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The Toughest Art Critic I Ever Encountered

Terra Bianca Sunflower
Painted in Le Marche, Italy: Terra Bianca Sunflower, 12X12, oil

 

One of the toughest critics I ever encountered almost ruined my art career, before it had really begun. I was 28 years old and had just returned to school to finish my degree. I told myself, if I started back to university with just art classes alone (I was a journalism major), this would be my reward for navigating the “terrifying” registration process. Along with color theory assignments in acrylics, I began painting prolifically in watercolor. With the energy of the young, I was carrying 22 hours per semester,  preparing a thesis on Giacometti as an independent study, and all while working full time as the editor of a small community newspaper in Kaufman, Texas. My boss had given me permission to attend full time, squeezing in studies at night and on weekends and between work assignments. My dream was to leave journalism behind and become a docent at a museum, with a PhD in art history. Some of my art teachers were encouraging and shared their passion for painting, others were less so.

I scraped pennies together to frame my watercolors (an expensive endeavor with mat and glass also being necessary) and began showing my work. I began selling my watercolors, and trading paintings for furniture. The painting process itself became more important than the dream of being a docent, and this is the point when I met the critic for the first time. She was at my first art show, and even though she knew how nervous I was, she pulled no punches. My work was not worthy, it looked nothing like the masters, and I would do well to consider giving up painting completely. She explained that I was a writer by trade, so I had no business trying to shift gears so late in life, and besides, I would never be able to catch up with the artists who started seriously pursuing their work in their 20s. She reminded me that most female artists do not pay the water bills and the mortgage with their art, they marry husbands whose paychecks allow them to pursue art. She looked pointedly at my bare wedding finger when she said this.

Then she began to pick apart one of my paintings, noting every detail that was wrong with it, and why it was unwise to have hung the piece in a public show. If you’ve ever encountered this awful critic, I hope she did not bring you to tears, as she did me, at the end of that long day. The good news is, she didn’t change my mind about art at all. But she sure helped me to build my backbone. She did slow me down quite a bit, causing me to stay in writing for another 15 years before taking the full time plunge into painting. When I was 45 years old, we became friends, and she encourages me now, instead of tearing me down, each time I finish a new painting. I would say we are even partners now. Things have changed a great deal. Who was this unrelenting, horrid, unforgivable art critic? She was me.

The biggest challenge in pursuing my dream was self-doubt. Until I kicked the doubt out of my studio, the journey was like a boxing match with a pro. If you’re currently wrestling with your inner critic, create a safe zone in your studio where no criticism is allowed. Give yourself permission on Tuesdays, for example, to paint anything you desire, on canvas paper, to be thrown away at the end of the day. Even if you have to draw a line around your easel with pink chalk, find a way to make it crystal clear that the judge and everything negative has left the room. Don’t get me wrong, the value of being an artist and selling work and having technically correct paintings is important. But what will keep you painting is the positive energy you feel each time you finish a new work. The more you love to paint, the more you paint. The more you paint, the better you become. And, suddenly, you are painting for all the right reasons. If you learn to quell that critical inner voice, you’ve found the last, most important tool that cannot be taken away by anyone: Joy.

Have you ever encountered an art critic who made you feel unworthy? I want to hear your story, you brave, fearless, beautiful artist, you! Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered to win a pad of archival Canvas paper and an original print of Bianca Terra White Sunflower, painted plein air in Le Marche, Italy. I’ll announce the winner next week right here!

PS – See all the sights of my recent trip to Italy in my new monthly online class, The Joyful Brush, in Petal Perks! Learn more here…

 

Terra Bianca White Sunflower
Terra Bianca Sunflower, 12X12, oil

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Nancy Medina

Nancy Medina

Nancy is a master signature artist and instructor with over 1500 online students from around the world. She has worked with Disney, served on the art faculty of the Dallas Arboretum, and teaches workshops in France, Italy and across the US. More about Nancy

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Comments

  1. Haha, when you said YOU where your critic I immediately thought of my diet failure. But on a serious note, when I was about 19 in college I took a drawing class in college. I had only taken a semester art class in high school so art was newer to me. I had really liked it, and thought I was doing great, but when I had my end of class review with the professor he said I had no talent and wouldn’t make it in art so shouldn’t take any more classes. unfortunately, I listened to him and didn’t take classes for many years. I did keep doing art on my own and after getting married in my 40’s with my husbands encouragement, I have spent many enjoyable hours painting and drawing.

    • Jane I had a college prof like that, too. I’m glad you saw the light and moved forward with your dream, and isn’t it wonderful to have a husband who is your partner and encourager!

