Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Creativity: Letting Go of Not Being Good Enough

I have been feeling very creatively uninspired lately. I am sort of at this dead-end place where I need some new challenges. After giving it some thought, digging inside a bit and asking myself a lot of questions, I keep coming back to the realization that I miss the idea of illustration, something that once was a dream of mine, but I let go due to anxiety over not being good enough.

I know where this anxiety comes from. Someone big in my life while growing up had the unintentional habit of being creatively toxic. This person deemed himself an expert in certain areas of the arts and could be overbearing at times in his passion to set you right. (I say "you" instead of "me" as I wasn't the only one affected).

One of the reasons that the textile arts became so attractive to me was that this area was completely foreign to this person, (who despite his harmful methods, really only meant well) and thus I was left free to explore, and make mistakes without fear of judgement.

Now, this person has been gone for a decade, and I miss him terrible, because the good that this person did in my life far outweighed the bad, and I loved him dearly. However, creativity can be a fragile thing, and the fear of doing it "wrong" can be tough to overcome, especially when it was ingrained into you at such an early age. Even for someone like me, who believes strongly and has been a vocal voice in the right to freely express ones self creatively... I can preach it, but in truth I haven't always been able to take my own advice...not when it comes to certain areas.

But I am 50 now. Damn well old enough to do what I want to do without fear of judgement from myself, from others, or from long ago voices that live as ghosts inside my head. And I have no doubt that this person, bless his soul, looks down on me from Heaven and dearly wants me to allow myself to creatively explore any and everything that interests me, no strings attached.

I am going to start with simple basics. Pencil, pen, sketchbook. Which isn't as easy as it sounds... Sketchbooks are particularly frightening to me, as when I was 10 years old, I received a big beautiful sketchbook for Christmas, with wonderful assorted pencils. I was extremely excited seeing what lie beneath that wrapping paper. But before the paper had even fallen to the floor I was being instructed that I were to only draw serious drawings in such a beautiful sketchbook... no mistakes... no doodles. And even more frightening, I was told that My sketchbook would be checked regularly, to make sure that I was complying. You want to talk about fear! I didn't touch that sketchbook for YEARS! It lay in the bottom of my desk drawer, unopened, until I was sure the giver had forgotten about it. But I was still so frightened at the idea of ruining it, that I never did much in it, and have never been able to keep one, for very long, despite a deep desire to fill volumes.

Okay, so back to the present. As I said, I am going to start with simple basics. Pencil, pen, sketchbook. I have books full of poems and stories and fables to read, and will use any words in those volumes to help spark my imagination. They will be jumping off places. I hope that over the years to come I will finally fulfill that long held wish and fill volumes of sketchbooks with ideas and doodles and "mistakes".  Messes and successes. I hope to find ways of using those sketchbook illustrations as springboards to translate into textile and stitch, as I want to continue growing as a textile artist, as an artist, as a human being.

So what about you? Are you one of those lucky ones who is brave and fearless in all creative pursuits, or do you also have some buried dreams? Maybe you wanted to act, or sing, or dance but gave it up out of fear or other life matters? Anything you want to reconnect with? If so, I invite you to join me. With age comes wisdom, and the wisdom is this... Life is short. Lets not waste another minute being afraid.

39 comments:

Chloe G said...

I found a wonderful video on YouTube called Expressive Collage and Painting by Jane Davis about doing exactly this; conquering that inner critic - whoever's voice it is/was - which we all have: I found it especially mesmerising towards the end just watching as she painted over the same square in a variety of ways as each time she erased a section with new marks I was screaming in my head stop! stop! but the finished piece contains echoes of all that history which is quite beautiful. Very inspiring. Good luck in your explorations!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WT589uYknco

pd said...

Are you familiar with this Ira Glass quote? I think he said it well. Toop many of us can relate.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
― Ira Glass

Sewjournal said...

I had this same experience in both painting/drawing and sewing. But I came to realise in my 50s that I really enjoyed sewing (by hand) and it didn't matter if it wasn't perfect. What I came to understand was this: There is one thing so much sadder than not doing something perfectly (or even well) and that is NOT doing something you enjoy doing because you can't do it perfectly (or even well). Once I got over that and jumped in I was fine. I still do things I dislike but the funny thing is that others seem to like them and I enjoy doing it. What's more the more you do, the better you get!

Annie said...

I love the idea that with age comes wisdom, and courage...I will be 50 soon, and I think it's about time we took some bold steps without fear...I love your work, so am looking forward to the next stage...all power to you! Great post

Nifty Quilts said...

