Should I Really Do This...Does Anyone Really Want to Hear What I Have to Say?
Considering this is my first-ever blog post, I'm wondering who may actually see it.
Happy New Year!
I'd like to think if you like my work, you may be interested in seeing new pieces first - before the social media posts, before the website uploads - just for you. And every now and again, I'd like to extend a personal discount on my work just for those who subscribe to the blog.
As many people know, I've been practicing art creation - mainly painting - for many years. I'm a creative, I paint in acrylics, but also in soft pastels. I feel each of my disciplines informs the other and keeps my overall body of work fresh. My acrylics fall into the category of abstraction and the pastels tend to deal with realistic subject matter, although I offer my "impressionistic" take on them. I am a teacher (I've been teaching abstract painting for the Art League of Alexandria [VA] for five years [and for other organizations for 10 years before that] and offer local, regional and overseas workshops in pastel periodically - check out my upcoming ones here) and love finding ways to encourage new painters to dive right in and find their own voice.
Beyond just posting my newest pieces here, I'd like this blog to reveal things about my process in both mediums - how I get my ideas, what things get in the way and how I manage that, the techniques I choose to use when creating, what inspires me and how I make it all work with a family of three, a day job and a myriad of social commitments. Phew! My hope is that as you learn more about what I do and what I create, you'll also learn more about me. This creative life is hard, but it's fun, and that's what I like about it...enjoying every aspect the world of art has to share.
Today, before I get onto the more practical aspects of artistic creation, I'm thinking about the concept of worthiness as an artist. In this day and age of the internet and the head-spinning pace of life in general, the concept of being an artist seems like a luxury. But for those of us who create, it's far from it. Often, it's a necessity. Just ask my wife, who says she notices a change in me (for the worse!) the longer I'm away from our studio and away from creating. I agree, the longer I'm away from creating, the more I get an almost indescribable nagging feeling, one that makes me irritable and one that - if left unchecked - leads me to question my worthiness as a "real" artist.
I recently ran onto an art podcast that mentioned a concept call "impostor syndrome," and it wasn't until then that I knew that thing I feel sometimes actually has a name.
Impostor syndrome was first identified and defined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. It is the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills. That one is just "faking" it and is fearful that he will be found out as a fake by those who mean the most to him...and even those who don't.
According to the psychologist speaking on the podcast, from time to time, we all experience this feeling to differing degrees - whether we are painters, dancers, singers or any other creative types. It's tied up with emotions, and as such, can seem to outsiders as irrational - of course you deserve the accolades you've received; you've worked really hard to get to where you are - but when you're in the throes of it, impostor syndrome can be self-defeating and depression-inducing.
In representational painting, sometimes one has a slight advantage in that once your pain-
ting looks like what you're trying to interpret, you can decide whether it fits how you want it to look. In abstract painting, because we are confronted with so many possibilities (often, "the sky's the limit" or "anything goes" attitude can be more debilitating than liberating), impostor syndrome comes up more easily, manifesting as "Am I really making the right choices? Choosing the right colors? No? Then I must really not know what I'm doing and my work is crap, so I must be an imposter. I'm not worthy and the work I'm doing is clearly not worthwhile."
Perfectionism is a big part of impostor syndrome. You may have high standards and have trouble asking for help from others which can lead to procrastination in your artistic creation. You may believe everything must fall into just the right place every.single.time. or you're just a failure.
You see how this can lead you down a dark path...especially when it's intense.
I think - for me - this is partly why my process has always been one of creating a representational landscape or still life painting followed by something more non-representational. Each one presents its own challenges and each style "informs" the other and keeps me from dwelling on the question of whether it's good enough...or if I'm good enough.
The good news is - just acknowledging that impostor syndrome is real and that it will show up from time to time should help you recognize that's just what it is...something that everyone experiences and something akin to that annoying neighbor who inserts himself at the most inopportune time. The best thing to do is politely carry on a conversation, acknowledge the interaction and move on. Recognizing and acknowledging the feelings impostor syndrome brings up can help open the door to getting past them when they manifest.
