Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: Q&A With Danielle Krysa of The Jealous Curator
October 12, 2016
Danielle Krysa (a.k.a. The Jealous Curator) knows what it’s like to have her dreams dashed and her heart broken.
In the final week of achieving her BFA as a painting major, she was subject to an especially cruel critique. “My art professor told me I should never paint again.” Can you imagine? Not surprisingly, Krysa’s fragile inner artist went deep into hibernation for 15 years. Though she went on to enjoy a successful career in graphic design, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.
After the birth of her son, she finally began to dip her toe into creative waters again, but found herself thwarted by a creeping jealousy of other artists. In response, she launched The Jealous Curator, a blog that showcased artwork that, frankly, made her jealous. As the blog developed an increasingly bigger following, a curious thing happened: her jealousy transformed into inspiration.
This subtle shift in perspective proved to be a golden ticket for Krysa. Though she didn’t get back to painting right away, she used her newfound inspiration to experiment with collages—an art form she’s come to adore. And thanks to the success of The Jealous Curator, she was approached to write a book for the audience of struggling artists she had cultivated through the blog. In 2014, Chronicle Books published Creative Block, for which she interviewed dozens of artists around the world about overcoming the monuments that stand in the way of creating.
In October 2016, Krysa’s second book, Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk and Other Truths About Being Creative was published. We talked to her about why she wrote it and what all creative people can learn about their inner critics.
What made you want to write this book? How is it different from your previous ones?
When I started travelling [to promote] Creative Block and doing talks, an interesting thing happened when people approached me afterwards. There were so many “Me too” stories and insights about being blocked creatively. People shared tips and tricks about how they overcome it and also really sad stories that I wanted to help with.
As an artist, I was having aha moment after aha moment by myself at each of these events. I thought, “That’s not fair, I should be sharing everything I’m learning.” When my publisher approached me about doing a follow-up book… I knew instantly what it would be. I wanted to share all of these aha moments that people gave me and I wanted other people to experience them too. If my books help one person have an aha moment I like I did, I’m done!
How did you select the 10 truths you uncover in Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk?
I cried so many times when writing the book. While trying to give advice, I had to face my own demons. My aha moments ultimately became the 10 truths… I came up with this idea of buckets and so I made 10 buckets and every time I had an idea I would jot it down. My wall was covered in post-its! These are things I heard over and over from other artists about things like blocks, outside criticism, excuses and more.
I wanted to be clear that we’re all in this together. If you feel terrible sometimes, if your inner critic shouts at you it means you’re part of this awesome club and you’re not alone. All the greats felt like this too—it’s just your badge of honor and part of being a creative person.
What did you learn from writing this book that you didn’t know before you began?
One of the things that surprised me was the chapter on excuses. Everyone has their go-to list of excuses whether they realize they’re doing it or not. I had a hard time trying to fill this bucket so I turned to my amazing Facebook Group community and put it out to them: “Give me your best excuse for not making art or being creative today.” I thought I would get 20 useable suggestions for the book.
Instead, I got hundreds and hundreds of comments and it was so funny because all of the excuses were basically the same four or five things over and over. That was a huge revelation. I didn’t realize that everybody has the same excuses! I can procrastinate like there’s no tomorrow—the lighting isn’t right or I don’t have right paper… suddenly I’m laughing out loud at my computer because the most unoriginal voice in the world is your inner critic.
What can you do silence your inner critic?
[The inner critic] is a form of self-bullying. Write down the things it says to you and read them out loud at full volume to fully appreciate how horrible and cruel they are. Would you ever say that to another human? Would you ever look at a child and say, “You’re worthless, who do you think you’re kidding, nobody is going to like this, you pathetic loser”? Why is it fine to say it to yourself?
By writing them down you realize how cruel and ridiculous [the inner critic] is and it becomes almost comical. When teaching at a high school arts festival, I asked the class, “Do you guys know what I mean when I say inner critic?” and, sadly they all did. One brilliant student made me laugh so hard when said he calls his Arlo. Since then, I’ve learned that if you give your inner critic a silly or simple name, it loses some of its power and evil presence. You can say, “You know what, Gary? I’m sick of listening to you today. Take it down a notch.” You can kind of shut it down and not let it be the boss of you.
On page 75, you write, “As much as I hate to admit it, even jerks are right sometimes…” When is the inner critic a valuable voice?
Sometimes I’ll do a collage and there will be too much stuff on it and my inner critic will say something mean. Within that cruel stuff there might be a nugget of truth. Sometimes it has a point. [The work] might be too messy and I need to take some stuff off, but it doesn’t mean I stop altogether.
You and your inner critic have the same goal, which is great work. If it says something mean, you can translate it a little bit… listening to it can actually help push your work forward if you don’t let it abuse you.
Some successful artists consider their inner critic an ally. You’ve got an ally in your head that can go, “Hmm, did you not have coffee yet today? Maybe go for a walk and come back.” That voice is now no longer your inner critic; it’s Arlo or Gary having your back and that’s a beautiful place to get to.
Is your inner critic an ally?
I’m getting there. I’d say I need another couple of years under my belt before I feel like that all the time—and maybe that’s not realistic. Even professionals don’t feel their inner critic is always their ally.
I’m able to make work every day and I wrote a book, which is something I didn’t think I could do. I spent my first working session on the book trying to figure out how to get out of it. My inner critic told me I couldn’t, but I did. Every time you prove it wrong, you’re making it easier to push past the negativity.
On page 113, you write about the power of sharing your goals with the universe. Why is expressing your intentions so important? And what happens if your inner critic guffaws at your goals?
Before I wrote Creative Block, I made a list of 100 goals and tucked it in a drawer for two years. I forgot about the list and when I found it again, I realized I had achieved some of those goals, like “Write a book” and “Move to a lake town.” I believe that taking the time to create an intention years ago helped create some direction, so I didn’t just get whisked away by life. Maybe I wasn’t consciously working on achieving those goals every minute, but the intention remained and I found my way.
Your new career that centres on being an expert on creativity isn’t something you planned for. To what do you attribute your success in this area?
The Jealous Curator blog started as a thing for myself, almost like self-therapy. I just needed help getting out the jealousy I felt for these amazing artists. I never thought I’d get readers or book deals.
At the core of it all, I love it so much. I love it even more now because I have this amazing community all around the world. My passion is for art and letting others know they’re not alone like I thought I was. Everything that comes out of that I say yes to even if I don’t know what I’m doing and I figure it out later. I think because I was doing something I loved, I’ve been led to weird successes that I could never have predicted.
How do you fit creating art into a busy life?
Creativity often gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list. My inner critic will tell me that being creative is frivolous, silly, selfish and will question the point of it. (Somehow working and being a mom aren’t selfish…) That’s just your inner critic at work.
I used to feel guilty all the time. If I was working on my book, I felt guilty I wasn’t making art. If I was making art, I’d feel guilty about not spending time with my son. It made me crazy! So I started breaking days into guilt-free chunks. If I decided that Thursday from 9-1 I was working on the book, that’s all I was doing. I wasn’t worrying about kitchen being messy or the graphic design work that wasn’t getting done. It was book time. This helped me focus and didn’t allow the guilt to slip in. It’s the same with studio time.
I’ve spoken with several working artists who have said that you have to see your studio time as just as valuable as work or family time. It’s just as important. It becomes a habit and when that weekly or daily time comes around you’ll be excited and into it.