“Don't pursue a career in the Arts unless you love the Arts truly, madly, deeply. And do not have any delusions about what awaits you both in educational settings, and in the job market. …If you think you're gonna get a break because you have a disability, think again. …You better be the best you can be at what you do, and do not allow yourself to use your disability as an excuse NOT to work continually and consistently towards total professionalism and high standards of quality.”
-- Jaehn Clare, professional theatre artist, from "A Career as an Artist Ain't an Easy Row to Hoe," keynote address for The Art of Employment: Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities on March 25 & 26, 2002 at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN.
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An ArtsWORK exclusive by Jody Michele Powers
The need for approval from other people hinders many artists from sharing their talents with the world. It also robs them of the boldness required to improve their skills, network and seek out resources.
My own need for approval caused me to sit on a story idea for at least five years. I wanted to write a story about a woman with a disability who had depth and layers to her. I wanted to portray Mandy as a real woman, neither a superhuman nor a person to be pitied.
I was so consumed over how people would respond to such a story that I could hardly share the concept with my closest friends and family. I was plagued with worries.
If I exposed too much of her vulnerabilities as a woman with a disability, would the disability community feel betrayed? Would they say I didn’t expose enough?
Mandy would have a spiritual aspect to her. Would Christians find it offensive that Mandy struggled with doing the right thing? Would others be turned off by a spiritual theme?
And what would my family think? Would they say that I fashioned Mandy a bit too much after myself and be angry? And what if I did all that work, and it didn’t have any impact at all?
With my obsession over wanting EVERYONE to like my work, it was no wonder that it took me five years to start writing my novella.
Despite my excessive need for approval, I now find it much more manageable. I was able to approach the Indiana Arts Commission with my concept and was awarded an Individual Artist Program grant to carry it out. I started and finished the Unmasking.And now, I’m seeking publication without totally freaking out! If I can overcome my struggles that kept me from expressing myself as an artist, then I believe you also can. The following concepts, techniques, and principles keep my perspective healthy and clear:
As artists, we have the right to create whatever we want. And people have the right to feel whatever they want toward what we create.
This concept really helps me to cope when people don’t react to my work in a way I want.People have the right to not like my work, but I still have the right to write.
If this simple but powerful realization is new for you, check out Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.
This is the fourth of six pieces written by artists affiliated with ArtsWORK Indiana. We'd like to hear what you think, so go to our Facebook page and tell us! Check out other articles in the "View from the Field" series, published monthly.
If we did a Google search, we would find more than enough evidence to show that criticism just goes with the territory of being an artist.
James Patterson was rejected more than a dozen times before being published. Anne Frank’s diary had 15 rejections. Producers told Elvis that he didn’t have enough talent for the music business.Many didn’t understand the works of either Van Gogh or Picasso. Modeling agents told Marilyn Monroe she should forget her dreams and become a secretary.
Just knowing that criticism is a common experience among artists allows me to deal with it better.
I was asked, “What would happen if everybody hated your writing?” The answer came easily. “It would feel horrible.” My friend pressed in, “And?”
This question forced me to admit that the universe wouldn’t implode on itself. It would just cause overwhelming and painful emotions.
Go ahead and frame that question to fit your situation. Admitting that the world would not literally end may give you courage to deal with the uncomfortable emotions that criticism causes.
Have you ever held your hand under hot water? At first it is painful. Then it becomes tolerable as the nerves become used to the sensations. This principle of desensitization can be applied to painful emotions. It lessens the intensity of the painful emotions that criticism and rejection produce.
I picture a pretend scenario in which someone is shredding my work apart. I allow the negative emotions to wash over me.I feel the physical symptoms of nausea and sweating. I don’t fight anything that I feel.
Then I replay the same scenario several times until the intensity of what is going on in my body decreases. When I experience criticism and rejection in real life, my body and mind can better tolerate the disapproval.
This technique is based on the concepts of exposure therapy. Try this exercise several times to see if it aids you in the same way as it does me.
Disapproval from people is just that—disapproval from people. The problem comes when we view it as more than that. Let’s say an editor doesn’t like an article I wrote and rejects it. I think I’m a bad writer. Emotions of not being good enough overtake me.
What caused my painful emotions? It wasn’t the rejection; it was the interpretation of the rejection.Practice receiving rejection at face value, as neither good nor bad. It is what it is.Adopting this attitude will give you more power over your need for approval.
The frame work of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, teaches this way of thinking. For more information check out www.dbtselfhelf.com.
The need for approval must be overcome if we artists intend to reach our goals and chase our dreams. I am an example that you don’t have to be stuck in your fears and anxiety. You can incorporate some or all of what I wrote to regain your power and courage.
Jody Michele Powers is a writer and visual artist who lives in Muncie, IN with her husband Jay. She advocates for people with both physical disabilities and those with mental illnesses.
E-mail the author at email@example.com
See profiles of a few of the many accomplished individuals working in diverse fields of the arts who also have a disability.
Go to People in the Arts
Gina Soo Golden is a painter from Indianapolis, Indiana. “I like to mix realism and surrealism.” “I aim to give a visual definition of feelings one could never quite describe with words,” she has written in her artist statement. Pictured above: The Gray Room.
read more about Gina Golden
Nicolas Lyford-Pike is an artist from Columbus, Indiana. Pictured above: Toyota Avalon.
read more about Nicolas Lyford-Pike
Warren Miller is an artist from Indianapolis, Indiana. Pictured above: Rub-a-Dub.
Wug Laku is an artist from Indianapolis, Indiana. "My art is about ideas and finding the purest, simplest ways of expressing them," he says. Pictured above: Earth Poems.
read more about Wug Laku
Stu Johnson specializes in Central Indiana subjects, from black and white shots
of architectural landmarks, to picture-postcard fall landscapes, to
prints of trucks and buses digitally enhanced with tie-dye colors.. Pictured above: The Ruins.
read more about Stu Johnson
Louisville, KY artist Susan Gorsen has exhibited her art in New Albany and served as Artist-Facilitator for ArtsWORK New Albany. Pictured above: Blue Moon.