Let’s face it, one of the most important parts of making things lies beyond our ability to control — other people’s reactions to our work. Right?
“Hey, mom, look what I made.” That’s wonderful, let’s hang it on the fridge.”
Or “What is it now? Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”
It’s one of the most difficult parts of being a creative person. Not the fun, satisfying, unfurling of an idea, but the cold crickets that confront it or the “yes, but” of the professional critic or the form rejection letter or worse the anticipation of rejection that stops the egg from ever even popping into the nest.
We may not make it for others but a work is not fully realized until it bounces off another’s eyeballs, vibrates their eardrums or rearranges some of the cells deep within their corpus callosum.
And praise can be as insufficient as a shrug. We don’t just want a pat on the head; we want connection, reaction, insight, something that makes us see what we made in a newer light or on a deeper plain. Knowing we moved someone else, revealed truth to them, reminded them of something we didn’t even know corresponded, that makes us love our work all the more. Love it and wonder at it, at the fact that we were the conduit for it, that something passed through us and then passed through another heart. It dissolves the loneliness of existence.
Ideally, our art is the truest manifestation of our conclusions about the nature of things and when someone else sees it and validates it and shares it, the power of that truth is reflected back on itself like an endlessly repeating mirror.
That’s why rejection hurts, because, yes, we feel our efforts are wasted, and, yes, that we don’t matter and, yes, we didn’t make a ripple on the surface of the earth, all true. But mainly because we wonder whether the magic we found is really magic, whether the revelation we thought so profound was just a single serving glimmer of something too puny and insufficient to be shared, a whistle in the dark, not a full-blown hallelujah chorus with kindred spirits chiming in.
The true value of acknowledgment isn’t registered in the ego; it’s the opposite, a breaking down of the barriers between creator and audience so that we can unite in a shared appreciation of something that lends beauty and meaning to the grinding metronome of the day. We see a glimpse of the heavens together, a view that appeared to one of us first but is now a canopy over us all.
It’s even true of a joke, a shared laugh, the quick bark of recognition that our minds thought alike, we saw the other’s insight, and we were able to escape together from the smooth ivory prison of our skulls for a moment.
When I hear from people who like my work, or more importantly found something in my work that made their day a little brighter, I like my work more too. And when a reader has an insight or can tell me of a particular sentence that strummed their strings, I have insight into where to go next, into what matters in what I’ve done.
And conversely, of course, if my work pulls up lame and doesn’t find much of an audience, I wonder where I went wrong or why I thought something was worth my time but proved not to be worth anyone else’s.
So to all of you who have read my books or thought about my work and then have had something either nice or, even better, something honest to say about it, thanks very much and please know that it’s those sticks and carrots that are the kindling for works ahead.
20 thoughts on “What do you think?”
I have been thinking about this lately, especially the part about children. I have tried to stop saying, “That’s great!” to everything they make, because I think it becomes meaningless, and I notice they start to search for approval: “How do you like it, Mom? Is it good?” I want them to find the approval within themselves. But I’m not sure what is the best way to do that.
What do you think about this, Danny? How do you approach this with your son?
You don’t know me Danny, but your words and books changed my life about 5 years ago. They encouraged me to start drawing again and to find my own voice. So here is a loud and clear “hallelujah”!!! My hope is to pay this gift forward…
Sorry to hijack your post…this is a teacher (and parent’s) perspective. You are absolutely right. I think too much “that’s nice” makes them numb to praise. When I tell a student something is good, I try to be specific/authentic. “The variety of line quality make your drawing more expressive” or whatever. It’s hard, though, when you just want to quickly relay a thumbs up. Sometimes we don’t know why we like something, and it’s great to just summarize how it makes you feel..”When I look at your use of color it makes me feel ____”
Or…ask them to tell you what THEY like or are proud of.
Yes, I’ve been doing that one (turning the question back to them) but they get tired of it (especially the 5 year old.
I started teaching intuitive painting, and one of the suggestions I had was to refrain from any commenting on the paintings, whether positive or negative. I explained this to my son and now he is very rigid about this. He’ll say, “I won’t ask you how you like my painting, but… does this look like a (whatever it is)?”. And, he also says to his sisters, “You are not allowed to ask if mom likes it!” I don’t want it to be so strict either!
I like your idea of expressing how it makes me feel! I’ll use that. Thanks!
