Face Yourself: How I Defeated Self-Censorship
Teaching Assistant, Painter & Performance Artist
This year I’ve been thinking about the extent of my studio practice. I realized my studio practice will only go as far as I’m willing to let it go. My artwork is bounded simply by my own censorship. When I thought about it, this idea that I was the only thing standing in my way was laughable. I am generally a goofy and amicable person with noodly arms and an easy smile. That image of getting in the way of myself made a powerful impact on me.
When I was in art school, I was getting thorough, and sometimes very intense critique from all sorts of amazing art professionals that sent me in all different directions. Even when there were no assignments and the work was left up to me, I knew that my paintings would be evaluated based on a set of criteria that was unique to each individual giving the critique. These critiques were incredible, valuable learning experiences, but I often internalized feedback as a set of rules, and these rules would be contradictory from person to person. One of my professors pushed hard on narrative and digital approaches, while another favored an organic and physical exploration with paint.
By the time I graduated college, I had a choir full of internal voices clamouring “don’t do this!” “don’t do that!”, and I was struggling trying to paint something to satisfy all of these rules.After I graduated college, I found myself all alone in my studio with no peers or professors, no expectations or directions. I was alone with myself, and all of these rules were only voices in my head.
I realized I could paint whatever I wanted.
I want to say that again because it sounds so deliciously sweet.
I. Could. Paint. Whatever. I. Wanted.
So I painted a pair of socks. I really liked this pair of mismatched socks, and I admired the rug underneath them, and the combination of the rug and the socks made me giddy with happiness. I had no complicated, academic motives. It was great!
Later, I drew a bunch of birds with markers, just because I am thrilled to be around these bright little flying life forms all the time. I live in rural New Hampshire, and I hadn’t realized how sorely I missed the wilderness while living in New York, or how much I had taken it for granted prior to moving. It was liberating making these pieces. This was subject matter I had refused to paint about for a long time because I thought it was boring, trite, and inconsequential.
However, by ignoring these experiences that brought me great joy in my life, I was only erasing a part of myself and trying too hard to fill it with things that didn’t fit. Perhaps not so coincidentally, these two projects were the first pieces of artwork that drew enthusiasm from a much broader range of people, instead of just artists. When you can paint openly from yourself, people can sense and appreciate this residual joy and honesty in the painting. This special connection gives the artwork depth and value. How tremendous!
I like (perhaps too much) going heavy into eye crossing art theory, and I always appreciate a second set of eyes to help me pick out things in my work I hadn’t thought about. However, it seems that I missed one of the first rules in art and in life: it’s better to just be yourself!