Blocking out the noise: staying artistically sane in an insane world


Why do we care so much about truth? I think one of the reasons we respect it is because of the extraordinarily high signal-to-noise ratio we have here on the planet. ~~ Stephen Gaskin, nonviolent social revolutionary

I’ve tried to wean myself off the things people say that they want, or feel, or will (or won’t) do. Things get clearer when you turn off the sound. ~~ Craig Lucas, playwright


These days I lead a fairly serene life, but there are still times when the noise level gets to me. I’m not talking about trying to hold a conversation in a loud restaurant, though that’s annoying in its own way.

What I’m referring to is the tsunami of opinion, rumor, and histrionics that hits me whenever I log on to Facebook or turn on the TV. I try to be careful about what I let into my space, but the sheer ubiquity of mass and social media makes it increasingly difficult to filter out the junk.

If I want to stay creative and not spend my days drowning in the world’s insanity, I’ve got to mine the gold from the waste stream. Here are some ways you can join me in staying artistically sane:

Limit your exposure to media, social and otherwise.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s 12-week course for creative recovery, she calls for a full week of media deprivation – no newspapers or magazines; no email, texting, or Internet; no radio or TV (I can already feel you squirming). I’ve done it. It was incredibly hard, but I lived. And, magically, it brought on a burst of creative energy.

To be clear: I’m not advocating a head-in-the-sand approach to the world’s troubles. But taking a media vacation, even for a few hours, is good for the soul, spirit, and creative juices. Don’t let the media drown out your creative voice. Turn off the noise.

Separate opinion from truth.

You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts. ~~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Log onto any social media site and you’ll be inundated with opinions, even outright lies, masquerading as truth. Step one to unmasking these pseudo-truths is to become intimately acquainted with your own values and motives: not what you’ve been told to believe, not what you think you should believe, but what you actually, deep in your heart and soul, know to be true. (It never hurts to verify your hunches at, either.)

Of course, there’s a lot to be learned from reasoned debate. But you probably won’t find it on social media, and it can be hard not to get sucked into lengthy and heated arguments. When online threads devolve into emotional tirades, grab yourself by the collar and pull yourself away. It’s unlikely you’ll change anyone’s mind, and you’ll only be wasting precious time and energy you could be devoting to your artistic growth.

Moderate your inner voice.

Pay attention to what you tell yourself about yourself. Inner voices can be helpful, but they can also be harmful, especially ones that slip in unnoticed. Chances are, those negative voices are words and phrases you’ve internalized from outside sources. It’s a mystery why artists tend to minimize helpful voices and give power to the negative, but the fact is, we do.

Start this moment turning that trend on its head: catch those negative voices the moment they start; argue with them; call them out; challenge them. Present examples to prove them wrong. When you bust these voices for the criminals they are, you begin to recognize their source, and you can turn down the internal noise. The helpful voices can then be heard; they’re in there, if you’re open to them.

Accept your uniqueness.

When we compare ourselves and our achievements to that of others, we not only dampen our aliveness, we stand in the way of expressing our true selves. We become blocked by self-doubt. We stop trusting ourselves. Just like successful athletes, it’s vital that artists learn to block out what everyone else is doing (and saying), and focus on their own abilities, their own goals.

Your gifts aren’t like anyone else’s, so stop looking over your shoulder at the competition. Keep your eyes forward and celebrate the unique contribution you make, the viewpoint only you can bring to the conversation. Let everyone else be in charge of their own selves and their own art. Because, really, why would you want to be anyone but you? Or do anyone’s art but yours?

No one is walking the same path you are. When you accept that, you become inured to the noise.

Accept that you have no control over what other people think or say.

Artists are acutely sensitive to other people’s opinions. Bad reviews can rock our confidence. And with the explosion of social media, everyone is a critic (too often confusing criticism with criticizing), and the online world becomes awash in hateful comments. It’s easy to lose your way in a maze of judgment.

Let’s face it: even the most well-meaning critics can be heartless and rude. But their behavior is an expression of their reality, not yours. For my part, if I can learn from a comment, I use it. If not, I do my best to move on (though I may spin my wheels a bit first). The ideal outcome is to turn those comments into funny anecdotes I can use to entertain my friends; then I’ve turned the noise into music I can dance to.

Keep it light, keep it fun.

Naysayers hate play. They crank up the noise level because they want you to suffer, just like they do. Sure, making art isn’t a picnic every day, but it’s hardly a one-way trip to Siberia, either.

Drop the notion that work excludes play. Explore and experiment. Mix it up, try something new, change your perspective. When you are truly engaged in play, the naysayers with their negative chatter can’t get to you: you’ve barred the doors, given them no entry. Those judging, conflicting voices – all that noise – will just have to find someone else to torment.


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