The Open Window: First Aid for Creative Injury

Insights on Creativity by Quinn McDonald

Biking, hiking, swimming, tennis—if you play a sport you will eventually suffer a sprain, muscle tear, or road rash. For those injuries, you know the first-aid drill: PRICE—Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate. Those steps will relieve pain, protect the soft tissue, and get you back into action again.

Artists play in a similar public arena when their work is put out for public consideration. It’s not a sport (at least not for most artists), but when creative effort is put on public display, for evaluation or sales, getting bruised is possible. It’s not elbows, shins and knees at risk, but sensitive creative feelings. Good artists work from a deep vulnerability, and creative injury is a risk of being an artist.

A negative review, an angry customer, a turn-down for a magazine article or a snarky blog comment can hurt, but it doesn’t have to lead to creative damage.

The first aid that worked for sports injuries can work for creative injury as well. Here’s the artist version of PRICE:

P= Perspective. Take a look at the action causing the injury and try to see the perspective that caused that opinion. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t rush to judgment about the intention of the person who made the comment and don’t respond right away. Seeing your work from another perspective can be useful to creating a response that makes sense.

R= Relax. Feel your anger, disappointment, humiliation. Own it, but don’t act while you are in a state of emotional upheaval. Take some deep breaths. Walk, exercise, or do other physical movement to get rid of the adrenaline that surges with fear and anger. Be kind to yourself. Blame is sticky. Avoid blaming yourself or others; flinging blame solves nothing.

I= Identify. When you are calm again, identify exactly what the problem is. Is it the wording the person used? Is the quality of your work called into question? What, exactly, caused the pain? What is the other person’s reasoning; what is their expertise? Could they possibly be right?

C=Curiosity. When we are curious, we begin to look for solutions. Solutions have more foundation in reality than simple reactions. Curiosity opens the door to discussion and agreement. The natural curiosity of creativity can create more than a response, it can create a change of heart, either in the artist or in the person who caused the damage.

E=Experiment. Try out some responses before you decide what action to take. Don’t forget to include “do nothing” as an answer. Some injuries are best walked off without response. Every response has a consequence, and looking at the consequence first puts the decision in a different light.

Creative injury can be walked off or can cause lasting damage. Often the difference is how you respond to your first emotion. Successful artists are in it for the long run and the deep, meaningful work nurtured by self-care.


Quinn McDonald is an artist and certified creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives and work. You can e-mail your business-of-art questions to Quinn is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art (North Light Books).




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One Response to The Open Window: First Aid for Creative Injury

  1. DellaLuna says:

    Oh how I wish this article had been around years ago, when I didn’t know how to deal with a hurtful comment about my art. Wonderful, wonderful insights, Quinn!