The Inner Critic Finds Its Voice
Near the end of her time as an art student in the United Kingdom, Ania Witwitzka had an emotional collapse that sent her to back the deep woods of her native Sweden to reevaluate her life.
It was the culmination of a creative struggle that began when she was 10, painting wooden jewellery at an after-school centre.
She writes, “When adding all kinds of colours to my leaf I was told that blue was not a realistic colour on an autumn leaf. Bit by bit, I learned to only appreciate things that looked a certain way and that were ‘right’ and ‘realistic’.”
“I was never naturally very good at translating what I saw around me onto paper, as some are, and so, as you can imagine a lot of my joy for painting went out of the window.”
Her experience isn’t unique, she says. “There comes a point – maybe it’s 10, 12, maybe even earlier – where we start judging ourselves and what we make, because, you know, a dog should really look like a dog, and if I start drawing a dog, then the little criticism parrot on my shoulder will tell me, ‘This doesn’t look like a dog, Ania.'”
Still, the determination to be creative never left her. After high school, she spent 2 years studying fine art, followed by 3 years of contemporary devised theatre, but instead of bringing back creative bliss, education pulled her further from it. Finally, she gave up, feeling mentally and physically broken.
But she didn’t give up permanently.
Fooling the analytical brain
During the two and a half years of her recovery, Witwitzka discovered Vedic Art, an approach to painting that changed her life.
It’s based on 17 principles designed to move artists from the analytical left brain into the creative right brain.
The first principle enables the switch by “fooling the intellect, making meaningless shapes that the intellect cannot grasp,” Witwitzka explains. “Eventually, it gives up.”
She apologises for not being able to provide further details. Vedic Art International insists the teachings be transmitted orally rather than in writing, “because how someone hears it and how someone receives it will be their own version, which is very important,” she says. “It’s meant not to go through your head; it’s meant to go through your heart and your experience.”
You don’t have to go to Sweden to learn it, though. In addition to creating and selling her own work, Witwitzka offers courses online.
“It’s a very different take on art. It’s not about making cool and beautiful stuff. That’s not the point. The point is your journey.”
Daring to be yourself
Be that as it may, Witwitzka’s art is, nevertheless, “cool and beautiful” (although she probably wouldn’t describe it that way).
In fact, it was the very emphasis on “coolness,” on creating things that could be intellectualised, conceptualised, and scrutinised, that sucked the joy out of art school for Witwitzka.
In contrast, Källman, the founder of Vedic Art, advised she “dare to be banal.” In other words, she should stop worrying about being “interesting” and follow her artistic impulses.
In doing so, she rediscovered her love of painting and developed a unique style for which she found a willing market.**
“I just realised it was easier to be me, and with that, self-confidence would come and grow, and with that, it’s easier to make a bigger mark in the world somehow, because I’m not making excuses for myself. I’m not shrinking back.”
Ania Witwitzka’s tips for silencing the inner critic
- Allow time to play with with your art.
Let go of any expectations about how it’ll turn out. Go where the joy is.
- Make something ugly.
Start a new painting, sculpture, or text, and do your worst. Choose the ickiest colours or the most ridiculous words. It’ll free you from your inner perfectionist.
- Don’t force projects to completion.
When you feel blocked with a piece, give it a little time to rest, and come back to it later. Hang out around your art without working on it, and wait for it to tell you what it needs.
- Work on several pieces simultaneously.
It’ll reduce the pressure to make any one thing perfect. Each piece will matter less, and you’ll be freer to move each one forward in a more organic way.
What about you, Reader? Has anything ever sucked the joy out of making art? Did you ever get it back? Share your stories in the comments.
Featured image: painting by Ania Witwitzka.
*My mother founded a school that incorporates Maharishi’s “Science of Creative Intelligence” into the standard British Columbia curriculum. I went there from kindergarten until grade 6.
**Witwitzka has so much to say about making a living as an artist I decided it warranted its own post.
PS: I’m writing a book about the creative process. Subscribe for free, and when it’s done, I’ll send send you the first chapter.