Abandoning the approval bandwagon


So yesterday, I happily climbed up on my soapbox and ranted about the crap I get for not having attended art school. And how sometimes, this can frustrate me or make me doubt the quality of my work.

But just getting that off my chest helped. And you know what? Screw it. I don’t care that I didn’t go to school. My work is good. I work bloody hard at my art, and it’s not all in vain.

What it made me realize though is just how entrenched I was on the approval bandwagon.

I am an approval whore

I am honest enough with myself to admit it. I rarely offer strong opinions, I have a backbone like a pair of bifold doors, and I am terrified of not being approved of.

Not exactly traits I’m proud of, but there ya go. It’s there. It’s something I’m conscious of and something I pay a lot of attention to. Lately, I’ve been taking baby steps and writing about things on here that normally I would never voice an opinion about – my ideas about talent, my ideas about needing school, my thoughts on pompous idiots defining art history ahead of time.

Trust me – my hand was shaking as I went to hit publish, trembling as I tweeted it. I never voice opinions. It’s not ladylike. I’m supposed to just smile and nod and mumble polite nothings.

I’m really tired of doing that though.

Not that I’ll unlearn 21 years worth of habits overnight. I’m not suddenly going to become the opinion machine. But I can remember this one very important thing:

I am not responsible for other people’s reactions.

Liberating isn’t it? Mind you, it also means others aren’t responsible for my reactions, which is a little harder to swallow (the blame game is so much simpler) but it feels good to say to myself still. I am not responsible for other people’s reactions.

If I hit their buttons, that’s not my fault. I didn’t intend to. I wasn’t trying to piss someone off. I was just voicing my own opinions and ideas. Which I’m allowed to do. And if they get annoyed, or irritated or upset, that’s got nothing to do with me. That’s them. That’s their stuff. I’m sorry they have that stuff, but it’s not my fault.

Oh, how relieving that is.

I’ve spent my whole life feeling responsible for everyone else’s feelings and anxieties. Whenever I was attacked emotionally, I thought it was my fault. I thought that I must have done something to make them do that. If someone had explained to me years ago that I wasn’t responsible for the feelings of others…well let’s just say I would have been spared a fair amount of pain, shame and guilt.

But back to the approval thing

For a long time, I’ve looked for approval in my art, mostly because I felt like the art I was making was the wrong kind of art. It’s not edgy, it’s not contemporary, it’s not a shark in a formaldehyde tank, or plywood nailed to the wall or whatever it is that I’m supposed to be making but I’m not.

None of that resonates with me. I’d be an out and out liar if I started making art like that. But for a long time, I didn’t embrace what I made, I fought it and was ashamed of it. And the complex that gives you? It’s not fun. Good luck trying to sell any of your work if you’re ashamed of it.

What I really wanted for a long time was someone to come up to me, tell me that my work had value and was okay even if it wasn’t contemporary and give me the seal of approval.

But no one’s ever going to do that. I have to give my work my own seal of approval. Because the thing is, unless I’m behind my work, no one else ever will be. I’ve got to believe in it first, before I can convince others to believe it.

And the part that I still struggle with and am still attempting to make peace with is this – not everyone is going to like my work. Not everyone is going to believe in it. Some people will still tell me it’s crap, it’s too traditional, it’s not this or it’s not that. And that’s just something I’m going to have to learn to be okay with, one day at a time.

Sketch, Nude. ©Sarah Marie Lacy. 11"x17"

Sketch, Nude. ©Sarah Marie Lacy. 11"x17"