Don't Look For Praise: Stay Curious Instead
I've pondered over the idea of praise as a driving force in a beginning artist's career. Due to experiences I've had with other inexperienced artists (I count myself in their number) I've turned over and over the principle that not receiving praise unequivocally douses the fires of a new artist and is a deplorable state of things.
It's not that I think cruel comments should be the norm. I'm bang alongside the idea that praise is a necessary part for a new artist's good development.
Just... I think being hungry for praise is the exact wrong driver for an artist's career if they want to get to professional levels. Maybe even the opposite driver—after all, if what you crave is praise, you're going to be so afraid of your next piece not getting praise.
Frightened artists tend not to make great art.
I think, as an ArtRage member told me, hungry artists (eventually) make great art. And I don't mean the poor, starving artist stereotype.
My chain of reasoning runs thusly:
If I want adoring praise for my art, I should learn to draw fan art and only show it to non-artist folks in the fandom.
But if I want to actually advance as an artist, to actually feel more satisfied in myself (as always, that Ira Glass quote is going to pierce my heart every night), I need to build my visual database.
And if I want to keep improving as an artist and reach professional levels, maybe even expert levels, I need to learn to enjoy that process.
Strange as it seems, I have managed to do that last bit without even trying. I suspect "trying to enjoy it" is actually how you don't achieve enjoyment of still lifes, life studies, and exercises. It's something that comes organically when you start to realize how fascinating everything is to the eye. How much more complex everything is than you ever noticed before.
You have to be curious as an artist to improve.
Let's cut to another artistic field I have (more?) experience with: writing.
The best writers I know are so intently curious about the art of the written word: how to wield words so deftly that they break the human heart in twain, or how to express complicated concepts with such elegance that they cut through widespread fogs of confusion, or how to write characters that people fall in love with (and draw fan art for, of course).
As much as I am talented in writing, I was never curious about writing in the same way as those writers were. Some of those writers began with less natural talent than I had, but they forged their skill in the heat of hard work driven by the bellows of curiosity. (What an awfully on the nose metaphor.) My skill in writing, while potent in that I can easily make entire rooms of people cry at receptions, does not improve like theirs do. I don't have the right drive that would propel me forwards.
But visual art is different. I'm curious about everything in a way I never have been with anything else. Some subjects start to approach that for me, certainly—programming and software architecture came somewhat close—but never, ever, ever before have I been so consumed that I willingly choose to explore the space between ridges on a leaf before playing board games. That's just unreal. And yet it's my life now.
Am I saying that you need curiosity to drive you if you want to become a professional artist, nay, even simply a better artist?
Well, no. I mean, you could still grind your art skills all the way up while not enjoying any of the grinding.
I'm sure some have the fortitude to do this and advance quickly at the same time without enjoying or being curious about art. I just think that's a terrible way to spend your time. I have one of the most iron wills around and I've proven I definitely can't do that.
I don't think the answer is to only draw what you want to draw—or at least, not to simply do that. You have to find ways to turn what is droll discipline to others into something utterly delightful to you, or to find out how to exercise what you need in the areas of what you love. Yeah, extract the utter discipline out of what you love.
Or, at least, what you think you love. I'm of the opinion that you'll never find out what you love if you never try the things you assume you'll hate (and that, of course, don't trigger you, etc).
So yeah. Praise doesn't work, long-term, as a driver for improvement. Force of will can do better. But even better is curiosity—a force that is driven internally in the engine of your soul without trying too hard.
Curiosity is what will really fire you up.