One day, when I was publicly humiliated.

Public Humiliation 

You know when you’re all excited that you’ve made something and you want to share it?

And you asked someone their opinion of your beautiful offering, the one you created from your heart? And then they say something like,

“Ummm…..”

Or

“It’s not my favourite…”

Or

“It’s ni—ice…” with a silent, unspoken “but….”

Or (my personal favourite),

“That’s interesting.…”

It could be something you cooked, something you wrote, something you painted. Doesn’t matter. Without you, it wouldn’t exist. You created it. You adore it. And you want everyone else to as well. But not everyone does.

It’s scary putting yourself out into the world. NO ONE likes rejection (no matter how brave we are about it.)

So here’s what happened one day, when I was publicly humiliated.

First, let me take you back to 2001, when I first went to art schooI. I was 39 years old, and I had accumulated a number of degrees in Science. But it was safe to say that I was a rather unhappy (and not very good) scientist. Something to do with my inability to add up. Or measure things.

At art school I was at least 20 years older than the average student AND I had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome for a number of years. I was so unwell, that on my first day of art school, I needed a walking stick just to get around.

There were days when I couldn’t attend – but on the days that I could, I was the most prolific and committed student… Why? Because after spending my entire adult life feeling like I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, from Day 1 of art school, my heart exploded and I finally Knew. It was like COMING HOME.

I spent five FANTASTIC years studying art. I started selling my first paintings at the end of year one, I won an art prize, and I felt like I had fallen in love. By year 4, I’d held my first solo art show. It was a HUGE success. Basically, I was in heaven.

When I finished art school, I was over forty and I finally found what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

In those 5 years, although most of my lecturers were kind, skilled and supportive teachers, during the last year of my studies, I was given a terrible assessment by an esteemed lecturer. It felt like a public flogging, and it devastated me. And in the aftermath of that flogging, I responded like countless others would have.

 I contemplated giving it all away. Art. Studies. Creative pursuits. Everything. If this was what making art was about, then I was never going to cut it, and perhaps now was the best time to leave, at the end of five years of study, before I made a complete fool of myself in the art world.

Fortunately I came to my senses. It took me a long time to recover from that humiliating experience, but when I did, what emerged what a very clear understanding of the sort of artist I wanted to be, what sort of art I loved making, and why. It was even hugely instrumental in shaping what sort of teacher I would later become. So now, I cannot be more grateful to that lecturer who disliked my work intensely enough to express her disgust so thoroughly.

This ‘forging by fire’ forced me to ask myself all sorts of questions, which had at their core this one:

Who Am I, and what do I have to offer?

Interestingly, it was, and still is, the fundamental first step in every single creative offering, every single piece of art I make, every journey into the creative unknown that starts as a blank canvas.

So I’d like to offer these thoughts for the next time you receive criticism for your delicate creative offering:

  1. Don’t ask for an opinion — unless you’re ready and prepared to receive one you may not like.
  2. If you want an opinion, remember — that’s all it is. You can take it, leave it, or keep some and bless the rest.
  3. Even the WORST criticism has a gift within it. Look for it. For me, after licking my wounds, that public flogging helped me more than any other feedback because I was FORCED to decide. Do I really want to do this? And YES, I did. No matter what.
  4. NOT everyone has to like your work. She didn’t. I did. That’s ok.
  5. It’s just art. Not brain surgery. No one will die if your art is bad. Just make some more 🙂

I believe we are all here to create. As we each stumble along our less-travelled road, I am somewhat comforted by this thought:

We all have potential, and none of us has reached it yet.

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Do leave a comment if you feel like having a conversation … I read and reply every one 🙂

Comments 15

  1. Malini, coming from the same gene pool, your response was exactly mine in similar circumstances. So your advice is very welcome, the best I’ve found for dealing with criticism☺

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  2. You may well have just inspired me to go to art school.
    I know that coming home feeling. And I want more of it.
    It’s NOT surgery! I need to keep telling myself that. Fear of other’s opinions is great destroyer of creativity in any field.

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      Oh Elsie, that would be FANTASTIC – go to Art School!! The feeling was like falling in love for the very first time, all I could think of day and night was making art. And I agree with you 100% about fear. It’s the Great Blocker of creativity. But it can be reined in… x

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  3. “Who am I, and what do I have to offer?” I am going to write that out and put it on the wall in front of where I make art. For a while now I have been stopped just thinking of the possibility of criticism, haven’t made any thing for too long. But I do have something to offer and I know who I am. I’m very glad I found your blog! thank you.
    ~marilee

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      I am so glad and honoured Rose! It is a thing of GREAT vulnerability to put yourself out there and make art. It takes so much courage. Pat yourself on the back just for trying. And check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic. It’s great on this subject!

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    Oh my goodness Elaine. That is quite a difficult challenge. I suggest that for someone to say that to you they were intending a comment not from a place of kindness or authenticity but perhaps with a desire to cause pain. So the best thing to do is to to wish them well and send them on their way (perhaps out of your life for now, I suggest). Her words shouldn’t hold power over you, she has not offered them with love or friendship.

    That was a powerful, amazing painting. I remember it well. And Elaine, I see a LOT of paintings.

    And at the end of the day, remember to just keep making art. That was one painting, and it doesn’t define you any more than the next one or the next one will… but was does define you is the passion, the life force that is renewed and energised each time you paint!

    Never stop. xox

  5. Just want to say- I love you. I love your art. Thank you for the wonderfully creative, messy, growth days I have had with you. X

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      Oh that’s so sweet, Margaret! I love you too! And your paintings that you created on those “messy growth days” 🙂 xox

  6. Hello Malini. I can SO relate to this! After being told some landscapes I was proud of were ‘boring’ I put them away and have never looked at them since without again feeling that hurt. They nearly ended up in the bin! Worst comment about an elderly friend’s painting though was, ” Hm, well, I like the frame…!”

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      NO!!!!! that’s the WORSSSSST comment ever!!! Oh dear, people can be so unkind. Remember that Picasso kept his first abstractions hidden behind his sofa for a very long time before he had the courage to show them to his artsy mates.

      Figure out what’s boring (if anything) make it more exciting, and then show it proudly to the world! X

  7. Thank you so much for the words of wisdom ,I find this at painting class the ones that just come and look then walk away. Now I know not to take it personally. Like you said we all like different things. Xxx

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      Yes, it’s important not to take anything personally. Very hard, when we create something, but we CANNOT POSSIBLY appeal to everyone. First and foremost it must bring US joy, otherwise it’s pointless! To me, that is the most important purpose to any creative endeavour. That joy spills out to others when we feel it within ourselves first 🙂 x

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