Language Matters: Achieving a Tolerance for Mistakes as a Way To Improve

July 11, 2011

110515BulldogB Left: Bulldog (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and gouache), in a 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia journal. In keeping with today's topic I'm showing you a sketch that has all sorts of "issues": value issues, old paint issues, contrast and center of interest issues; and drawing issues. But when I look at this sketch I don't focus on them except to say, "Here's something to fix at the eye because this angle doesn't work, or these three spots are where I need to have more contrast to make that pop." In this way I can take all the learning from this drawing forward, instead of getting hung up on what didn't work in the sketch. I'm ready to get right back to work and have another go.

I've written before about how important it is to talk constructively and positively with yourself if you're going to talk to yourself about your artwork and creative ventures.

Well a while back a reader wrote in and described her drawing as "ordinary competence" and talked about her "egregious mistakes."

I only have my notes to go by, because I couldn't find the original post (much less the comment). But I did save my response because I knew I wanted to write to all of you about this. I see this tendency in my students all the time. If you did it in front of me I would comment on it. And tell you to "snap out of it."

My point today is that if we use those types of words (negative, dismissive, damning even) when we talk about our work, we tell our minds a message that feeds the internal critic. It's the fast track to a work stoppage.

So I'm urging you to participate in some vocabulary renewal!

When commenting on our art or creative endeavors it's best to use specific words that say things like, "his nose isn't long enough (short enough/wide enough)." Then we can actually see a way to fix things.

Always choose your words to help you find a way to fix things in your output. (Output here is anything creative.)

Hold your critical mind to specifics. Don't allow it to get away with, "that's not real looking," or something equally vague that hits at whatever your particular issue may be. Insist instead that your internal critic be allowed only to make comments that can be ACTED upon—so that the situation can be remedied.

You'll find competence, however you define it, will be must faster to come. So keep working on that tolerance for mistakes—what you are really working on is your tolerance for practice, growth, insight. It's easier to work on tolerance for those things because they are all positive. It leads immediately to more work, which is more practice. Try choosing your words consciously today.

  1. Reply

    Good tip. Thank you so much for your blog and the information that you put out to the world. It is very helpful!

    • LizzieBo
    • July 11, 2011

    I really appreciate this, because I have realized that having that internal critic has been stopping me in my tracks. So I keep thinking about another post you wrote, about finding something good in every sketch, could be one small point, and that has really kept me moving. I now find that even if I don’t like what I’ve done in total, I can find something in it that I learned or achieved. Your very specific examples help me understand this point in practice, not just in theory. THANKS!

  2. Reply

    Perfect post for me today – in fact I mentioned something about this very thing on my blog post this morning. It’s hard to quiet that internal critic some days. And I love your last paragraph the best — tolerance for practice & growth!

    • Linda
    • July 11, 2011

    Roz, Thank you for these words. I always do what ever on my drawings this makes me less wanting to draw cause of what Im telling myself so from now on Ill try and give myself some slack and learn from my erors.and keep on. Its a hard one to get over. Gosh I like coming here its like Im taking a class and your showing me the way. Teaching yourself is a hard one to do and your blog gives me the answers that I need to be on my art journey.
    Have a great day my friend,

  3. Reply

    Marta, LizzieBo, Judy, and Linda, thank you all for your comments. I’m still digging out from being away from the computer since Friday so I’ll be brief.

    I’m glad the post was interesting/helpful. I spent yesterday morning as part of my class discussing this with my students. It always hits me how people need to be mindful of this!

    LizzieBo I’m glad the specifics are helping you! Keep at it. One day you will notice that there is simply drawing and silence (internal anyway).

    Judy, I think that in some way if we think about tolerance for practice and growth as I wrote, then in a subtle way it also gives the internal critic both the brush off and the sense that he might be called in later for consultation. But even if it doesn’t work that way I know I’m more productive when I think of specifics I can actually act on.

    Linda, please do keep giving yourself some slack!

    Marta, thank you for stopping by, I’m glad you found it helpful.

    Thanks, Roz

    • Miss T
    • July 14, 2011

    Roz, I wanted to share this quote that I received in the mail yesterday, because I think it relates nicely to the issue of the inner critic:

    There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with expression. It is your business to keep the channel open. — Martha Graham

  4. Reply

    Miss T, I love this quote. Especially the last line, “It is your business to keep the channel open.”
    LOVE IT.
    Thanks for sharing it.

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