Friday, May 30, 2014

The Myth of Negative Thinking

Note: I will be resuming my posts about advertising at a later date.  After some information has come to light in recent weeks about Facebook and how they sell advertising, I have pulled my advertisements and am looking at alternatives.

Today I wanted to post about something that I'm frequently accused of: Negative thinking.

Usually I hear this because I'm always looking for what I did wrong with a painting.  I don't always like the paintings I create, that's just how it goes.  Other artists finish a painting and strut around telling everyone about it, but I'm the opposite.  I finish a painting, mourn it a little bit, then move onto the next one, which will hopefully improve on all of the mistakes I made last time.

I've often wondered if other people were right.  Maybe I should try to be more optimistic and positive.  Maybe it is weird that I don't strut around bragging about every minor success.  And then I read this, and it made me really rethink my guilt over my "negative" thinking.

The linked post is about a book called The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results.  Finally!  A book for people who think like me!  This part of the post spoke to me the most:

"Recently, I had the opportunity to look over the shoulders of two painters who were giving demonstrations on the same day. The first was almost deliriously positive and bubbly about his work, his wonderful life as an artist and his prior successes. Enthusiastic throughout, he shouted epiphanies and dispensed "empowerment" like rose petals at a wedding.

The second demonstrator spoke less and, when he did, it was mostly about problems he was having with the work--and other more worrisome ones that lay ahead. A couple of times he got himself into trouble--but he scratched his brain and was able to recover. Guess what--the gloomy malcontent did the better painting. We all applauded when he held it up. There were whistles. He didn't even smile."

Ugh.  Let me tell you about that first guy.  I've met him, and he's insufferable.  Probably not the exact same painter this guy is talking about, but it could be.  He blows a lot of smoke and hot air up people's rear ends, makes them think if they just believe that they can, they can, because that's what works for him.  He leaves out the part where he's the most mediocre artist in the room, because believing really hard that you're really good doesn't make up for all the time you haven't been self-critical or practiced.

I know that I sound like a major B-word* right now, but get real.  If you aren't stopping at least 15 times during the painting process and asking yourself what your mistakes are and how you can fix them now and spare yourself public embarrassment and shame, you aren't improving.  If the whole time you're painting you're thinking about all the awards you've won in shows where you were the only artist even close to semi-pro, you're only fooling yourself.  Going on and on about the things that are going right with your painting only obscures the things that are going wrong with it.

You have to be honest with yourself.  Puffing yourself up with cosmetic garbage like that one time your art got published in a magazine will not help you improve on the things that actually matter, like technical ability, your personal style, the aesthetic quality of your work, or the marriage of these three things together.

It may sound like it's depressing to be a "negative thinker", but it's not.  And I'll tell you why: When I finish a painting and I have nothing to nitpick, it's better than all the Christmases of my childhood combined.  It's a feeling no amount of applause, awards, or big red "SOLD" signs can give me.  When I overcome and break a bad painting habit that has been with me since the word "go", I'm on top of the world.  Does that mean I don't believe in myself?  Heck no.  What it means is that I believe I have the ability to overcome any difficulties that face me, to improve myself, and to make myself the best that I can be - not the irrational belief that I am really good because I think I am.

So, maybe you're the kind of person who considers yourself a "positive thinker" - I'm not here to change that.  I'm only here to reassure the negative thinkers that they're on the right track.  The positive thinkers will bark at you that you need to stop beating yourself up, but don't.  Keep doing what you're doing, because you wouldn't want to be painting their artwork anyway.

*I'm really a nice person, I promise.  I'm also very logical, rational, and good at compartmentalizing.  Not everybody does those things, and those people tend to think I am a grinchy jerkface.  I love puppies and rainbows.  Really!