There is a phenomenon known as “the artist’s curse”–a state of perception in an artist of their own work as inferior and somehow lacking. It is a virus of self-doubt instilled by the ever-present voice of the inner critic who notes with a jaundiced and magnifying eye only the flaws, imperfections and shortcomings in the execution of a piece of work. The inner critic measures the latest attempt against past successes, other artists master works, or impossibly high aspirations. It can lead an artist to destroy perfectly wonderful pieces of their labor in a pique of self loathing and doubt. I think it must be something like the pathological state of postpartum depression in a mother who has delivered a child.
To combat this disease I believe it’s always best, as an artist, when completing a fresh work to pause, wait a while and put the voice of the inner critic on “mute.” To let a painting “rest” for a time. To avoid the temptation of tweaking and making “little fixes” here and there. To avoid the nagging thought that, “if only I do this…or that…to this painting, it will be better.” The state of final “finish” is arbitrary and elusive for each work and it is in this hyper-critical state of emotional attachment as we near the culmination of a painting that we can succumb to excessively analytical and even pathologically delusional perceptions of our own work. It is the time when we most risk the fault of “over working” our piece. Many a fine painting is ruined in the finish–most often by acting upon the infected perception of the inner critic. Ironically, it is this sycophantic voice that prods us to “fix” which leads us to ruin and thereby causes us to hate and even destroy the works that somehow do not live up to our expectation.
It’s better to put the brush down and leave a canvas in a semi-finished state that conveys some truth, than to fastidiously pick at little details until the spontaneity, mystery and truth have been thoroughly abused. By allowing the mind time to rest and detach from the passion of the moment–by muting the inner critic, we may return to comprehend with fresh, unprejudiced eyes, the beauty we’ve been fortunate enough to transmit and share with the world.
We may come to love our work as others do.