Frustration seems to be a required component to being involved in any form of art or creative media. In my own experience, whether I have been involved in music, fiction writing, news media, radio, or even editorial cartooning, I have never felt fully satisfied with anything. That can be blamed on others – this person or that person prevented me from reaching a point that I felt I was capable reaching. However, I’m starting to think that constantly nagging sense of disappointment, of always coming up short, is simply part of caring about your art.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing, or at least trying to do something creative. I have been a storyteller for as long as I can remember, and have always had an ear for music. Both writing (creative or journalistic) and music are things that I have been passionate about to varying degrees since grade school. Both are things I have studied, practiced and invested countless hours and an embarrassing amount of money into honing. In both of these passions I have been guilty of over-analyzing and criticizing myself. Whether that’s because a song didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, or an interview went badly, or if I just couldn’t figure out how to end a story and left it unfinished, all cases are equally frustrating.
Misery loves company, though, and I’ll confess that I do feel a little better knowing that I’m not alone in this. I’ve noticed this particularly in my wife, who is a photographer. Her work continues to improve every time I see her editing a new shoot, but she is as plagued with uncertainty, always questioning whether she is moving in the right direction artistically. Although always questioning her work is stressful, I can’t help but think that those questions are what keeps her from settling for “good enough.”
Most artists I have met are their own worst critics. A photographer who is always trying to re-work her editing style, a penciler/painter who can’t leave a piece alone when most would think it is a finished work, or a writer who tends to lean on sarcasm and isn’t sure how comfortable he is with more personal exposition. We all suffer with out own inner critic, and he writes the most scathing column in the boldest print available, published by a newspaper that should only be distributed in some ring of Hell. The only ones who don’t seem to have that devilish inner voice are the ones who think they’re going to be the next Hemingway or similarly famous artist because they managed to get an “A” in a creative writing/figure drawing/music theory class, and those people don’t tend to do anything very interesting.
As much as we hate it, and as much as it may ruin a day or week or longer while we struggle to find some sort of satisfaction with our work, we need that internal critic to push us to do better. Most of us that practice some form of creative art or media do so without pay, or at least not substantial pay. We write, sketch, paint, and compose because we don’t know how to not do those things, although we’re pretty sure we’ll never have them perfected either.