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Harold Harvey, The Critics

Not uncommonly we encounter persons of exceptional sensitivity — emotional, imaginative, intellectual, aesthetic, intuitive. Delicate perceptions, fine sentiments, nuances of thought that pass unnoticed by legions of dull, sleepy spirits are powerfully registered by these more thin-skinned and “irritable” souls. And then there is another type of soul, the sort that is known for possessing “grace under pressure.” These persons are admired for their unflappability — keeping their cool and their poise under circumstances that would unnerve or unhinge most persons. Is it possible to imagine the skilled suturing together of these two quite different types of soul — into one marvelous creature? Such a prodigy would be able to maintain the highest degree of sensitivity or responsiveness without having to resort to dampeners and buffers in order to prevent being overwhelmed and thrown off balance.

— Paul DeFatta

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“…there is a particular kind of attentiveness, and a particularly scintillating way in which you look at the world, which you would not have if you thought you knew where you were….If your life is at stake, you are looking for every clue to help you survive…. The artist who steps into this space actually feels like his life IS at stake. You could die, literally, or you could live in a completely different way. Your senses are alive to every moment and every thing that comes your way.”

- David White

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I sit and eat quietly the bread of resistance
On the wrong side of the barricade.

— Alice Walker

I was accused of being “strange” by my father when I was a child. It’s true that I preferred to spend my time alone with my nose in a book, books that confirmed that I belonged on “the wrong side of the barricade,” but at least I was never attacked for being “too sensitive,” like my wife was. How is it possible to be too sensitive? What a bizarre thing to say to a child! She developed an alternative personality that she felt obliged to maintain even in her close relationships until we got together.

The effort to be someone you’re not is exhausting. We artists all have a bargain to make with the world. We are sensitive, but we have to learn not to give our power away. Sensitivity is our power. It’s essential to our creativity. Rather than hiding it, we should cultivate it, nurture and augment it.

We handicap ourselves by caring too much about what the critics say, and everybody’s a potential critic. Art critics abound. Our job is to feed and water our sensitivity, which may involve closing our earflaps to the self appointed experts.

Support coming from perceptive and helpful people is invaluable, of course, and those people exist, but we must learn the difference. We must develop a fine disregard for anything that violates the soul, as Whitman said.

As children, we don’t know the difference yet. Parents and teachers can inflict wounds a lifetime can’t heal. Finding our way back to our true self becomes fraught and difficult because we have unconsciously assumed the very role of the philistine caretakers we grew up with. We loved them and wanted them to love us. If they attacked our sensitivity we would help them by hiding it, the problem being we then forget where we hid it.

Developing an ersatz personality sets up a nagging sense we’ve missed our life. We creatives live by the laws of sensitivity and we need to resist the critics who don’t understand what we’re doing with it. Shrug it off. The sword of the critic becomes a wet noodle when you don’t care.

Everyone has an opinion, but if it doesn’t help you create your art, it’s just noise.

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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