In fact, author and success guru Seth Godin has turned impostor syndrome on its head by saying if you're not feeling impostor syndrome at least to some degree, it could be a signal that you're not taking your work far enough; that perhaps you're in a comfortable place with your art or creative process and should take that as an opportunity to push yourself a bit more.
Try turning impostor syndrome to your advantage by taking the much-needed opportunity to tackle some deeply ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself. You might not even realize you hold them, so having a few techniques to work with when the "visit" happens can be useful:
Don't bottle your feelings. Talk to others about how you are feeling, but don't blow off their responses. It may be weirdly hard to believe when someone important to you counters your internal feelings about yourself with a list of positive attributes, but it's most important to listen to them and let those attributes really sink in.
Really take stock in your abilities. If you believe you're just not that good at what you create, write down your accomplishments. Having a physical list can be just the thing to dissuade you from thinking you're just faking it. Accolades don't usually come without hard work and effort, but even if you don't have a blue ribbon somewhere or an honorable mention certificate hanging on your wall, think about personal goals you've set for yourself that you've accomplished. Those hurdles, too, don't come without practice, digging in and applying yourself. Compare those accomplishments with your self-assessment and I'll bet you'll see those thoughts about being a fake slowly disappear.
Easier said than done, but stop comparing. Comparing yourself to others is a slippery slope. Instead, think of this creative journey as road we are all on. Some of us started earlier than you; while others started after you. It's not a race, it's a personal trek, and you determine just how quickly or slowly you take it.
Don't fight your feelings, but don't let them hold you back, either. Acknowledge them. Feelings ARE real, but they may not always be accurate. When you recognize them, you can explore them - find out which are accurate and which are coming from a place of fear. When in doubt, follow the rule of inertia and keep moving!
Often when we feel like an impostor, we attribute our successes to luck. Instead, assess your accomplishments, check luck at the door and instead be grateful for your achievements. Gratitude not only allows us to acknowledge what it takes to accomplish our tasks and bring us happiness; it builds confidence and gets us back in the right head space to get our next set of work off the ground!
So there you have it - a little insight into what confronts my creative process from time to time and how I try to work through it.
If you liked this blog, feel free to subscribe (I promise I won't pelt you with emails - I will just post regularly here) and ask me questions about my work you'd like to know more about. By all means, please feel free to pass along a link to it to other creatives you feel could benefit from it.
I'd like to build a community of like-minded artists, non-artists and lovers of art.
It's that simple.
Keep creating - whether that means art for you, or just living your most creative life!
In each succeeding blog post, I'd like to offer one way to help you pump up your creativity in a section I'm calling Creativity Corner.
In this edition, why not create a Creativity Container? Whether you're a painter or a writer or a singer, think about when you get stuck in your work and that inner critic shows up to make you think twice about your worthiness as a creative. When you don't know what else to do or what your next move should be, randomly pull out something from your Creativity Container to help keep you going.
For painters, it could be slips of paper that have simple "prompts" on them...things like:
- Paint over one thing.
- Use blue.
- Scratch through.
- Create a pattern.
- Use a roller.
- Try a new tool.
- Push back something on the top plane.
- Make a mark.
- Sand away a layer.
The possibilities for your Creativity Container are endless. The point is, having your Creativity Container handy and using one or more of the prompts keeps you going and pushes away the inner critic that can make you feel like an imposter.
P.S. To read more about impostor syndrome, check these links:
Master Your Brain to Overcome Impostor Syndrome - Fast Company
How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome - Mindful.com
Managing Your Impostor Syndrome - Psychology Today
P.P.S. And here's a quick video of a little project I did recently - my way of giving back to those who have been so supportive of my fledgling art career. I decided to create several "mini" abstract paintings that would fit comfortably into an 8" x 8" mat and frame. Then I offered to send one to any friends on Facebook who wanted one - free of charge, just for asking. I was pleased that not only all of the ones in the video went off to great homes, but I actually had to create many more than I started with because the call for them was so great! I hope everyone who received one loves it as much as I do. Thank you for your continued support as I learn through art more about myself!