It was likely 6 or 7 years ago that I discovered your wonderfully inspiring artwork, Danny, and it was, quite literally, an epiphany to me. Your drawings were so approachable, and when I saw them I believed that anyone, including myself, could draw the bits of my world. And I have tried to teach this to others, for in savoring our lives we can become more fulfilled and grateful people.
So if you ever doubt the value of the things you create, don’t. They always resonate with me, and surely with many many others. Why else would I have bought at least five copies of various books of yours?
Thank you for your inspiration.
Great post! Really thought provoking. I am going to link to it in a future blog post. I have to say that I really enjoyed your podcasts,which you did in conjunction with An Illustrated Life. Great conversations, information and thoughts on creativity.
As I teacher, I’ve found it helpful to say, “Wow! Are you proud of that?” If they say no, then I find something striking about their work and say something like, “Look at the way you did that nose/flower/sky/colors. Are you proud of that?” Usually they will agree. They might say, “Yes, but I don’t like the way I did the eyes/hair/lawn/house.” Then we have a discussion about what they would change. I encourage them to do it again, and not to worry because it is paper and paint and the time they spent taught them something. Sometimes, I end the conversation with, “If I did a painting with such great colors/people/whatever I like about it, I would be so proud.”
They live in an edited society so working with them to so they are comfortable with drafts is very necessary, imnsho.
Thanks for the advice!
I’m wondering if you are expressly asking about your newest book, “Peanut”. If so, most of the above comments are missing the mark. I did purchase it, but it did not fit the purpose for which I bought it. It was to be a gift to a new father, but he would object to some of the language in it,or at least I feel that he would, so I will finish reading it myself. Since I will soon have my first great grandson, perhaps I will respond well to it as it relates to that new adventure. Therefore, at present, I am not able to give a thumbs up or down, and think I’m probably too old to be qualified anyway. But all three of the other books pertaining to drawing and journaling have inspired me greatly. I’ve even joined the Every Day Matters group on Flickr.And your blog has touched me in emotional areas that few other writings have.
Dee, I got the impression from your comment that my book Peanut was a surprise to you. I do hope it wasn’t too unpleasant or off-putting. I know the book isnt like my other ones but it stil comes from deep inside me, as do my drawings. It uses frank language but as the topic is reproduction I hope talk of sex and anatomy doesn’t seem inappropriate. I am a vulgar little man and sometimes it gets away from me. My apologies if it offends.
“the cold crickets” that confront it [our ideas / art]”
That IS the hardest part, not only about art & ideas but about life. We want to be loved, praised, cherished, noticed. Not once but every time.
And we are so good at picking out the slightest sense of criticism.
You are not a vulgar little man (as my English professor would say “Don’t flatter yourself” ha ha. You are a wonderful guy with mind-blowing drawing powers, a brilliant writer with sexy calves and more admirers (secret and not-so-secret) than you know.
I like that you worry about the same stuff we all worry about, but you phrase it so beautifully and to the pointly:
“We see a glimpse of the heavens together, a view that appeared to one of us first but is now a canopy over us all.”
Right on, Danny! A “pat on the head” is not what I want from people. I want that sense of connection, especially with something a little more abstracted. Its like if you said something and the response was always “Yes dear, that’s nice”….
There are people I love to share my journals with and others where I wouldn’t DO that to myself. Sometimes, at an art show or event, I am tempted to just GIVE my work to someone whose response tells me they really connect with me and what I am trying to express.
You have been a great source of courage to me , and I appreciate that.
Do you have any advice for starting up a Saturday morning sketch group?
Wow, this is so much what I feel. I don’t want the pat on the head either. I also don’t want “oh no, here she comes with her journals again”. What I want is that connection you speak of, that what I do matters to those I love. Luckily, I have grandchildren! They love my work and they like me to sit down and show them how to do their own art. My son tells me I should write a children’s book and while that is I guess, a compliment it’s not the sharing or connection I was looking for. I wanted to connect with him! Maybe I am asking for too much. At any rate it’s nice to know others understand how I feel and thanks for articulating what I could not!
This is an interesting discussion because it does have a lot to do with connection. I think Peanut is all about connections. While reading the first part I was impressed with how Danny points out our connection to those who created us and how we unconsciously bear a part of them and, if we procreate, will pass that on. Recently I connected with a branch of my family that I had never met. I was so intrigued with mannerisms and tastes that were similar to those that I have known all my life. It was very surreal, to say the least.
