When too much criticism cripples creativity

My heart goes out to the artist who painted the first ever portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. Paul Emsley’s work of art, on display in London’s National Portrait Gallery, has been slated by the media and the critics. One even called the painting ‘rotten’. And that criticism cut him deeply to the point of making him doubt the value of his work.

An article in London’s Evening Standard, Mr Emsley says the reaction to his portrait of Kate has been like a ‘witch hunt’. He is quoted as saying that some of the words said about the painting were vicious and personal, and “I’d be inhuman if I said it didn’t affect me”. He added that there came a point when he “doubted that the portrait of the duchess was any good”. But he has coped with it by going back into his studio and “getting on with it”.

All artists, whether they use a paintbrush, a pen or even a pair of ballet shoes, express themselves through their creativity. And that creativity can get crushed when some people believe they’re in a position to tut with superiority or wag their finger with self-righteousness. The act of creating can be fragile. And the door to the creative unconscious can be slammed shut by unthinking, unfeeling criticism.

Mr Emsley just got on with it. Not everyone can just ‘get on with it’ when they’ve had the kind of criticism that cuts to the core. But it’s the act of continuing to do what you believe in that encourages creativity to come out of hiding. Plus, Mr Emsley I’m sure can take some comfort from knowing that the postcard of Kate’s portrait is reportedly one of the fastest selling ones in the gallery.

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