Oil on 6 x 6-inch birch panel.
A couple years ago, a man who has spent his entire adult life becoming an exceptional, world-renowned astrologer began sharing his knowledge on Facebook for free. Now in his seventies, he wants to give back to those who have supported and sustained him and his work. In one of his very early astrological posts, he shared that he felt concern about what he was doing because not many people were clicking on “Like.” Using the Like button on Facebook is the way we express our approval.
So when we post something, such a photo of our artwork, we tend to keep track of the number of Likes the post gets. Lots of Likes means lots of love—and approval. Seeking approval is in our nature; it might even be tied to our basic need to survive and thrive. But seeking approval can also make us feel vulnerable and to question whether or not what we have to offer is good enough to be valued by others. When my astrologer friend mentioned his concern about not getting a lot of likes, he was questioning the value of his work.
It’s common for writers to avoid writing because someone else has already written the same kind of story and gotten it published. The insecure writer will say to him or her self, “why bother.” Fear of rejection (the opposite of approval) and the feeling of not being good enough are always behind the “why bother” attitude.
We want to matter to people, to be liked. And we want what we create to matter, as well. While wanting to matter may be human nature, it also contains danger. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is a theory Abraham Maslov proposed in 1943. He had observed that people exist on five basic psychological levels. The most basic need is the physiological need to survive (food, clothing, and shelter). After basic survival is the need to feel safe, which is followed by the need to belong and feel loved. When these needs are met, we feel good about ourselves in the context of our lives—we feel valued in the world. The danger that I mentioned exists when we depend on others to determine our value, which may be one of the best reasons to heed the advice: Make your art and let it go. Detach from the outcome.
I’ve been working on a challenge to do 50 small painting studies in 50 days. When I started doing the daily paintings, I would post a photo of the work on Facebook. Some of the studies were good, others not so good. I just wanted to share my progress, and then I got caught up in the “like” thing. So I stopped posting photos of the studies I’ve been doing. The benefit I realized after I stopped posting photos is that I’m able to experience “letting go of the result.” The value to me is in doing the work, because it’s bringing me closer to being the painter I can be.
I did the small painting that accompanies this post last summer, before I’d taken lessons with anyone and before I knew how to paint aerial perspective. It’s raw. And it is one of my favorite pieces, because I “felt” how it should be painted. It represents me.
At the top of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. According to Maslov, “What a man [or woman] can be, he [she] must be.” I agree, and I think that’s what the urge to create is all about. Emotions are fickle though. Some days we feel awesome. Other days not so great. We want and seek approval from others. The strategy that leads to personal success, I believe, involves recognizing and valuing ourselves and what we do for as many hours of the day as possible.