Yea! Courageous and free at 50. I'll look forward to seeing where your sketchbook takes you into the second half of life. Whenever I hang out with any of the Gee's Bend quiltmakers, I find an astonishing lack of self-criticism. It just isn't there! I guess no one was there to tell them it wasn't good enough. After all, they didn't plan to show their quilts to anyone, and once they were worn out, they burned them to smoke out the flies. There's a feeling of being like a little child again, when everything you do is amazing, just because you did it. Congratulations!

CitricSugar said...

Amen! Sing it loud, sister!

Camilla said...

Yes! I feel like I have to learn this again and again. The theory is all very well, it's tolerating the feelings that's the hard part, but I'm getting better at just not attending to the voices saying it's not worthy. My most recent post was wrestling with this very thing...

QuiltSwissy said...

I have had a similar life. First my father, then my husband that is why I constantly doubt myself and can have fears about starting. Just being good enough is such a tough thing.

.

MandyMandalei said...

Maybe tear the sheets out and sew your own sketchbook as you go: entirely your creation to do with as you please! And nothing perfect about it, even from the beginning.
As for me, I'm not 50, I'm 36, but I decided last year to start my own small business making quilts and patterns, and quilting for others. If not now, when? There's never a perfect moment--it's as improbable as the perfectly drafted sketchbook. I don't know you, and I don't want to sound fatuous, but I'm very proud of you for making your choice on your terms.

dutchcomfort said...

What a great post Victoria.
I’m looking forward to your sketches and please realize, practising can be so much fun! Not every piece needs to become a work of art!

I was raised in self doubt. However, my grand-parents (both very creative people) and my husband, told me I could do and make anything I wanted. I took lots of classes and even went to Art School. Not all teachers were encouraging, but the ones that were made me get over my fear of failure. I have drawers filled with doodles and scribbles and now they make me smile!

Elizabeth's quarters said...

It sounds as if the well-meaning critic wasn't actually that sure of his own abilities, so felt compelled to stifle other's natural talents, while being dogmatic about his 'proper way' of doing things. Well, the only proper way of doing things, is to just do them, and don't be put off because you're scared of failing. If your illustration is anything like your stitching, it will be beautiful.

Jo Jo said...

You must draw/paint away and keep everything! I understand as a former art student, but we were always told to never throw anything away because you don't think it's good enough. My advice would be to try lots of things out. Use different things to make marks - old toothbrushes, bleach on ink is good fun, blow paint/ink with a straw - all these techniques are drawing and painting. You can always cut up those practice marks and collage them into something else. I could go on, but I won't as I'm sure you have lots of plans and I can't wait to see some! I haven't done any art work for a long time now, but my time is coming again, like you :) Best of luck!

beth lehman said...

the fear of messing up or not being good enough is paralyzing. i recognize that in myself.... often, at times when i've lost my mojo or am in a slump. i've learned so much from just jumping in and trying and i know when i was younger this was easier for some reason. you've got me thinking...

Carrie L said...

Thank you for this post. I want to be brave and fearless!

Esch House Quilts said...

It is hard for me to mar the beauty of that lovely, clean white page in a sketchbook. I have to remind myself that I can always rip it out or buy another sketchbook! However, I do most of my quilt "sketching" on the computer these days.

Have fun exploring!

karen anne said...

You sound like you're in a similar place I found myself in march 2012. i cleared everything and just stepped into space, trusting that all would be well. it was and it is. now whenever i'm in the studio, the mantra that came to me back then, continues to guide me: listen, allow, trust, honor, let go.

I'm happy to say the inner critcs got bored and went elsewhere...though they make visits when my ego gets it's foot in the door and allows them to sneak past...

Cheers,
Karen Anne

Anna said...

Have fun and enjoy your exploring, there is no right or wrong. Lucky you having time to explore, I had to wait until I retired to explore my creativity, so every day of my freedom to do so is very precious. Even so, there are times of getting stuck! Good luck!

ellen said...

I just found you a few days ago and you have so enriched my life and eyes. I am in awe of your creativeness and all you do.
I am not an artist and one would think I should be wise at 71 nearing 72. Please know that your art brings such light to others like me.
I hope sincerely that you find your way to recognizing the impact that you make. Be bold and go to that which brings you joy...as it brings joy to others.

MariQuilts said...

Such an interesting post. I grew up with a very creative person in my life. There were certain areas that I experienced some of the same that you speak of and on the other hand I experienced a fair bit of encouragement from that very same person.

