Do you know the weird feeling when you go the opposite direction of a frequently traveled road? How suddenly everything looks and feels different? How sometimes, you even have to stop to make sure you have not lost yourself?
I go running almost every day. I have a route I take frequently, a forest road. I decided to run it backwards the other day. During a few moments, I had to stop, look around, and make sure I was going the right way. This lead me to realize how important it is to look at things from another perspective. More importantly, how we, as creators and artists, should self-reflect, look back, and appreciate the work we’ve already done. There are quite a few learning points in looking back at your own work and accomplishments.
Achieved progress is larger than expected
Self-reflection, self-critique, or self-auditing are techniques one can use to do two things. One, learn and develop skills — learn from your own mistakes — and two, appreciate the journey already traveled, and acknowledge the successes along the road. Let’s call it self-appreciation.
When I look at my work from five years ago, I can’t believe how much my taste has changed. I do things differently today. My taste is different and my work reflects that. Looking back even further, the feeling grows. Comparing my work year-on-year, I can see what I’ve been through, how it affected the way I worked, how much time I had for my personal projects, and it clearly gives my development different sense of the scale. Knowing how much I’ve grown and under what circumstances makes me feel proud and appreciative of my own journey and the work I’ve done. More importantly, it makes me very excited about the future. If I keep on developing with the same delta as before, I become impatient and very eager to start my new projects!
Identifying the trajectory of your art development
Over the years, we develop, we change. We become more educated, we ditch the old beliefs and welcome new. We are better aware of who we are. We gain knowledge, wisdom, and self-definition becomes more apparent.
Our art, be it writing, photography, design, music, or anything else, transforms with us. The change of beliefs, knowledge, or self-definition, they all contribute to the way we create art.
Looking back, going over the archives of your past work will give you an insight on the journey you’ve traveled. It will help you see where you’ve come from, what road you’re on, how your artistic taste is developing, and most importantly, the direction you are on will become clearer. This will either help you stay on track and confirm your ambitions, or it’ll help you steer your ship and navigate it better.
It’s like looking in the mirror when driving — seeing your past and what happens there — helps you going forward.
Self-critique as a learning tool
It would all be not too wise to go over and over your archive just to see what you’ve done and feel good about it, without taking in some learning points.
I like to do this exercise frequently, as it is probably the most important tip among the three. It can be done on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis, depending on how much work you put out there. In a chosen period, choose the best three (or five, or ten) pieces of the work you’ve done. Look at and scrutinize their quality, your approach when you created the piece, what lead you to create it in the first place, and what would you do differently next time? Keep a journal of your notes to come back to later, as it is a great tool to keep a record of your thoughts and ideas. Even if you don’t read it eventually, writing it down gives your self-criticism the weight of importance it deserves.