A bit of background: Melinda posted about this, in an indirect way, which got me thinking. And Silvina Day is struggling with her authentic vision which got me thinking some more. I was reading How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist the other night, and had to read and re-read a short passage on "validation" of one's work, because it struck me so. Then, I was visiting Martha Marshall's blog, and read her excellent posts "It's Your Art, not your Soul" and the earlier "Fear of Rejection." The comments there are important to read too, filled with real experience, and wisdom.
I'll reproduce my own contribution to those comments:
...but I had more to say on the topic than I had the nerve to post on someone else's blog:
Can a non-fine-artist chime in on this one? I’m forced by my field to have a different perspective. As a graphic designer, I create work to fit a client’s parameters. If it’s rejected, it’s basically because I didn’t meet the client’s
needs. Sometimes this happens, when I just know that the work I made is excellent in every way — design, concept, execution (it’s a work of art, man!)… but if I put a Ronald McDonald in front of an exec from Walt Disney, he’s not gonna buy it, no matter how good an idea it is: it doesn’t fit him. That doesn’t make the work less than great — because the client isn’t the determinant of the objective success of the work. But then, neither are my peers.
I’ve seen Martha [Marshall] and Bob Cornelus refer to Art & Fear, which I don’t have, but a quote appears in “How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist”:
"…courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts—namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work."–Bayles & Orland, Art & Fear 1993, p.47
Unlike my design work, when I create "art that nobody asked for," I put it out for people (anyone) to take it or leave it. If they leave it, I know that that piece didn't meet the viewer's needs -- for that person, at that time. We respond to art at a very visceral, pre-conscious level, choosing to love work that fills a hole in our psyche -- much like we choose mates. We meet hundreds, maybe thousands of potential mates, but are attracted to only one or two at a gut, "this person completes me," level. Showing work is like speed dating between the art and the viewer: it clicks or not, but it has a lot more to do with the psychology of the viewer than whether or not the art is "valid."
The circumstances remind me of something profound that I heard; There was a movie made about this nun -- Susan Sarandon plays the nun, who works with prisoners on death row. In a documentary I saw, the (real) nun was asked why she worked with these killers. She said [paraphrasing] "People are more ... than the worst thing they've done in their lives."
Art is like that: "a discrete act, in a finite space and time." It isn't your whole life, it isn't all of you, no matter how much you pour into it, there's more of you left over that isn't in the artwork. So, rejection of a piece, or a body of work, or your whole career, isn't rejection of you. It can't be. You are always more than the best thing you've ever done in your life.
Validation of your work must spring from your own feeling of rightness and authenticity about your work. In design, I've had to defend my work, and validate it for others — "Why did you choose blue? What's this line for?" This has taught me to be conscious of my choices, and to be articulate about what is and isn't there. But, it's also made me sure that my work was what it was for one very good reason: because that's how I did it. And no one can take that away.
Don't let anyone take your work away from you by making you doubt it.