Creative blocks come in all shapes and sizes – luckily, there’s more than one way to fight them.

That dreaded inner critic! No one gets a free pass. Unless they’re a total narcissist,  every artist has to deal with bouts of self-doubt (trust me, you’d be surprised).

Who doesn’t want people to say good things about their work? But that need for … and what is it exactly? Admiration? Validation? Acceptance? For most of us, there is always the danger that it will stifle the creative process.

And it’s not just about whether people are going to like what we make or not – it’s usually more nuanced and insidious than that. Fear of unforeseen (or indeed, foreseen!) consequences routinely kills ideas before they have a chance to become reality. Often professional artists worry, for example, about what the consequences of a given work will be. What does, or would it, mean for me to make this work? How will this work affect how people see me?

Times like that, it helps to look your fear in the face – take it into the interrogation room, sit it down in an uncomfortable folding chair, and shine a glaring light into its eyes. What you do is ask the Dreaded Voice the following: Is that true? Always in all cases? Or can there be an alternate narrative?

For example, “No one would ever buy my abstracts.” Is that (always) true? Aren’t there, in fact, some cases in which that might not be true? Come to think of it, how could you know?

Another tactic is to answer your inner critic with two magic words: So what? As in, “No one would ever buy my abstracts.” So what? What does that have to do with whether you should make them or not? Are there not, in fact, plenty of other reasons to make them that have nothing to do with money?

One more strategy to fight The Voice: see what a situation looks like when you turn it around. Example: “No one would ever buy my abstracts (not a single one, implied)” becomes Everyone always buys my abstracts (every single one). Is or could this ever be true (always, in all cases)? Surely not, no more than the original statement could be true. It’s a trap!

It’s easy to get caught up in your head. Everyone does. So what’s stopping you from standing up to your fears? If you use the right interrogation tactics, chances are your inner critic will go down without a fight.

Spring Melt

Sharon Bamber, Spring Melt, pastel, 9×12 inches

Sharon Bamber painted Spring Melt with pastels en plein air in 2018. She’s one of more than 60 artists giving demos and teaching workshops at this year’s PACE Plein Air Convention & Expo in Santa Fe.