VOICES IN MY HEAD, by Cara Hines

I believe that being an artist or entrepreneur takes courage. (To this list I would add parent, teacher, pattern-breaker, activated human—but I’m focusing on artist and entrepreneur for the purpose of this post). To be an artist or entrepreneur requires us to step off the well-worn path of the familiar and into the discomfort and excitement of the unfamiliar. And this often lays us bare to critical judgment. Where thought or action moves in a new direction, there can be great criticism—both external and internal. The voices outside us can be harsh and cruel, but our inner critics are often the most brutal and persistent.

 

I love stories of transcendence, overcoming, pivoting amid adversity toward something better. I personally worked through the tragic death of my brother and a toxic relationship with my father to create what I think is a beautiful life, including MixHaus Gallery. I used art and writing (and therapy) to help pivot into the happiest version of myself. While I usually credit those things with creating my current reality (art is great for mental health!), I’ve come to see them as the tools I used. I think it really comes down to this: choice. At some point, I chose to use unwanted circumstances as the fulcrum to shift my thinking and everything that came next. 

But we can all use this act of pivoting daily, not just when major life events happen. Our art practices, our business ventures and our lives are made up of moments, of tiny choices one after the other. Every moment is an opportunity for a new or different direction. This has been on my mind lately after the long and somewhat intense process of rebranding the gallery. I had become so accustomed to dealing with big challenging life events over the course of years, and now that life has started to settle into a happy calm, I’ve become aware of a new danger: self-sabotage. I had become addicted to the act of overcoming. As I moved out of my survival coping mechanisms and into the life I once only dreamed about—the very one I crafted with great intention—I see that I must care for it in new ways. I think this is why we must remain aware of our critical voices but not be led by them. It’s important that I observe those inner critic thoughts quickly and immediately block them like I would an internet troll. Thoughts like, “Did you really think you could pull this off?” and “No one wants what you’re creating,” are going to happen to almost all of us to varying degrees. If we aren’t aware of them, they plant themselves and start to grow. If we see them, we can pull them quickly, and they don’t take over our front yards.  

 

As this has been on my mind, it’s no surprise that yesterday morning, two different videos that touched on something similar crossed my social media path almost back-to-back. Okay, so…confession—social media doom scrolling is one of my forms of self-sabotage! But in this case, I’m grateful I found these videos and that I was aware enough to see the connection between them and my own behaviors. 

 

Dillon White, aka @dadchats, made a recent post about “turning worry thoughts into action thoughts,” as inspired by a conversation with his young daughter. You can watch the full video here. The upshot is that when we’re met with a worry thought, the first step is to identify the emotion that goes with it, such as fear or insecurity. If we react from that unaware emotion, we don’t always make the best choices to improve the situation or our inner experience of it. If we can reframe—or pivot—our thoughts about the subject to something that improves upon our emotion in the moment, even a tiny bit, then we can shift our actions and the outcome.

The next video is by Patrick Hicks Music Stories, whose stories about musical artists rarely fail to elicit goosebumps or a damp eye. This particular one is about some artists who used a derisive review to pivot and create a hugely successful music career. Watch the full video here or here. The summary is a fascinating labyrinthine story that starts when a late 1980’s British political pop band meets French female singer, creates a successful record label but produces one compilation album that flops. A critic writes a scathing review of it and is particularly critical of one of the bands called Darlin’. Darlin’ breaks up, but two of its members go on to form a new band inspired by the burgeoning electronic house scene in France. While looking for what to name their band, they revisit the critic’s article, which called their music “daft punky thrash.” This gave the world Daft Punk, one of the most influential electronic dance music acts in history who were active until 2021, almost 30 years. 

 

When it’s said that being an artist or entrepreneur takes courage, I think that means it takes self-awareness, adaptability, and a commitment to using inner and outer criticism and discomfort as pivots that propel us forward rather than shut us down. We can do this in the smallest moments, in the tiniest, seemingly insignificant choices about what direction to go with an art piece; when we are rejected by a juror or a gallery; when we just cannot seem to create a single thing we like; when the world or community or family around us seems not to care one bit about what we’re creating; when we’re sabotaging ourselves by doom-scrolling on Instagram but then decide to take a couple of those videos and write a blog that inspires us to self-reflection instead of self-loathing. It takes courage to put ourselves and our artwork out there in a world that often doesn’t feel friendly toward us, but it also takes chutzpa to create each moment to be a little bit better and little bit more authentic than the last. 

 

I think this is one of the primary reasons that art and the act of making it are so critical to the health of individuals as well as to society. Art is the courage to overcome, improve and transform one brush stroke, turn of phrase, dance move, musical note, conversation, expressed emotion, or moment at a time. 

 

- Cara Hines

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