And, in our creative work, are we looking for fame or connection? When I’ve shared or given away work I’ve had people tell me I should sell it? Why? To pass it on? To create a wider connection? I’ve sold a minute amount of my art in the form of reproductions on notecards, and when I’ve met with those who purchased (I’m talking $30 worth, folks) my stuff, they express a connection to me. My family and friends are always asking about or grabbing my latest sketch journals to see what has been going on, even though my contact with them is daily and we talk about what we’ve been doing. Those journals offer another perspective of the world.
Danny, I think you have created huge connections through your work, your website, the EDM newsgroup, and now the Facebook page. I recently had an interview with a potential employer and during that time he mentioned he does art everyday. I mentioned Every Day Matters and he said he follows that site and Danny’s work. Wow! That connection didn’t get me the job but it really gave much to think about.
Lastly, I think connection is what humanity yearns for – not fame because many famous people seem forced into disconnection – hence the popularity of smartphones, texting, Facebook-like sites, participating in comment sections like this one. One of the ways to be connected on a deeper level is to share ourselves through creative avenues. What are we looking for from those who see what we do? Connection at a greater/deeper level, perhaps. In the “olden days” people wrote tremendous amounts of letters just to stay connected.
In a highly edited world, we have to help our kids realize the most important connection they have is with confidence in their own humanness and what they are all about. It’s not all about a pat on the head but about being connected to one another and one of the best ways to do that is to respond. Thank goodness we now have easy ways to communicate with one another.
I see Peanut as an extraordinary account of the beginning of a new life not just for a baby but for his parents.
When I am feeling down I go to see if there is anything new on your blog. Usually it refreshes or inspires; often, both. This post is particularly poignant. Most often no one sees the hours of work I put into my sketch books and other artistic endeavours and sometimes I’m tempted to start a blog just to see what others might think. (Yes, even though “I do it for myself.”)
I have to echo Cecile’s sentiments. Danny–you are more than an artist you are a poet!!
The words of W.B. Yeats come to mind: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
Several years ago I got hooked on your illustration blog. It was like discovering a new, bright and fascinating world that had been hidden from me, although my father and my brother are sort of ‘professional’ artists.
Eventually, I bought three of your books, which I quietly enjoyed. I could give you some formal criticism for them, but I feel that my opinion in that specific respect should be worthless for you.
Through the books and your blog, I feel you allowed us to accompany you throughout important parts of your life, for the good things and the bad ones. Although you are a total stranger to me: we’ve never met, you live several thousand miles away in another continent, have a different age, speak a different language, have a different job, probably a different religion too, it doesn’t matter, your pains and your joys are somehow also mine. I’ve felt them. Isn’t that wonderful ?. That, you have done it.
Besides, soon after discovering your blog I decided to give it a try and begun my first illustrated journal. Since them my sketchbooks are the perfect reflection of how I am experiencing life. I always keep one with me, even if I don’t use it for months. It’s kind of a duty I owe to myself.
Something so simple as doodling with a pen in a paper has became, little by little, an exquisite art form for me. No rules, no good or bad, no approvals required, no praise needed. Some pages turn out disgusting, others look beautiful to me. Every drawing is an adventure. Every white page is a challenge.
If I don’t like something, there’s no compliment that could improve it to my eyes, if I’m particularly happy of how a difficult drawing has turned out, no criticism can banish my feeling of achievement.
The crappy pages remain in my notebook, as well as the pleasant ones. Any will be missed. What’s important it is to draw. The only thing to regret are the drawings that have not been drawn.
That, I learned it from you. Isn’t that something ?
If you ever come to Barcelona, let me know and I’ll invite you to something. I owe it to you, and I’m not the only one 😉
Thank you Danny.
i check in from time to time. i remember how much i appreciated your blog years ago when i first found blogs, and have read with tears, or laughter, or amazement. the thing that i like about your work is the authentic caring in it. (besides the wonderful color work and line quality). it seems to me that validation is vital to artists. finding first your “voice” and then your “audience” isn’t easy.
[…] liked those podcasts, because they talked about creative process, tools and journals. He put a recent blog post that really spoke to me. In it he says “We don’t just want a pat on the head; we want […]
danny, danny, danny…..i’ve just discovered your work and your blog. this particular post hit straight to my heart. you’ve managed to put into words what i’ve been struggling with.. the why i create… sigh.