Ramblings on Validation and Art-Making


Validation and acceptance are generally the ruling motivations between most interactions in relationships. Until we stop turning outward for those needs, we’re going to constantly be stuck measuring ourselves in the perceived eyes of others. This is a completely crippling act, and it really doesn’t serve anyone’s highest and best self.

Let me tell you a story.

In college, I was in two very pivotal classes at the same time. One was an independent studio class where the intended outcome was a finished series of paintings. The other was a Philosophy of the Arts class. For the studio, I'd come in at all hours and take the easel closest and work forEVER on the series, and I felt so in line with everything. I felt motivated, powerful, courageous, great. I felt great.

Now, the other class was all about defining what the word ART meant, and how to classify things as ART or CRAFT (and therefore VALUE) based on a bunch of old dudes opinions. Weirdly, I loved that class.

Until I showed a piece to someone.

Someone that I looked up to, someone I had been so EXCITED to share MY excitement and the series with. He took one look at the piece I'd spent DAYS on and smirked, "Why are you doing this? What does this even stand for? What does it mean? This is a waste of time. You can't submit this."

Oh, I was crushed. I tried to explain myself, my color choices, things I was so sure of just minutes before, my heart behind the work, the interest I took in it... but I was crushed. I closed the series unfinished.

I became someone else.

So, instead I threw myself into scholarly pursuits. I began pouring myself into the other class. I became obsessed with the idea of what ‘Art’ had to be, and how I wasn’t ever going to live up to what the accepted idea of ‘True Art’ was. I wrote and even presented a paper I didn’t fully believe in, based on the ‘necessity of defining art v craft’. This was at an academic conference! A big deal! I thought I was meant to be an academic, a researcher, a paper-writer.

Essentially, I held onto that crutch of defining what art was and wasn’t so that I didn’t have to create. I held so fast to the question that I didn’t allow myself to make any work. It would be years and years before I felt comfortable picking up even a pen to sketch something with, because the idea of ‘this isn’t art’ or ‘why would I attempt to do anything at all’ was the loudest voice in my head.

I felt smart, educated, intelligent, and terrible. All at the same time. I hid behind academia because I had never finished a series.

Sad, right? In a nutshell, the one I was the most excited to share my work with thought it was frivolous and I allowed it to turn my ship right around. I let this person take all the joy out of my sails, and believed I wasn't meant to be a painter. It was my concrete belief, and it destroyed years of hard work, took years off my creative life, and threw everything I thought I knew right out the window. I did it all because I let someone be my lighthouse of validation. What an absolute bummer.

My need for external validation became the wrench in my artist machine, and it stopped me entirely.

So to zoom out, the issue I’ve shared with you is a massive problem in our current consciousness. It’s everywhere.

We share our creativity and content with as many people as possible because of the ease of communication, so it only makes sense that we’re struggling with creating work and standing up for it. If we’re always turning outwards, if we’re always subjecting ourselves to the opinions of hundreds of people (because we interact with hundreds of people online daily), we’re inviting misery to stick around and make themselves a permanent home. We’ve become addicted to sharing and oversharing, even if it means we’re going to feel icky afterwards. Even if it means we don’t know how to NOT take things personal anymore. Why do we DO THIS to ourselves?!

If we ask ourselves why we’re allowing our joy and our creativity to be so fleeting, so easily given away to whoever threw the first flag of disapproval, we might discover a much deeper reason for our discontent.

What if we created a piece of work, a painting, book, film, short story, anything, what if we created it for ourselves? What IF it started with the intent to only belong to our story? Our heart our body our spirit our trajectory? What would happen?

What if we took back the right to discern what we enjoy and what we don’t, if we claim our own creations as our own and no one else’s? What would happen? What would that look like?

I can’t wait to see what you say, friend.