All of us can’t help but notice how harsh the world has become. In a society that’s filled with nay-sayers, haters and critics everyone has an opinion. Even if it’s your girl friend’s opinion, or your mother’s, or even your best friend we all need to be on guard with who we’re letting into our musical sphere of influence. If you are someone who is ‘addicted to approval’ or crave the acceptance of that one special person, let me give you a word of warning.
In my late teens and early twenties whenever I worked on a new song or recording I would feel compelled to let someone listen to see if they ‘got’ my vision. If they didn’t, I was depressed and agitated or even discouraged. If they ‘got’ it, I felt elated and encouraged. But alas, along the jagged road of self observation I was forced to change this awful habit. One day I realized that this longing for acceptance wasn’t helping my creativity but poisoning it. I decided to start trusting myself, my instincts and my vision despite what others around me thought. As I got older and more secure with myself and my talents I was able to let go of what everyone thought. I mean, did everyone ‘get’ Mozart or Van Gogh when they were in the height of their careers? No! Many successful people have to go year after year hearing rejection before they make the big time. But these are the types of life experiences that make us strong in will and spirit.
I was coming to this conclusion when I started reading the Artists Way. In her book, Julia Cameron has a chapter on ‘The Shadow Artist’. A shadow artist is someone who has their own creativity blocked and has a perverted way of expressing it by hanging in the shadow of other artists as a friend or potential “helpers” (a.k.a. leeches). They may have good intentions on the surface but look closely into the depths of their heart and you’ll see a seething green-eyed monster peering out just waiting to devour your first draft of the song or a book that took you 6 months to write, or the pencil sketches of the still life portrait you made of your now deceased grandmother. They’ll say, “Oh, did you mean to misspell Mississippi?” They’ll nit-pick your vocals or the claps on your beat. They’ll hold up a magnifying glass the size of the sun and peer into your creation looking for flaws. What’s really happening is that they themselves feel threatened by your creativity. So many people are shadow artists and they don’t even know it. They’ll make a joke or a wise comment about one of your verses because they themselves can’t find their own unique voice to express. Creativity is such a precious thing. Without it, we’d be left with a gray overcast world filled with lonely buildings and hopeless people. We’d have meals without taste or color, and a closet full of beige monochromatic uniforms that would force everyone to dress the same. Everything in this world breathes creativity from the fragrance of flowers to the shells of the sea….
Now that I’m in my thirties, I do everything in my power to protect my creativity. I take time to nourish it and provoke it. I make sure to stretch it, and exercise it. I pinpoint the shadow artists in my life and I guard against them. I’m careful who I show my creative projects too. If I have a new plan I’m working on, I hide it in my heart until it’s reached its full maturation stage. I have a hand full of guys that I trust and who are also creative’s themselves and understand and honor the creative process. I also draw out others’ creativity and instill hope to once abandoned dreams.
The world needs more creativity and fewer critics.
So my motto is no longer…”If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”. No, we live in a world where we must stand for what is right and true. We must never be afraid to speak up and comfort someone hurting or to build up someone that’s discouraged. So, I’ve changed this motto to, “If you can’t say something nice…say something constructive!” I’ve found in my line of work people need constructive feedback. That’s another reason we developed the 7 Lesson Course. So that budding and veteran artists alike, could have a safe place and a productive environment to hone their craft and grow creatively. We give you feedback with each homework assignment you do with each lesson, and we constructively tell you how you can improve according to your creative vision.
So this is my advice to you, not from someone who knows it all but from someone who has experience and wisdom to share and if we keep wisdom to ourselves we are leaving a hole in the world that will only need filling. So I say this to you:
• Be on look out and on guard from the Shadow Artists in your life.
• Only let other creative artists in on your vision and music plan.
• If you see others blocked creativity, spur the sleeping artist within them, and ask them why they don’t create.
A lot of blocked creatives have been hurt by other blocked creatives. See the pattern here? So that is why we be mindful of how we are critiquing others.
When hearing somebody else’s art or song be sure to do the following:
1) Listen to the whole project without fidgeting or opening your mouth to talk or ask a question.
2) Listen for the person’s vision and try and get into their frame of mind. If you still don’t know their vision, ask questions. Did I mention listen??? Yeah, some of us need some schooling on listening but that’s a whole other topic.
3) The first thing out of your mouth should be a compliment. Something that lifts them up. Mention the instrumentation of the strings or the choice of the kick drum. Be specific. Be detailed…don’t make some wimpy generalized statement like, “Oh, it sounds good.” Dig deep! Say something with passion about what they do great.
4) Ask the person why they were inspired to write this specific piece.
5) Spend more time complimenting them and asking them about the creative process….let the conversation flow. Be aware that your nurturing their inner artist right now, it’s not about you, it’s about them.
6) Finally, if there is any critiquing to be done, first ask yourself, is it my place to critique this person, what do I know? Is it really the right time to critique them? Sometimes if we leave it alone the person will fix what was wrong in the first place on their own.
7) If you are a person in the know and would genuinely like to help this person then constructively show them how they could improve.
8) Use words like, “Oh, I love what you did here…make sure it’s snapped to the grid so it comes out more” ….or if it’s an EQ problem, “ your vocals would come out so much better if you cut the low end off more.” Catch my drift?
9) Please always THINK and have COMPASSION when commenting on someone else’s art. Creativity is like a fleeting bird, you don’t want to scare it away. Instead throw the bird some breadcrumbs…next thing you know you’ll be feeding all of its friends too.
If you need info on writer’s block or songwriting, please take a moment and signup for a free training consultation.