How to Not Talk Shit on Your Art
“This is just some shit beat I like threw together when I was bored.”
“I’ll send you some art for the project. Not my best at all, but let me know if it works.”
“Here’s a verse I wrote a while ago, but it’s kinda weird soooo yah idk.”
Most of us who work in creative fields would be lying through our teeth if we said we haven’t done this in one form or another. Downplaying our work has almost become second nature- something closer to a reflex than an actual thought. But why is that? Why, after hours of tweaking and refining, do we feel the urge to accompany our creations with subtle digs or even down right shit talking? After some deep soul searching (and Google searching), we have identified three overarching reasons why creatives instinctively ride off their work as “totally nbd”.
1. We want to come across as humble… right?
Sure, humility is important, but something tells me even Kendrick Lamar, the king of HUMBLE, doesn’t go into his studio sessions and start shitting on his own verses. There is a crucial distinction to be made between remaining humble as an individual and upholding confidence in our work. Although the countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears that go into our creations can make our work feel like an extension of ourselves, the reality is we are not our art. Art is simply a medium through which we express portions of who we are, but it never communicates a full picture. By expressing confidence in our work, we are by no means detracting from our humility as an individual. As creatives we must act as our own PR firms for our work, and, just as we would hope a PR firm would confidently promote their client’s product or service, we have to understand it is ok to do the same.
Moreover, we could be doing much more harm than we think by framing our work as substandard. Art by its very nature is subjective, and how we present our work can have a huge impact on how others interpret it. In a 2017 study, behavioral economics researchers used what they called the “repeated recording illusion” to test how slight variations in presentation could affect how much people enjoyed the music played. The researchers told participants that they would be evaluating three different covers of songs, which were actually three identical sound clips. Accompanying the clips were the prestige level (low, medium, high) of the fictional cover artist. Almost 75% of the participants believed they were listening to different sound clips, and how “prestigious” the artist was directly impacted how much they enjoyed the song. If framing the exact same song with differing prestige levels can impact how much listeners liked it, imagine how much shit talking our work prior to sharing could change how other people feel about it.
2. You feel like your work isn’t actually that good
But what if I’m not sure I actually like my work? Well, it depends on where that feeling is coming from. If you are worried your work is not good enough despite previous praise from others, you are probably experiencing some level of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the inability to internalize one’s success, and, if that description seems to hit close to home, here is an imposter syndrome test created by one of the researchers who first identified the syndrome in 1978.
In 2011, a research article from the International Journal of Behavioral Science reported close to 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life. Since then, social media has undoubtedly amplified the problem, giving us unlimited access to professional work we can constantly compare ourselves to. Additionally, with all of our successes and failures broadcast to a public audience, social media can subconsciously influence us to hold unnecessarily high standards for ourselves and our work.
Although there is no single, straightforward answer on how to rid yourself of imposter syndrome in creative work, a good place to start is by reminding yourself just how subjective art is. As was discussed in the previous section, people enjoy identical work differently just from the context surrounding it. How much others understand and appreciate your art is by no means a reflection of its quality, so it is important to not place super high value on how others are interpreting your work. No song, painting, or story will ever be perfect regardless of how much time is spent editing and tweaking, so if you have put in effort and feel your work is worthy of being shared, it is time to let go of other’s opinions and let it exist for the sake of creation.
Now, if you don’t like your art because you haven’t spent proper time working on it, then, as the all too wise producer Kenny Beats would say, don’t share your fucking beat. As exciting as new work can be, if it is unfinished, most people will not have the technical skill to see the diamond in the rough. It is best to wait until you have something you are truly proud of instead of sharing something half-assed you are going to talk trash on for the next ten minutes.
3. Avoiding critique and failure
Let’s be real, most of the time we talk down on our work, it’s a defense mechanism- a strategy we deploy to avoid a blow to our ego. It is a lot more comfortable to beat the criticism to draw than face it head on. Fear of criticism and failure can be a destructive force in creative work, crippling trust in our abilities and sucking out the passion that drives our work. Avoiding discomfort is a natural part of being human, so it isn’t surprising we instinctively want to avoid the feelings of disappointment, frustration, and regret that come with critique. But it is important to remember that these feelings are just uncomfortable, not unbearable.
It is easy to overdramatize just how horrible facing failure is, especially if we don’t do it that often. The beautiful irony is that the more we put ourselves out there and deal with the discomfort of failing, the less terrifying it becomes. With practice, we begin to trust our ability to deal with the negative emotions, allowing us to share more often with more confidence. If we want others to view our work through the lens of our conviction, that means we need to stop hedging our bets and share our work with the passion it deserves.
Regardless of how your art compares to your idols’ or peers’ work, it’s vital to take pride in your creation because, above all else, you created it. There will always be room for growth and stylistic change in any beat, painting, poem, picture, song, sketch, or story you make, but that doesn’t mean your current creation deserves any less love and recognition. Your art is uniquely your own, reflecting your sensibilities and talent at the moment, and, in virtue of that alone, you should be proud of it. So the next time you go to share your work, remember it is an incredible, one-of-a-kind representation of who you presently are, and deserves to be shared with that level of conviction.
To get you started, we’ve put together 10 phrases you can use instead of shitting on your work:
1. Yo check out what I made last night. I feel like it has mad potential.
2. I really like parts of this, but I might want to change it up a little. Any ideas?
3. I just started on this so it’s not exactly where I want it to be, but I definitely know where I want to take it.
4. I know we have slightly different tastes, so if it’s not what you are looking for we can always try something else.
5. What do you think of this? I’m trying something out, but I haven’t made my mind up about it yet.
6. I made this a while back so I haven’t looked at it in a while, but I remember being hyped on it so let’s see if it could work.
7. This is something I’ve been working on for a while now, I think you might like it.
8. I’m on a crazy creative high from making this and I’m super pumped about it. I really want to spend some time perfecting it- do you have any suggestions?
9. Dude I made this the other day and it is WILD. If it’s too much just let me know and I’ll reign it back a little.
And last, but certainly not least-
10. Here’s something I made, lmk what you think.