Posted: January 16, 2012 in research
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Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions…People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. This bias gives dissonance theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling irrational and destructive behavior.

It has to do with creativity in general, in the form of criticism. There are probably a hundred different answers to the question of what separates a successful artist from an unsuccessful one, but I am convinced that one of the key components is an ability to handle and internalize criticism without resorting to the mind games of cognitive dissonance.

Good, positive criticism feeds us. It keeps us aware of the perspective of others and how our works might impact them, as well as the message we’re truly conveying rather than the one we’re attempting to convey. My fiancee helps me in this regard – she is a great sounding board for whether the idea is coming through, and of course beta readers are also essential. Hell, even negative criticism has its place. It reminds us that no matter how big our egos might get, we’re not as good as we might think we are. It helps us to know that sometimes our creative instincts are right. Discourage criticism at your own peril.

For two examples, we need look no further than George Lucas and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. These two were hugely influential in my early development; I would not be the freelancer that I am today without their presence in my life – Lucas for helping me dream big and embrace my imagination and Corgan for helping me to transform inner experiences into something larger, as well as my use of symbolism. I still respect the men, despite their artistic missteps. But let’s not bat around the bush, they have certainly experienced missteps. I’m sure you’re familiar with Lucas’s issues, and Corgan…well, his most recent “video” is an insipid song interspersed with…oh, just look, it speaks for itself:–221565301 What went wrong? Ignoring valid criticism (with a possible lack of creative impetus). Lucas has notoriously surrounded himself with Yes Men – just watch some of the making-of videos on the prequels and cringe at the sycophants that don’t dare question his decisions. Corgan has openly rebelled against critics and even engaged in some particularly childish name-calling with those critics on Twitter without even considering the words that they say, dismissing them as simply negative.

Like I said, discourage criticism at your own peril.

So we have to keep ourselves open to the process. Be aware of what your critics might be saying – good or bad. Decide if it fits in with your vision, and what you might be doing wrong. I believe that once an artist decides that they have to step out from behind the work to defend it, they have clearly blown something in the execution. That’s fine, it happens, but perhaps the most important thing is to take a step back and question exactly why the criticism exists, and what could be done differently next time. It makes us better all around, and as I’ve said, really separates the wanna-bes from those who are dedicated to their craft.


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