A parent's voice
February 18, 2014
An artist who wishes anonymity asks, "What of artists who get hooked on external validation? What do you think
of artists who constantly seek some sort of approval from their peers, in clubs, even online?"
At the risk of being one of those who divides the world into two main kinds of people, there are two main types of artists: those who have a need to listen to the opinions of others, and those who do not. That being said, this habit can come and go--leopards can change their spots. Both types of artists can have problems. The first may have their vision so diluted by others' input that little is left of originality. The second may be imprisoned by what they already know.
Here's one theory about where all this comes from: If you think back to your childhood you will remember two types of parental remark. In a general way, one was, "That's very good, keep it up." The other was, "That's not very good, don't do that." All parents of all time have a predominance of one behaviour over the other. But that's not the interesting part. If you come from the first type of environment and continue to seek personal validation, you are probably seeking reaffirmation that your parents were correct in their early assessment. If, on the other hand, you received the second type of parental attention, you likely need positive affirmation to disprove your parents' negativity.
There's a big difference. It seems the first are likely to be seekers of constructive criticism. The second are likely in need of validation at all costs. Furthermore, and thankfully, I've observed that many artists, perhaps because of their contrary nature, are able to access and exploit tendencies the opposite of what might be expected.
I'm an advocate of self-validation. It's an acquired skill. Encouragement, yes. Constructive criticism, yes. But artists should be aware that petty stroking could be the source of arrested productivity. An artist's job includes the avoidance of premature closure by the begged or gratuitous approval of others.
PS: "Work independently and solve your own problems." (Winslow Homer) "Nothing is more apt to deceive us than our own judgement of our work. We derive more benefit from having our faults pointed out by our enemies than from hearing the opinions of friends." (Leonardo da Vinci)
Esoterica: Artists have not always tolerated the opinions of others. They admit to little influence, believe for the most part in their own direction and, in some ways, insist on being the centre of the universe. Often, while nominally encouraged, they had critical parents. Some of these artists were Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jackson Pollock. The list is long. "We need no advice but approval." (Coco Chanel)
The letter was originally published as "External validation" on May 14, 2002.