I have come to believe that some creative people have very strong ideas and aren't always careful at tempering their words as they express their thoughts. I'm not sure if this is making any sense. I also have very strong ideas but work really hard to temper how I express them because of the way I grew up. My strong opinions work for me as I'm creating but I never want to discourage someone else.

Lisa said...

Great post! Thank you so much for sharing!

Meg said...

go get 'em girl! I totally get what you shared, and know that you are only at the beginning of a journey filled with fulfillment and amazing, beautiful creations!!

Taos Sunflower said...

Oh dear. This is striking a very familiar chord. Sounds like we had the same person in our lives.
I love that you're going to break through this. I'm still working on it, but find times when these old rules and monkey mind still have a lot of power over me.
I've been told to draw everyday. At breakfast, maybe you're drawing the vase of flowers or the cereal box. whatever. Just do it. As my husband told me once, Edison didn't just walk into his lab one day and say "I think I'll invent the light bulb today"!!

Victoria said...

Dear Everyone,

Your comments are so great! I love every bit of what each of you is sharing, and I thank you. Much of it I know on an intellectual level, and at times have been able to apply it on an emotional and real life level. I actually did go to Art school to study illustration and graphic arts and made the deans list every year... didn't matter... by graduation time I was so miserable from my internal beatings... once school was done, I mostly tucked those dreams away, and have only occasionally allowed them out to play, and usually only in stitched form.

Some things are so deeply embedded... like an arrow to the heart, that it takes a long time to pull that arrow out and begin to really heal. What time we waste believing other peoples beliefs instead of forging our own and holding true to them.

Oh, wouldn't it be great if the artist in each child was treasured and nurtured to spread her wings instead of corrected or dismissed. Why is it so hard for so many of us to turn a deaf ear to those inner and outer critics? To each of you who have overcome this, keep shining that light of encouragement to those of us traveling this path. To each of you traveling this path, know that you are not alone.

And to adults out there with children in your care, whether you be a parent, relative, caretaker or teacher... there are as many ways to draw, (or paint, collage, stitch, etc.) a face, a tree, a house... whatever have you, then there are stars in the sky. There is no right or wrong way. Let us all remember that and rejoice in our children's unique creative expression, as well as honoring, rejoicing and expressing in our own. xo

Joy said...

Holy moly! You're telling my story! I'm 49 and JUST finally finished my bachelors degree... I had to wade and fight through the same sort of baggage to get there, too. An empty sketchbook still intimidates me, but school forced me to get over it. I needed my doodles to be creative. Just start ANYWHERE. Promise yourself you'll draw for 15 minutes a day..... do it on the back of an envelope if it's less intimidating. Make it a habit and it WILL grow life of its own. I promise!! :)

Victoria said...

Joy, Congratulations! What a great achievement! Super reminder that it is never to late to go for your dreams.

And I agree... the most important thing is to just draw everyday, (even if it is only for 15 minutes and keep drawing... on anything, both of which you wisely suggest). And if those inner voices start talking, telling you it's no good and to give up, (as mine like to do) blow 'em a raspberry and keep going!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! The things we do to ourselves... I am always so critical of anything I do, and sometimes it takes me forever to finish something, because I think it's not perfect and I have to research and ponder... But I do this second-guessing to myself - no one was terribly critical when I was young and already becoming an artist/craftsperson. I now do too many things, and none of them "perfectly", but I've found I love the process of research and planning and the first steps of trying something new. There are favorite things I return to, over and over, and I get better at them. Sketchbooks - I have a couple of those nice ones, and I've never used them for drawing or painting - or anything! After reading this I think I will get them out and at the very least paste things I love on the pages and enjoy the books. Thank you for your great post!
Steph

Shelly Sutton said...

Wow Victoria, What a powerful statement. I am in awe of your strength through your ability to be vulnerable. What an amazing woman you are! I already know how creative you are. I have never seen any of your work where I haven't been interested and engaged. You are talented and I know you know it. Now the trick is to BELIEVE IT!
After changing my life completely (a divorce and all that entailed with my children), then last year my daddy died unexpededly and I haven't sewn or had a creative outlet in just over a year. (And I'm a person who has made things all my life.) I woke up this summer with itchy sewing fingers and I'm sewing again (Yeah!). This post has really struck a chord with me. I wish you well! I know God (whichever one you follow) is in the details and in the act of creating is peace. So that is my wish for you (and for myself), Peace in the details, Baby!

smazoochie said...

I'm sorry to know you have negative voices in your head too. You seem such a fearless & free creator. In a way, I -- not enjoy, not like, but am calmed that you are waging the battle too.
I love what you do & find inspiration from it. Forge ahead! I, for one, believe in you!

k said...