  2. I agree with your blog post on the toughest art critic I’ve ever encountered! I am down right mean to myself. I so needed to read these words this morning! Thank you!
    I haven’t picked up my paint brush since May 21. Today I will get back to my oil painting.
    Your work is stunning !
    Tammy Powell, artist ‍
    Virginia

    • Thank you so much, Tammy. I hope you do pick up that brush again. Not every painting has to be a masterpiece, but every painting should be celebrated – creating is a positive experience, you’re creating beautiful ripples in the energy around you every time you pick up that brush!

  3. Actually my best friend kept me painting long after I would have giving up. Jeanne is painting with the Big Brush now, but she still keeps me taking classes so I will never give up. Thanks, Nancy.

  4. Your story has captivated me from the beginning-I think I have been following you for a couple of years via one of your past students in Alabama. Love your “trailing petals” remind me of a wispy skirt hem. My story, I only paint when I am moved to do so and cannot say no to the voice inside. Usually I only paint for a reason-gift, etc; however, I have framed most of my work. I never give up the desire to learn and continue to enjoy art on Facebook.

    • Bess that voice inside means you are well and truly an artist! Please give your Alabama friend a big hug and a big thank you for me! I’m so glad to hear from you.

  5. Bless you Nancy for sharing your story. I am trying to be less critical of my artwork and you inspire me.

  6. Nancy, I love to paint and I started in oils with my next door neighbor who was a commercial artist. He ran the license plate factory at the state prison in my home town. We didn’t do lessons. We did projects and I loved it. Many years later I started doing decorative painting (when the kids left home) and loved it. It was acrylics and started doing craft shows and did fairly well. My mother told me one day, “You know you could have been a good artist if you had stayed in oils.” A zinger for sure! It hurt but what are you going to do? I usually do about 5 or 6 shows a year with my husband and I still do acrylics, dabbled in oil occasionally, and watercolor. The medium doesn’t make you an artist! Its what you do with it. I just love to paint!

  7. I was 64 when I picked up a brush to paint. I copied a picture from a calendar. It was a realism landscape but turned out more like an abstract. For fun I posted it on line to several friends and all my family.

    The comments were a total surprise. First, everyone loved it. Second comments were that I probably had missed my calling. Beginners luck I guess. Since then the outcomes have not been all that great and to be honest I have but the brushes away at least once. So heres the thing I learned. I love painting. It is like a runners high crossing the finish line. I might not always get the finish I want but when I do it feels great.

    Also, I give away my best work to my unsuspecting friends, family and neighbors. Thats another joy. Thanks Nancy for the encouraging words about self doubt. Just a final note. I put out to the garbage a painting I thought was not that great. A few weeks later I found a note stuck to my door, which read.

    My wife loves your painting. Thank you from your garbage collector.

  8. We truly are our own worst critic!! I have been involved somehow with Art since I was an Art major in high school. Sitting in any class, glancing to the left or right and looking at another students work for comparison besides the teachers demo. Oh you can get into such self doubt trouble doing that!! Trouble!!! And you can flow in and out of self doubt. All you need is one stumbling block to knock you off your new found confidence and then you are in the “pause mode.” It might not even be a critique that does it. Its just you on a certain day. Maybe just a rough patch in your life as I have just been through. Some good advice given me in 1999 when I was doing a lot of decorative and primitive painting and European folk art and strokes, was to take my painting home at the end of the lesson and put it in another room for 2-3 days. Don’t even peek at it. So hard to do!! You have such worry and self doubt in class. After 3 days when you look at it again, you realize its not half bad. In fact you might really like it!!! I have learned to paint faster, then “let go” of the painting. Don’t go back and fuss. Learn to recognize your ”style” that is evolving. Art is totally subjective. What one person loves, the next one says ”well its just ok or its not my favorite.” I have had a few paintings rejected from juried shows. Then another person- a well known local artist- enters a huge white canvas in an ornate frame with only three tiny dots of paint at the center, is juried into the show! Now that causes you to pause and wonder. Confidence bubble bursts!!! And more self doubt. What was that judge looking for? So I paint from my own passion, leaving watercolors out at the ready and oil paintings are more planned for longer time to paint. I think of it as absolute joy, the most wonderful thing I can do with free time. I have greatly relaxed about results. My objective to begin with was not to be ”known” but to enjoy what I was doing.

    • Oh my Joanne, isn’t that something! I’m glad you are doing what you love for the joy of the doing! Your outlook is as gorgeous as your watercolors! xo

  9. I have them same awful critic and likewise, it is I. I am working o of andi its do very encouraging to know you had the “same critic” thanks go sharing.

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