One of the reasons we art journal is because it's a safe place to be creative. At least theoretically. This blank book is our and ours alone. We're not making pages for others, but only ourselves. We can play and take risks creatively—"fail" as often as we "succeed"—on the page and it's okay. No one to judge us here.
Yes, we come to the page because it's a safe place, but art journalers also know:
We are not totally safe here.
Like all creatives, we still have to face down the the Inner Critic. We know that critical, questioning voice insideis just trying to protect us from the perceived danger of creative risk. But we still have to open up our art journal to the next blank page and resist the bombardment of criticism, over and over again.
I can tell you from experience, that over time that critical voice does die down a bit—or at least, we get better at managing the verbal attacks. I know the more I create in my art journal, the less I listen to the criticisms and the questions and the quieter that voice gets.
It took me a while to realize, though, that that didn't mean the Inner Critic is done.
It turns out that criticizing and questioning is just ONE strategy to get us to stop taking risks!
In fact, there are many other strategic weapons the Inner Critic can throw at us to keep us from opening up ourselves to creative risk. The vigil to keep us from harm's way, it seems, is never over.
Strategic Weapons of Mass Creative Destruction
Subtle and seemingly non-critical, these weapons are especially effective because often we don't even recognized the hand of the Inner Critic. But they have the same purpose: to keep us out of harm's way. And while we know creative risk is worth it, the Inner Critic decidedly does not.
So it's important to know what you're up against.
Once you understand each of the Inner Critic's weapons, you can develop your own inner strategies to fight for your creative self.
So let's identify seven of them, shall we?
You don't know what to do! There are so many choices! You could do this..or that. This idea...or that one. This image...or that stamp. This next layer...or should you just Gesso over the whole thing and start over?
Confusion is a particularly effective weapon because you can get so lost in it, paralyzed in choosing what to do next. The Inner Critic has tossed you into a whirl, and guess what?
While you're confused about where to take the page or what to do on the page in the first place, you're not creating. 'Hah,' say the Inner Critic. 'Job well done.'
Confusion often leads to overwhelm, but overwhelm is its own particular blinding force. When you are overwhelmed by too many choices or too many questions or too many tasks, you feel overloaded and stressed. There's just no way you can do it all, address it all, think through it all.
So you don't do anything. Checkmate!
3. Risk Aversion
Sometimes we are so fearful of failing (for so many possible reasons, most having to do with messages we absorbed earlier in our lives) that the Inner Critic. hardly has to work at all. We play it safe all the time on our own. Even if we do get our creative selves to the table, we never take risks on the page because failure is so terrifying. Often our pages are pretty, but not necessarily true reflections of "us" at all because revealing ourselves—even to ourselves!—is just too risky.
All the Inner Critic has to do is remind you now and then, "You might fail!" and there you are, running to the tried and true.
4. Self Doubt
You don't believe in yourself. You question whether you have anything to express. ("Is there anything in there at all?" you wonder. "What if I sit down to create something—and nothing comes to me? Maybe I'm a blank.") You may also doubt your abilities or your so called "talent" (as if that's even a relevant word in your art journal—not).
Art Journal beginners, especially, doubt. You haven't yet had the experience to see through to all that is actually possible right there inside of you, filled with ideas and abilities you don't yet know you have.
The Inner Critic would like you to stop trying because it's safer to stick with the known and definitely unsafe to travel to the unknown. You'll likely get hit with a snowball fight of self-doubt (and the only way to win is to throw snowballs of creative experiences back).
5. Misplaced Priorities
You're convinced that there are other important things to do in your life than to create (art). I know this was a big win for my Inner Critic for years. It's so easy to fall into the trap of 'I have to many other important things to do.' And as it turns out, your I.C. often has many powerful allies—your boss, your spouse, your kids, your community, your extended family, your need for financial survival!
It's easy to be convinced that your job and your family and the umpteen other things in your life are more important than your need to create. The Inner Critic has an easy sell.
What the Inner Critic fails to mention is that, if you feel it then your need to create is important, too, and it's not an either/or proposition. It just isn't. You don't have to abandon what is also important to you—financial security, your kids, your spouse—to find some time to create.
But your Inner Critic won't be the one to teach you that.
Ooh, this is one of the Inner Critic's favorite weapons. No inner voice necessary. Just make sure you notice (as often as possible) how good other people's art is—and then compare yours against there's. Again, the Inner Critic will not be there to remind you that a) every person is different, with something different to express and b) a poppy and a daisy are both lovely flowers.
You just wallow in empty wishes to be the other flower and meanwhile fail to shine in the sun as the one you are. And the Inner Critic is perfectly happy to let you remain in your own shadow.
7. Our own culture
This is a weapon the Inner Critic need only leverage. Many of us live in cultures or subcultures that do not value art-making. If you live the U.S. like me, for instance, we have a decided focus on wealth-making, job security and hard work. Artists (and arting people) aren't exactly encouraged. Some of us are also born into families and communities that don't honor and support creative spirit. You'll get help finding a job and kudos for taking care of your family, but choose to paint or draw or write? You may not get a lot of understanding and you're not likely to get support.
Now, there's so many reasons why these kinds of cultures operate to the detriment of all of us, and it's so easy to believe art-making and creativity is a luxury rather than the necessity that it is (to civilization and to our individual selves).
All the Inner Critic has to do, really, is give you a little push and you fall right in line.
Now that we've revealed these seven secret weapons, I hope you see how easily you can in fact be fooled. But with consciousness comes power. Don't let your Inner Critic convince you that you're too confused, overwhelmed, or afraid of failure, too full of self doubt, too busy, too unlike someone else—or that your need to create is unimportant.
Your Art Journal IS a safe place to create and an art journal practice is the best place to lead you through all the obstacles your Inner Critic may throw in your path.