Stoat and I had a brief exchange on the psychological impact of strong, negative feedback. I thought back to this passage from Ira Glass, who is the director and lead narrator in “This American Life,” a charming and informaitve weekly broadcast on NPR. Glass’s comments do not directly fit philosophers, but it does not take much imagination to apply them:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
There are lots of complications that could be put in, but one thing worth stressing in this context is that acccusatory insistence on a beginner’s meeting your standards can be lethal in this situation. That is, it can kill creativity. The opposite, an insistence that everything the beginner does is brilliant, can also have a bad effect, leading that person unsure about how to repeat the effect. Worst of all, may be the idea that one is not and never can be a player. Or, in fact, there may be a still worse one.
I remember being at an art exhibit of work by Cezanne and looking at a series which consisted in the same still life done from slightly different perspectives or with slightly different tones. I wondered what sort of love of self it might take to do that. I don’t know that I was right about self-love being required, but I do suspect that attacks that jeer, ridicule, make fun of one are especially threatening to creativity.