“I’m afraid you have talent” said my shrink. As she let out an uncomfortable little laugh. I’d shown her a photo my second-ever painting. The painting depicted a young woman holding back her head as she’s tying a headscarf. She’s in NY City walking down a graffiti splattered street.
The woman looks like she’s holding her ears instead of tying her head scarf. I attempted to make her look like Zadie Smith.
I guess that’s what made her laugh. She’s covering her ears. The world is too much.
Showing your artwork for the first time to someone outside your closest circle, or even to a spouse or best friend, is extremely difficult for some. For me it was life threatening. I chose to show it to my shrink because I know that whatever she thinks of me she is able to keep her poker face intact and I don’t feel judged.
When to show your art?
We just know. It’s gut instinct, you show what you think is “good enough” and what is “good enough” is that piece that when finished, you stare at it for a second and you don’t believe you made it.
At that moment you are at your most vulnerable and your most proud.
I always think it’s the only magical moment in which we become kids again. For real.
I recommend you wait at least a day after this moment happens whether you’re doing visual art or writing. You need to distance yourself from your work always. Many creators do this. It levels out emotion. You are less vulnerable and less proud at the same time. It lets you get serious about your work for moment.
Then, decide if you want to show it or not.
Why show your art?
Again, for distance. We become very precious about our creations. We want to own our work so we pepper it with licenses and copyright symbols but in reality, showing your work helps you see with a fresh pair of eyes. How will people see it? You imagine and you discover.
Even at it’s most basic, your work will teach something to someone else. Something new in most cases, or maybe something that should be avoided. Like when I see certain fashion illustrations that are quite pleasing to the eye but they are created from a mannequin and traced over and over.
How to show it?
Whether you’re writing or creating visual art
- Flickr joining a group
- A personal blog like Tumblr that makes it easy to upload, tag and share.
- On a portfolio site like Carbonmade
If you want to share just with a select number of people you can simply put your files on a Dropbox folder and share the link.
You might feel compelled to accompany your work with commentary. It’s good if it will help you later on when you go back and study your progress. I do recommend tagging your work. Tumblr is good for this. Without taking the “likes” to heart, you can have a good measure of what kind of response does your art elicit.
A more elaborate way is creating a video or an mp3 if you wish to read aloud.
More and more people are concerning themselves with accessibility on the web. If your writing is also in audio format, many people with sight problems might be able to enjoy it.
Another medium I recently discovered is the Day One app for Mac. It has a beautiful interface, it allows everything from writing, to photo uploading, you can password protect it or share entries. You can also export entries into PDF which is great if at one point you would like to create an artist book.
How to react to positive feedback?
Positive feedback is equally dangerous as its counterpart. An author who has a best-seller or has won prestigious prizes or has received nothing but accolades might become paralyzed. Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love fame talked about this in one of her TED talks.
I recently asked a friend of mine to give me feedback on an article I was submitting to a magazine. She said, sure, but ask me concrete questions about what you want to know.
This is the most useful way to get feedback:
Ask concrete questions.
If you just ask: what do you think you will be met with the dreaded: it’s nice.
How to react to negative feedback?
Quick: is it from someone you know or is it from an anonymous moron online?
First case: is it gentle and thoughtful and around your concrete questions or did this person go on a tangent and start attacking your person?
This happened last year when I was building a website. Despite asking very concrete questions about color, layout and placement of sections this “friend” went way back to the history of our friendship and tried to sabotage my attempt at building this website by attacking who I was.
If it is constructive, it’s important to pay attention. In the last Writing Workshop I attended, I was lucky to receive lots of constructive criticism. It’s all good. It will push your work forward.
In the second case, if it’s an anonymous troll, ask them if they are trolling you and then ask them why. Then ask them if they are creating stuff themselves and if they’re not, tell them they should. I thought the mechanic was useful because a “hater” is normally someone who is unfulfilled and dislikes people doing things he or she would like to be doing.
Brené Brown spoke about this in her 99U conference. If people aren’t “in the arena” with you, meaning if they aren’t making stuff and showing it you don’t have to listen to them one bit.
Now, the tricky thing is to interiorize this because if a hurtful comment sticks too long, it will damage your creative pursuits. Write it somewhere:
The anonymous person who left a nasty comment is NOT making stuff, therefore they are miserable.
After breaking the ice
So you’ve shown your work.
What follows my deepest belief:
In order to be prolific you do not get hung up on what you’ve shown.
Karl Lagerfeld said it best:
Il faut dessiner pour la poubelle pour savoir ce qu’on veut.
We must draw for the wastebasket to learn what we want.
In the age of “hearts” and “likes” this is the most difficult and you must break free from it.
At this point the only goal is to create.