We all know the glorious stereotype: The artist, possessed, obsessed, maybe even driven a little crazy by an internal vision of their work, feverishly working till late in the night on piece after piece, fluidly and wildly creative, the work pouring out like an unstoppable river.
Alas, the reality is sometimes more halting, more fraught, more sporadic — and very frequently in precise proportion to the level of harsh self-editing the artist imposes upon their work as they are engaged in the process of creating it.
The inability to let the work simply be is a huge problem for many artists, particularly those artists who happen to be struggling with creative blocks.
A faculty to create without judgment, without severe self-criticism, is present in the beginning and comes as naturally as breathing to some, but in my experience those artists are few. More frequently it is a skilled that is learned. If it is an art form in which we are only dabbling, that is one thing, but if it is the form into which we have devoted long study and great effort, the abilty to retain perspective becomes harder.
It’s a bit ironic, as one of the very things which drew us to artistic expression in the first place — creative freedom — can become more and more subject to a kind of self-judgment that slowly begins to constrict the work.
It doesn’t matter where in the process it introduces itself. It doesn’t even really matter what the “target” of the judgment is. The important fact is that it slows, and in some cases even stops, the work.
What’s the cure for this?
Years of psychoanalytic therapy. But, if we’re in a rush, one thing we can certainly do is stop editing ourselves.
This is a deeply effective blockbuster. And, particularly for those of us who have really become enmeshed in this paralyzing form of self-criticism, it may take dedicated application, and re-application…and re-application. The very non-analytic naivete of the idea itself can be challenging. Sometimes it can be a process just to identify all the places in our process where we introduce judgment — each of one of those will require a course correction. But it really is worth it.
Working artists have learned to let these paralyzing forms of criticism and harsh self-judgment go. If you find yourself beginning to get wrapped up in judgment that is slowing down and stopping the work, begin this new practice of creating without self-editing. It may not suit every creative work situation, but it is a practice with which you should have fluid acquaintance. Set aside a portion of your work day to create with the judgmental portion of your mind detached.
It is a practice that will begin to counter the criticism that paralyzes, and will take you great strides toward that wild, uninhibited creative freedom which every artist can reclaim.