Wednesday, July 2, 2008

External/Internal (Art as Personal Validation Series-- Article 2)

Validation carries the thought of being authenticated, verified and proven worthwhile. In my first post on this blog I made the statement that selling art was about personal validation.
Don't believe me?
It's not about making money-- because there are much easier ways to do that.
It's not about making people happy, or we'd give our art away.
Not that those two things don't come into play-- but that's not what it's about.

See if this is familiar. You've make something incredible and you just know it will be be snapped up by one of the first 10 people who sees it. Eagerly and with anticipation you can feel down to your toes, you lay it out on your sales display and no one even looks at it, or worse, you put it out on the Web and no one looks and you sit there checking it every five minutes for an hour and then twice a day for a week and not only does it get ignored-- it sits in your house for years.

And you look at it and think 'well maybe it wasn't so great after all. Am I fooling myself? Are my family and friends too nice to say my stuff is crap? Are all the artists on Etsy just yessing me?'( Which we do have to watch by the way. Hearing that our art is great by people who don't truly love it isn't very healthy. We know they don't truly love so it diminishes the validity of the heartfelt comments we will get.)

On the other hand-- something pricey sells, a stranger blogs about us, we're juried into a show, published, galleried, commissioned and oh my, we're sky high! Our art is brilliant, it's loved, it's worth something and because it's so much a part of us, we're brilliant, we're loved, we're worth something-- but nothing real has changed!

It's the same painting, bead, bracelet, hat or sculpture it was when it was sitting in our house for three years. And we're certainly the same person that we were two seconds before it sold.

It's a pitfall. Seeking external validation can motivate us and right or wrong we're going to seek it, but we need to be aware of that and balance it out. Alone, it can leave us insecure, negative and needy, with no creative direction. Being conscious that external validation must be balanced with internal validation will help keep our creativity free for creating!

Think of Van Gogh-- he got so little external validation, yet he painted the most incredible work. If you ever have a chance to see his work in person, nab it. Pictures don't show the texture and scale which make his work truly awe-inspiring.

He was driven from the inside to create something beautiful and nothing on the outside would stop him. His art was important to him. His validation was internal. That's key-- our conviction that we are authentic and worthwhile and that our art is authentic worthwhile must be more solid and real to us than the conviction of others or their lack there of.

That personal conviction will show in our lives and our art. If we aren't desperate for external validation we'll be able to genuinely enjoy it when it comes our way. (Who enjoys their dinner more, the well-fed man or the one who's literally starving for it? There's little joy in desperation.)

If we balance internal and external validation we'll be healthier, happier, have more creative energy and better able to stay true to our own vision. That will result in art we love and that others love too!


  1. Sarah, that's a great post! Truer words have seldom been spoken. I may have to copy it and paste it above my work area!

  2. Oh, Sarah, you hit it on the nail head. This is exactly how it is. This is the depression that I go through quite a bit. Thank you for this post. Words were never truer.

  3. On one hand I wish it *didn't* resonate so well with you, on the other hand, I'm glad that I was able to speak for you guys too:) Putting it all into words was good for me. I hope we can all refocus a bit.

  4. Sarah - Maybe it's from being an only child, but as much as I enjoy words of praise about the things I create I'm just as happy doing them for myself and ONLY myself. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled when one of my creations sells, and I hope the person who's buying it loves it as much as I do.

    The other reason could be that I spent so many years creating art that was just for me, because I loved doing it to occupy myself while I was watching TV in the little spare time I had, that I look at my beadweaving in the same way. It's an outlet for my creativity.

    I know that not everyone feels that way and that many artists are tortured souls craving acceptance from their audience (actors fall into that category).

    Know what one of the first things is that goes through my mind when something sells? Yay! I can buy more beads.

  5. Good for you Mary Lou! I knew such people existed, but I've never known one. Can't say that anymore.
    I wish that perspective was something that you could teach.

  6. Sarah, because I'm pretty much stuck at home with little outside contact IRL, internet sales seem to be the one external validation I do get. That's not to say that I'm not pretty darn pleased with my work even when it doesn't sell. I love watching my growth as an artist.

    I am so very glad you have started blogging, my friend, and sharing your insight. :D

  7. CD let me say how much I value the external validation you offer. It's always so genuine and encouraging:)
    I'm glad I started blogging too.
    Never could keep a journal to save my life, mind, but I can blog . . .

  8. Sarah - I am so glad that you said all of this - I have had the same problem. (In fact I have several pieces in my shop right now - that I have had to relist - and I can't figure out for the life of me WHY I had to relist them).

    So I know where you are coming from sister!

    So - that being said - have you ever had this happen? You make something but aren't crazy with the end result - and you take it to a show, put it out on the table - and it sells within minutes??? I had this happen to me this past weekend - had a pair of earrings made up that I did not love - decided to take them with me to the show this past weekend - put them out on the table and it was the only thing that I sold that day - and first time having them out in

  9. Sarah I really enjoyed reading this post. I bead for me and what pleases me. If it sells I am happy. If it doesn't I remember the joy it brought while creating it.

  10. Great thought provoking post Sarah :0)

    It's certainly a balancing act between the sky-high elation and the black spiralling self-doubt - especially until you find your feet.

    I am having a similar dialogue with an artist friend of mine and I have printed out something she said to me last week and propped it up on my workspace ... "some of it is due to not feeeling secure in oneself - the artist who is secure, has nothing to protect, nothing to lash out to and can simply create" - that is something I aspire to :0)

  11. Julie-- I think most of us have had that happen. It's always so surprising though isn't it?!

    Bev-- that's a great way to be:) I'm practicing.

    Kerrie-- I have a similar quote. It basically say that artists create-- that's what makes an artist, not the recognition.