I would guess that you don't remember me, but I sent you a photo of a quick paint sketch I did a few years ago, inspired by your quilts.
I went back to school at 56, to study art. Mostly I suck, but once in a while I do something good enough to share. That's what art is.
Let's all pledge to fail as many times as we have to!

sally anoyrkatis said...

I'm a little bit of a collector of quotes and just in the last couple of weeks a few creativity quotes have caught my eye:

"The easiest way to be creative: try something different even if you don’t think it will work."

"Everything I needed to know about creativity I learned by making mistakes."

"You can’t use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have."

"It’s too easy to believe that creativity is just all in our heads, that it’s just about the memories and the connections and the original thoughts. Creativity is more than that: it’s action."

I hope your 'action' brings you lots of pleasure and inspires you. And, by the way, I spotted a beautiful quilt on Pinterest the other day, it was just a photo without a name, but I looked at it and knew immediately it was one of yours and, sure enough, when I traced it back it was your work. I can't imagine recognising anyone else's quilts in this way. It just shows what a strong sense of creative identity and individuality you have. However much that may be buried by past experiences when it comes to illustration, I'm sure it will come out now you're opening yourself up to this new challenge XXX






Mary Keasler said...

As someone who rarely cries, I am commenting with tears streaming down my face. I have lived a similar life as you have described. Now, at age 65, am still struggling to overcome all of those same ghosts. Your words spoke volumes to me and recharged me to keep going.

Stay strong at age 50 and continue to grow your talent without fear. You have tremendous talent. Use it. Life is short, so never give up.

Victoria said...

Please know that I continue to be very deeply touched by each of your comments. I thank each of you for the understanding and for the encouragement and for letting me know that I am not alone in this struggle. xo

Rachel Biel said...

Wow. That is so sad... I once ran an after school program and had a girl who had a block when it came to paper and pencil. I tried to get her to do a dot, a line, anything, but she sat their frozen, staring at the paper with fear. I am certain that someone in her life did the same thing to her that happened to you and I was unsuccessful at breaking it for her. It really made me mad at whomever damaged her like that.

The opposite was true for me as a child. My parents, especially my Dad, encouraged creativity and embraced failure. "The tree is lopsided? Next time try drawing the side that is hardest for you first and see what happens..." (One side is always easier...)

I am glad that you shared this and that you are taking steps to explore this side of your muse. May it open all kinds of doors and windows! Let your hair down and fly with the wind!

Victoria said...

Wow, Rachel, she was truly crippled, and that is tragic. I really don't fall into that same category, though. Actually, I was groomed to be an visual artist, (my sister was groomed to be a musician and/or actress). These destinies were almost laid out for us in our upbringing. But, as stated in my post, there was a person in our lives, who while grooming us, also filled us with a lot of self doubt. Perfection, (as opposed to exploration) was always the goal, and it was that infliction, that became so damaging.

In my case, I drew for years and went on to go to art school where I majored in graphic design, with a strong interest in illustration, and I did very well, (outwardly). Inwardly, I was a mess of conflict and unhappiness... and by my early 20's, I just couldn't take the ingrained self-doubt of not being "good enough" anymore. (One of my professors hit the nail on the head when he said I "suffered from the disease of perfection". I can verify that it can be a very crippling disease).

Over the years I have dabbled again here and there, with drawing and illustration, (including machine and hand stitched illustrations which I have shared here on my blog and can be found in my flickr sets). However, those ghost voices of self doubt and criticism always put a stop to my exploration. My goal this time is to overcome the fear, release the feeling that perfection is the goal, and embrace the fun and play that drawing once held the promise to be.


jodydeschenes said...

you go, girl! draw like a maniac! (;

Anonymous said...

I know exactly how you feel, I too had a similar experience with sewing and my Mum's opinions. I now come to realise that of course she was going to be better than me; she had 30 more years of practice! The one thing I cannot remember her doing was quilting, perhaps that's why I'm so enjoying it. Do what you enjoy.

Denise said...

I appreciate your advice as well as the comments of the blog author and other commenters. Thank you all! I am another 50 something who didn't draw or quilt or handsew because of fear of the critics, internal and external. I can't say never more, but I can say I'm going to try to practice in all my favored activities. Thank you all!

Debbie Sabin said...

I think everything you do is amazing, Love your work.
You make me believe in myself.
thank you

Victoria said...

Thank you Debbie, what a lovely thing to say... we all need to believe more in ourselves, don't we? xo