One of the easiest traps for anyone who’s been working on something we’re invested in is becoming too close to our work. Whether it’s a story we’ve been working on for weeks or a painting style that we’ve developed over the years or a sales technique that we learned from a very successful mentor, we tend to develop blinders when it comes to seeing the flaws in things we’ve done repeatedly for any significant length of time.
What this can lead to is believing that we’re “doing everything right,” and that the reasons for our struggles or failures are entirely external. This is especially more difficult to escape when we’re dealing with our creative pursuits, because much of the determination of success is subjective. Whether a play or a sculpture or a photo or a YouTube video will resonate with an audience can only be judged, for the most part, by asking each individual audience member what they feel about the work and then deciding on our own as artists if this is criticism we want to take on board.
Further complicating this whole scenario is the fact that the work itself is only a part of the success equation. How we market our work, what the zeitgeist in the field of art we’re working in is interested in (are teapots going to be the thing you see everywhere at ceramics fairs this year?), who we know in the industry, how the people we are affects the perception of our work (are you “too old” to be an Instagram model?) all fall into play.
However, despite all these unknowable unknowns, there can be real value in stepping away from our personal feelings about our work and our processes and trying to find a more objective view on what we’re doing and how we can improve. While it can be demoralizing to think about flaws, and creative people tend to easily fall into the trap of believing everything we do is suddenly terrible, it can be valuable to start from a place of seeing our work with eyes that don’t have all the baggage, information, and investment that we have when we look at our own creations.
A few exercises to put us into this mindset could be:
- What would the nastiest critic in our local paper say about my work?
- What would a child say if she was asked to explain this?
- How could you sell this to someone who doesn’t like the medium?
- How would a competitor undercut the work you’re doing?
In all these cases, we aren’t expected to pick apart our work as if it has no value, but to find the flaws that could be holding us back from alternate perspectives. This can inform our next steps rather than deflate us to the point of not wanting to continue working on our art, or at least can protect our egos as we look at our work more critically.
Remember that it can feel really good to believe that we’re “doing everything right,” and that the world is just stacked against us in terms of our own success, but if it were actually true, what would be the point in trying? Finding ways of adjusting and re-strategizing the work we do will be an ongoing process, so finding ways that work for us, as creative people, may be a more viable way of going forward.