When is feedback/criticism not needed for artistic growth?

Published on May 25, 2019

When is feedback/criticism not needed for artistic growth? Or any sort of personal growth for that matter?

This was the question that hit me after I replied to this comment from Mike:

@jasonleow The trick is to balance callousness with caring and conviction. Criticism is necessary for artistic growth. The audience is your net and your teacher. We have to keep climbing to the tent top if we want to fly.
Thanks for sharing.
- Mike

My reply:

@mikebyrnes thanks for the advice. I'm a big fan of criticism and feedback. It helps me grow and I love personal growth. What's interesting recently is that, through my daily writings here, I'm learning about a different way of creative output that doesn't need external criticism, an audience or teacher, nor should it care. It's not all that clear to me now what exactly it aims to do, but it's something along the lines of writing out to think, to grow, in a cathartic and clarifying. Maybe just for the inner critic...? I don't know for sure, but it's definitely an inward journey for the self alone. Not sure if I'm making sense...maybe this needs a post to explore further! ;)

I was musing over it all day. It was a question where the answer was already on the tip of my tongue, but just lacking the right words to describe. Like my body knew the answer, but the intellectual mind had not yet caught up. So in times like this, I let it brew within me. 

And the answer? There's many reasons and goals why people write, or do art, or anything creative at all. For some, it's part of work, it's to build a reader audience, it's to grow influence. It's more utilitarian and pragmatic. It's purposeful right off the bat, it's problem-solving, issue-resolving. For others, they write because it's fun. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a form of play, and like how all children play, they play for its own sake. To have fun. To be alive. Along the way, they explore themselves and learn new things. Think of these two as ends on a spectrum, a continuum between work and play: 

Work <----------------------------------------> Play

You can place most writings somewhere along this spectrum, for often there can be an element of pragmatism and play in both. Writers write novels because they enjoy it but also because it has the added benefit of paying the bills. On the work side of the spectrum, getting feedback and criticism is important. Especially it's content that's written or created for a target reader or user. A designer designing a product or a website comes to mind. Or a factual how-to book teaching people how to run a startup. It's writing that's output, towards an outcome.

But on the other end of the spectrum is where it gets fuzzy. Does a child need an adult's feedback or criticism on the manner in which the child is playing? (No doubt adults will still try to do that, but it's such a futile exercise.) In pure play, it simply just is. Play. For the simple enjoyment of the moment. Joy. Fun. Aliveness. Writing for play, is throughput, a process, a journey, a means for an end which you cannot see in the writing.

For me, I find myself increasingly writing in the "play" end of the spectrum. I'm not trying to build up content to build a personal brand. Nor am I trying to be a professional writer. I'm hardly writing anything about my work. I used to do that quite a bit, but a lot less so now. It's moving into the realm of pure play. And while it's quite not the simple joyful play of a child, it's a play of the......soul perhaps? It's this slow inner unraveling, by writing. It's this daily immersion in the sandpit of the soul, but to do what, the mind does not comprehend initially. I think doing art or writing for this purpose, becomes its own audience. It shines it's own light unto itself. The value is simply in the expression, the release, the catharsis, the exploring, the tacit learning. The subtle prodding at life and the world, just to see what pops out from the other end. No words can describe the results, yet it deals in words as a vehicle. It deals in paradox, in the counter-intuitive. The writing is after all, just a throughput. A receipt you get at the end of a meal that says nothing about how delicious the meal had been. And while anyone can provide feedback or criticism for such kinds of writings, it kind of misses the point. The words were never the intent to start with. If there's any critic worth listening to, it might be the inner child. Or soul. Or spirit. I don't know what to call it. You can call it whatever you want. But when it does give you critique, it whispers in the softest voice possible. In images, daydreams, metaphors. It doesn't care to be understood.      

I don't think I understand it fully myself at this point. So forgive me if I sound like I'm high on drugs. It might be my most esoteric and mystic post yet, or my most crazy and lame. It's a strange, strange world to inhibit. Yet, fascinatingly refreshing. And satisfying in the deepest yet most subtle way.