I have a story for you…

I was an art major in college. I focussed mostly on sculpture and printmaking, and got plenty of good support from my professors. Then I took a painting class with Professor Neuman — he had a dry sense of humor and some prestige in the art world — we thought he was quirky but we admired him — a lot. Too much, I think now.

His regular critique of my painting was that I had “Shape-itis” (like it was a disease!), meaning I tended towards making closed shapes and wasn’t working “painterly” enough. “Break up those shapes!” It felt like he was saying that what I gravitated towards had no value. After that I seemed to doubt myself all the time.

Why did one person’s comments have such a powerful effect on me?
Really, I don’t think he was a bad guy, or was trying to be mean in any way. Why couldn’t I say to myself, “Hey, this is just one person’s opinion”?

I think it’s for the same reason that a lot of people are convinced they can’t sing.
When we’re expressing ourselves through art (and this is amplified when the medium is our voice — literally part of ourselves) we’re really vulnerable and the criticism goes right to our core. Sometimes it’s helpful but often it’s not.

We give the person criticizing us more power than they should have.
And after that, we tend to freeze up. I’ve experienced this in both art and music making, and so have most of my students.

For years I’d start to make something I liked and then arbitrarily break into whatever I had going with some other element — trying not to be a victim of my Shape-itis. (Got a few nice shapes going? Enjoying the whimsical way they relate to each other? Better drag a brush through them to be more “painterly”!) Making art started to feel arbitrary and disconnected.

Nothing felt right. The idea that my love of playing with shapes was a problem uncentered me and messed with my joy, but it was so subconscious that I didn’t really know what was going on. I only knew I wasn’t having so much fun anymore. I didn’t consciously connect this change to my experience with Professor Neuman. I felt a lack of conviction in my art-making and didn’t know why.


Many years later, during a 4-year program I attended in music improv facilitation, I submitted some recordings of my vocal improvisations to my mentor and teacher, Julie. ❤️

I was self-conscious, and told her that I felt I was repeating the same kind of riffs over and over, that I was getting bored with myself, and that I thought I should branch out. I had the uncomfortable feeling that whatever I was doing, I should be doing something different. I felt blocked by that same lack of conviction I’d felt about painting.

Her response was honestly life-changing for me.

She said, No, no, no!

When you find yourself doing something over and over, try doing it more. Lean into it. This is your thing! Discovering your thing a gift; delve in and see where it takes you — you won’t do the exactly same the thing forever, don’t worry about that — follow your true impulses and you’ll go to where the magic is!
THIS spoke to me. THIS was empowering. THIS brought me back to fun and conviction in both my music and art making.

These words were so polar opposite to the message that I took away from classes with Professor Neuman that the whole thing just jumped into focus. I said to myself, “I choose THIS message and will let go of THAT message.”

And it’s how I’ve been practicing, playing, exploring the arts ever since — I lean in to what I have going and get curious about what I can do with it . It’s fun again!

So I wonder — does this story resonate with you?

Have you ever been shut down, doubted, thwarted, or criticized in ways that weren’t helpful? Lost the joy you found in something you’d loved?

If so, I urge you to trust yourself. Since I’m a singing teacher now, I’ll apply this to singing. I’ll tell you what I tell my students…

Whatever your voice sounds like or does, lean into it. Explore the hell out of it!
Learn to trust it and love it — give your voice the gift of learning new skills and singing songs you love and enjoying how good it feels.

We’re all artists and singers; we’re all creators — it’s just part of being human! — and we all deserve to love what we’ve got and to discover where it will take us. That’s where the magic is!

You go! ❤️

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Such a great way to grow as a singer!