Ask the Art Prof: How Much of Your Emotions Do You Allow to Infiltrate Your Artwork?

Final Crit

“How much of your emotional life do you allow to infiltrate your work?  It is really hard for me to separate myself intellectually from my drawing process, to be completely intuitive and fully observant the way that I feel I must be to draw and to create.  

Some of my teachers have told me that they have a way of almost completely separating themselves from the outside world and their surroundings, but how long does it take to develop this skill? Do you think this is a good skill to have, do agree that you must separate your emotions and self from your work at times? ” 

Being able to achieve emotional separation from your work can certainly be beneficial for many artists for a variety of reasons. I do think it is an important survival instinct for many artists that is helpful to develop, given how tough it can be to live life as an artist. The creative process stimulates such an incredible range of intense emotions: fear, anxiety, exaltation, frustration, etc. If we were to allow these emotions to spill over into our creative process most of us would be overwhelmed all the time and never be able to get anything done.

I know that for me, emotional separation from my work is a mechanism that I’ve implemented for myself as a protective measure.  I think I would be having multiple emotional meltdowns every day if I let myself to react emotionally to everything in my artistic process.

As for how to develop this skill of emotional separation, I think it’s simply a matter of time and experience.  As a student, I used to cry all the time when things weren’t going well. I definitely remember bawling through at least one really dreadful critique where I felt like I was being personally and verbally assaulted by a committee of five professors.

After many years of working professionally you have no choice but toughen up if you want to be in the field long term. I’ve had people say awful things to me about my work, much worse than anything I ever heard in a critique at art school. And actually, the most unsettling reaction you can get is no reaction at all, with no feedback to tell you what you did wrong.  I once had a fairly prominent museum curator do a studio visit. She barely said a word, and simply stood there and took notes as I awkwardly tried to fill the silence by explaining my work. I had another curator do a studio visit who said to me about one particular project, “Oh, I don’t care for this at all.” No explanation, nothing.

Today, I still have my moments when I get emotional about my work, but it’s not quite the same thing as it was when I was a student. Things that used to bother me a lot as a student don’t affect me anymore. I have an easier time staying focused on what I need to do, and blocking out all of the distractions of the outside world. Sometimes that means being a hermit and intentionally not getting any feedback on my work for a long period of time.  If I start to hear too many opinions on the work as I’m making it, I lose my focus and can’t concentrate anymore. Once I feel that the work is more stabilized and ready, I come out of hibernation and start asking for feedback.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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2 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: How Much of Your Emotions Do You Allow to Infiltrate Your Artwork?

  1. To be different is not easy. These same people…can they do it? I can easily tell someone all about a masterpiece in a museum, all the artistic signposts. It’s one thing to see, but another to do. i have a huge ego i think, but am the most doubtful person and pessimestic you ever met. I depend on others’ reactions more than myself. Persistance is hard. After I get over being criticized, i retaliate by trying even harder.

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