The Delusional Artist

Detail of blue door in Firostefani, Santorini, Greece

Yesterday, they announced American Idol, the popular TV show, is coming to a close. This next (upcoming) season will be the last. We will miss all of the Kelly Clarkson’s, yes, but also some of us will miss the people in chicken suits. You know who I mean here, those big goofballs who dress up and try to get one over on the judges. The ones who really cannot sing very well but wear silly costumes in the hopes of covering it up with style. Yes, some of us will miss them too.

What’s interesting about the “chicken suit brigade” as I like to call them is that this phenomenon is not limited to singing or even the performing arts for that matter. Even established artists can trick themselves into thinking their work is great. Sometimes, we get blinded by passion-we feel so strongly about the work that we see it as good because, in our eyes, it is. It’s easy to fall into this trap as well. It’s really easy to tell yourself, heck, you worked *hard* on something so it must be good, right? Those famous artists? Yeah, they got nothing on me, right? I mean, come on, Ansel Adams (substitute your favorite in here if it helps) had to put his pant legs on one at a time too, right? He’s really no better than the rest of us, it was all dumb luck, and the like.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We all also suffer from the opposite syndrome. The one I like to call the “bad tape recorder” syndrome. Every one of us, each and every one of us, has a tape recorder in our heads. And, believe me when I say this, this silly little tape recorder loves to play negative thoughts. “No!” No, no, no. You aren’t good enough. You can’t get into that show. Nobody there will like your work. You’re not good enough. Or, perhaps my favorite, “You’ll make a fool of yourself!” Yeah, um, somebody please tell that to the people in the chicken suits? Seriously, it’s hard to strike a balance and find yourself landing right in between that silly chicken suit and that negative tape recorder. Some days I honestly believe that there are no good artists, only those who have managed to be able to do just this. Find a sweet spot and sing, so to speak.

Art, at times, takes bravery. We must be bold. We must silence that tape recorder, yes, we must. But, alas, there are times, other times perhaps but, yes, other times, when we have to listen to that little voice that says “No, not yet. Not good enough.” It’s hard establishing taste as an artist. It can be hard raising the bar and keeping it at a certain level. In involves being honest with one’s self.

A gallery owner once told me that, “kids today,” as he put it, “need to have a heart to heart. They need to [when they approach a gallery] lay out their work and take a good hard look at what the gallery is currently selling. Seriously A/B the work and be honest about how the work stacks up.” This is very good advice. We need to silence the tape recorder, yes, but we also need to not completely silence the inner critic. Because, well, that inner critic? He’s the guy who pushes us out of that funky chicken suit and into hitting all of the right notes (excuse the pun.)

If you’re constantly doing art and it’s not up to the level that you want or need it to be, face it, you’ve got a problem on your hands. You can get more training, get more practice (back into the “woodshed” as some artists like to say) or you can do something like try another media. And, let’s be honest, there’s no harm in not being a professional-heck, even I will admit to singing in the shower from time to time, but I’m not delusional. I’m no Whitney Houston. Now, being a visual artist, I can honestly say that not everybody needs to be the next Whitney (or whomever you like.) Art is a wonderful thing and everybody, each and every one of us, has an artist within, just bursting to get out. But, we do have to admit that deluding ourselves into thinking it’s great, we are the next Whitney, the world owes us a long rack of gallery sales, whatever, is not a good idea either. No, it doesn’t pay to be a delusional “chicken suit brigade” artist either.

The trick, I guess, is finding that middle ground. Listen to your own heartbeat enough to silence the little negative tape recorder but don’t drown out the chicken suit critic either. Push yourself to always do better work, stop and regroup if you can’t. There’s no harm in asking for help or spending more time in the “woodshed” remember all artists have to do that at some point. Don’t be negative but don’t be delusional either.

Yes, I suppose, as my friend Linda likes to say, “Good luck with that!”

Until next time…

1 Comment

  1. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    May 22, 2015 / 10:08 am

    Yes indeed Carol. A topic close to my heart. I'm constantly astonished at some people's lack of self criticism whilst also being keenly aware of the spectre of that inner critic when s/he gets into full flow! It's all about finding the workable balance. For me that's an ongoing challenge!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *