How Praise Can Paralyze

Episode 197 · November 20th, 2021 · 35 mins 17 secs

About this Episode

When we think of the kinds of reactions to our work from other people that cause a block in creative flow, most people think first of negativity, indifference, or misunderstanding. All of these can undermine our self-confidence and cause us to feel incompetent, uninteresting, or simply off track. They can lead to anxiety and avoidance behavior towards our work. But what about the opposite—positive remarks of praise and admiration? These can create a blockage of a different kind that may be harder to recognize and acknowledge. Today we talk about the rather odd fact that praise can stall us as much as criticism.

Praise can certainly feel supportive and energizing, helping you see aspects of your work that were hidden from your own eyes and clarifying your ideas when you successfully communicate with another person through your work. And of course, praise brings about general good feelings relating to recognition and a sense of accomplishment.

But receiving praise can also be a complicated dynamic, with the potential to stall us in our progress in ways that may be hard to recognize and acknowledge. The basic issue is that art is subjective; although there are standards of good composition and design, and good use of media and visual elements, opinion also plays a big role when someone offers you feedback. When what you hear is positive, it can be harder to recognize its subjectivity. You may be steered towards aspects of your work that aren’t quite right for your own vision, but which the person viewing your work prefers.

This often happens in a classroom or workshop situation, meaning that those who teach need to be careful not to shut down students by only praising work of a certain type. But the detrimental effects of praise can also be a dynamic among friends and family. Many people find a role for themselves in advising and influencing others even when they know little about the subject. Their positive comments may be well meaning but be somewhat manipulative or controlling, in effect asking the artist to create according to their own preferences. You as the artist need to be strong enough in your own mind to recognize whether praise is truly applicable to your own intentions, and resist being steered in a direction that is not.

Learning to evaluate the feedback you receive allows you to gain from positive feedback that relates to your own intentions and to remove yourself from comments that are off track. Failing to do this can lead to losing your way or being blocked by inner resistance to fulfilling someone else’s desires for your work. Being self-reflective and in touch with your own ideas and intentions is key to understanding positive feedback and pulling from it what is useful and supportive to you.

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Rebecca and her partner Jerry McLaughlin are excited to be launching year two of Cold Wax Academy's membership program, which began in October of 2020. In the coming year, live online learning sessions will feature an entirely new set of topics---beginning with a deep dive into technique and the steps involved in developing a painting. Other topics for year 2 include professional development, abstraction and realism, principles of design, and expanded uses for cold wax medium.

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