Have you ever seen a dog chase its own tail? It’s a spectacle that is both bemusing and somewhat alarming. Here is a supposedly sentient creature engaged in something that is utterly pointless and completely impossible. If they ever catch their tail, what will they do with it? Bite it savagely? On the other hand, if their tail remains tantalisingly out of the reach of their jaws forever, what purpose will be served by continuing to run around in circles?
How do you, as an artist, respond to the following feedback?
- Your CV / artist’s statement / portfolio is too brief / too long / doesn’t have enough of / has too much of /doesn’t emphasise /overemphasises .
- Your music is too fast / too slow / overproduced / under-produced / lacks punch / is too punchy / too long / too short / too commercial / too esoteric / doesn’t have its own sound / doesn’t fit within any recognised genre / sounds too much like / doesn’t sound enough like .
- Your painting is too subdued / too bright / lacks colour / has too much colour / is too realistic / too abstract / not representational enough / too literal / too big / too small / too detailed / too naive.
- Your writing is too florid / too colloquial / uses too many big words / talks down to the reader / has too complex a story / has too simple a story / is too long / is too short /doesn’t grab the reader / tries too hard to grab the reader.
- Your career is too narrowly focused / covers too broad a skill set / indicates you’ve done too much of / indicates you haven’t done enough of / shows you never stick at anything / shows you never take a leap of faith and try something new / demonstrates that you were too unsuccessful / demonstrates that you were too successful / should be different, at this age.
Everybody has an opinion about your work and about you, as an artist and as a human being. In stating their opinion, their expectation is that you should immediately heed their advice and take on board their criticisms, morphing your work and yourself to be perfect embodiments of the preferences they have expressed, or else just go away.
How is that any different to a dog chasing its own tail?
Your particular, unique way of expressing yourself, through your art and your character and makeup, as an artist, is already who you are and what you do. A future perfection, according to somebody else’s stated aesthetic preference, is not something separate from you or something you will eventually attain. You already are you and the art you make is already a characteristic expression of who you are. It’s not like you should be aiming for some external thing to complete yourself. What you need, you already have. Your taste and influences already lead you to make the kind of artistic work you make. So what should you make of the “constructive” criticisms?
You are evidently showing your work to the wrong person.
It may be the case that nobody appreciates your art and your uniqueness as a person. Do you care? Should you care? Is that a good enough reason to start second guessing your instincts, as an artist and begin chasing your own tail?
More likely is that somebody somewhere will think that what you made is just right and that, as an artist, they think you’re exactly perfect. The hard part is finding them.
The only guarantee you’ve got is that if you spend all your time running around in ever decreasing circles, chasing your own tail, you won’t find them that way.
Follow your nose, instead.