The Pros and Cons of “Going Public”


Creating and sharing your work is often an ongoing struggle with “going public” and feeling exposed.

It’s a thrill when people respond positively to what you’ve made and it can be truly painful when your latest creation is met with criticism or–often much worse–silence.

Not Knowing “How”

First of all, people often say the “wrong thing” or nothing at all is because they don’t know how to talk about art or design. They simply don’t have the language.

What I’ve never realized fully until lately though is that this actually makes people feel inadequate themselves. They either don’t know what to say and think they should OR they have no idea how to respond to something that isn’t representational or not their style with any kind of grace or skill.

Heck, I studied a lot of art history and I don’t always have the language either. (The FaceBook “like” button is actually very helpful in that situation!)

And if I’m struggling when art, design, and everything handmade is my obsession, well goodness, these civilians don’t stand a chance!

Which is why I think we need to let people off the hook.

So when your partner, friend, or business associate doesn’t know what to say–or says nothing, consider not taking it personally. Because in truth, it’s not personal even though it probably feels that way.

Even more importantly, consider not filling in the silence with your own terrible sentences of what you think they’re really thinking.

Which takes me to my “second of all.”

False Stories

When a loved one, friend, or colleague says nothing (or something non-committal) about what you’ve made and you feel naked, vulnerable and ridiculous, it’s easy for your mind to go a little crazy and start thinking the worst–filling in the silence with your own terrible sentences about your talent, your value, and your right to make art at all.

These terrible sentences are part of the whole self-critical story most of us tell ourselves all the time, but I think it gets even more exaggerated around your artwork because it’s like your putting your soul on display–an exposure of a different magnitude than most other ways we put ourselves “out there.”

When you can “tell” that someone doesn’t like something you’ve created, it can feel like that person is rejecting your essence.

And the reason this can feel so awful is that it is triggering your sorrow about the countless losses, shaming moments and various rejections you’ve experienced throughout your entire life.

It’s the rare person who reaches adulthood who accepts and loves themselves completely. Feeling “not okay” or “not enough” or “unworthy” –on whatever level–is practically the universal human experience.

And because your artwork is a direct expression of who you are, the usual bevy of self-protection mechanisms that effectively shield you from having to experience these feelings aren’t in place.

It’s like being on a fast track to accessing your unhealed pain. Ugh.

What To Do

Well, first, have compassion. Forgive yourself for judging yourself so harshly through the eyes of another. (Actually saying to yourself, “I forgive myself for that thought” can be quite powerful–try it.)

The second is to simply “notice” to the best of your ability. This can be hard in the throes of hurt, but to whatever degree you can, ask yourself:

  • “What am I feeling right now?” (Try to give it a word so it’s not a nameless, overwhelming blob.)
  • Where in your body are you feeling it? Does it have a shape and color? (A shape is finite and finite is good–again, much easier to tackle than a nameless, overwhelming blob.)
  • What old memories is it conjuring up? Who or what from your past is popping into your mind?

The third is to consider the idea that however true it might feel, it’s not. It’s a merciless story you’re telling yourself.

And even though it might be hard not to indulge that story, all efforts to interrupt it are powerful. Even thinking the thought, “Sarah said this is a merciless story and not the truth” is an interruption and an important first step.

The Big Pay-Off

What I actually love about this whole challenging experience for myself is that it elevates my artistic journey into a spiritual one.

Because creating is who I am, it’s the path through which I can explore the sacred and heal my wounds–and not just in the “making” part of my art, but through the entire experience–the showing and sharing, the applying and hoping, the acceptance and rejection, the selling and not selling, the praise and the silence.

It’s the place I do so much of my hard growing.

And an unexpected gift from this process is that it creates an increased...intimacy¬†somehow between me and my artwork. It’s like they become private symbols of my healing process and growth (in addition to be artwork about this or that.)

How about you? Do you face these challenges too?

What do you do when you feel exposed and vulnerable? Do consider your creative journey a spiritual journey?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you and as always, remember that sharing your own experiences and struggles–even when you don’t have an answer or solution–can help other people know they’re not alone!

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  1. robin says:

    This is a great observation with some very good advice. I can relate to this; I am not a ‘public’ artist (yet) in the sense of selling my work, but I have started a blog that is public. I actually started the blog for myself, and I find I have to remind myself of that when I don’t see the reading response I would like or any comments from those who have read it. I think your article can transcend the artist and apply to anyone, and that’s one of the great things about this observation- your advice on how to handle rejection/voices-in-our-head moments can be used in our daily lives as well as our artistic ones. Thanks for posting this; I know I will use your ideas :-)

  2. Sarah Bush says:

    Hi Robin, Thanks so much! A blog is also “something you’ve made” –another very personal way of putting oneself out in the world…I like your observation about reminding yourself that you started your blog for yourself (when you don’t get the comments you were hoping for), because it’s so easy to “change the rules” on ourselves on what success is and then start judging…I so often have to catch myself doing that as well!

  3. robin says:

    Thanks, Sarah!

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