energy consuming and can keep you from making the art. Creating art in secret may be a more nourishing way to tap into creativity by distancing yourself from seeking others approval or permission.
But if you do decide to share online, know that the numbers can never make you happy. They will never be big enough for your mind to be content and the joy comes from the physical act of making your art.
The fragile process of beginning to make art again is hard for the ego, who wants to get everything perfect first time. Currently our culture encourages us to share our art with the world via social media. Why not share when you can get instant likes and feedback to encourage you to keep at it? But what if your audience isn’t enthusiastic? You feel proud you even finished making the thing but that feeling can feel squashed when someone says something even slightly critical.
You are your own worst critic and Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way discourages critiquing yourself too harshly because “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse.” But it’s not just yourself you have to worry about when “beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends.” A well-meant comment can feel like a pin to your enthusiasm balloon and questions about why you’re not spending your time on more ‘important’ things can feel confronting.
It may remind you of a past time when you received harsh criticism about your art and this might be enough to completely derail you from being creative. Your art is going to be unrefined in the beginning and you have to face that while you’re making it but do you really need less than supportive feedback from others? What if you chose to keep your art-making secret and made it just for you?
The idea of your art making being similar to a private diary or journal process is echoed in Felix Scheinberger’s book Dare to Sketch sketch-booking process: “My sketchbook is something very personal. I draw in it for me and not for others; I use it to describe my world and my life.” How making art for yourself is the goal and nobody else need be involved. “It’s your sketchbook and yours alone, and should matter to no one else. once you are aware of this, it becomes a lot easier to work on a sketchbook. You are not drawing for any presumed critics or admirers, but for yourself. You aren’t producing a presentation booklet, but a creative space that consciously allows for mistakes and experiments. Your sketchbook is not a public space. Protect it.”
Protecting it and keeping your art secret is a way to help your fledgling artist grow stronger and limiting anything that endangers that. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks of having an affair with your art: “Let yourself fall in love with your creativity… and see what happens.” The idea of an affair being something that you undertake in secret, something you’d make sure was hidden from the world: “Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self… Conceal it from your family and friends, whatever it is you’re up to.”
The idea of making art in the dark, away from any other eyes could be the freedom you need to unleash your creative spirit. By treating your sketchbooks and notebooks as a private journal, you allow your confidence and skills to grow stronger undisturbed.
“[Creative recovery] It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good – to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.” – Julia Cameron