A Surprisingly Tight Line to Walk

A dichotomy of passion and ego drives many artists, a desire to create something meaningful and a belief that one's creations can change the world. Anyone who's been to art school, or put their work out there for feedback, knows how hard it is to listen to criticism and learn from it.


In my case, compliments are equally hard to take. As soon as someone gives me a compliment, I feel like a spotlight is on me and I'm overcome with apprehension. What did they say? Do they mean it? Are they just being polite? How much enthusiasm should I show here?

For many years, I smiled and said, "Thank you," or "Oh, that's so nice of you." But after a while, that sounds less genuine. I've been designing quality work for 15 years. Pleasant surprise doesn't seem like the right response.

I'd rather react with confidence, "Yes, thank you, I agree," or "That's one of my strengths, actually." My fear is that such replies sound too arrogant. How do I react with appropriate confidence and delight without sounding absurd? It's a surprisingly tight line to walk.

I draw mandalas to work on understanding certain topics. For a couple of months now, I've wanted to draw one in complementary colors that somehow shows what compliments feel like. I started this project not knowing I was working on it. With all my daydreaming, I hadn't actually thought about the content of it. Each unfolding layer surprised me. At different stages of working through this piece, I felt a wide range of strong emotions—peace, sadness, anxiety, fear, despair, excitement. 

Graciously receiving compliments is complicated—part spotlight, part control, part etiquette, part deliberation, part applause, part encore. It's a dance I may never master, but maybe this study brings me a little closer.

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