Comparison ~ the Thief of Joy

Sorting It Out • 20x30 • Oil/Mixed Media

Sorting It Out • 20x30 • Oil/Mixed Media

This post is actually, in part, one I posted to my old blog.  I felt that, with a few tweaks that it was worth sharing again here.

A couple years ago, I spent a fun day crafting Valentine’s cards with a then-9 year old budding artist. Something we chatted about has stayed with me, still.  She mentioned more than once that my art was better than hers.  I told her she had at least 40 years to catch up with me and that she’d get there eventually (especially because she already had a great start).  I told her that I didn’t come out of the gate with all my skills.

Once I’d had time to reflect on her comments and my responses, I realize that it is more than years of experience that I should have addressed.

So here is an open letter to all my art friends, expanding on the topic….

I like to listen to podcasts of interviews with artists and other creative individuals and one topic that comes up ~ again and again ~ is that of self-doubt and comparison to others.  We all do it (and if somebody tells you they don’t, they’re fibbin’), and sometimes, we let this get the best of us.

I know that when I look at artwork on blogs, in magazines, at trade shows, on product in stores, etc., that I sometimes fall into that trap of thinking my work isn’t as good as somebody else’s.  What purpose does this attitude serve?  It is really just negative thinking that we’re imposing on ourselves.  How silly is that?  Silly it may be, but we DO it.  The trick is to recognize that we’re doing it and release ourselves from it. Piece of cake, non?

Here are two examples of this that I have experienced in my life….

When I started art school in college, the first day was an orientation into the program and at the end of the day we were shown a slide presentation of graduating students’ work.  I remember sitting in the dark, my anxiety rising with each new slide of great work after great work.  I held back the tears until I got to my car, but I cried all the way home because I thought, There is no way I am ever going to be that good.

I’m not going to say I came back to class the next day with a bright new sunny attitude, but I did remind myself that I had jumped a lot of hurdles to get into that program and I wasn’t about to quit and that I was going to just have to be the best I could possibly be and see where that would get me.  To my surprise in the coming months, I was better than I thought I was and came to the realization that perhaps by the time I graduated, my work might just be as good as those slides I’d seen on the first day. (and I hope that it doesn’t make somebody cry)

I realized that in order to ever be that good (whatever my definition of that was at the time), I had to put the work into learning, practicing and experimenting.  I wasn’t going to just pick up a tool and voila! be amazing.  I realized that it was a process that I would likely work at my whole life as I continually challenged myself to be better.  Am I still challenging myself, learning new techniques, experimenting?  You bet I am.  I’ll never think I have reached perfection or learned all there is to know.  Nobody ever does.

My second example occurred later in life, nearly 12 years ago, as I was making the transition from graphic designer to licensing artist.  I visited Surtex ~ a trade show where hundreds of artists put their work up in booths to show to manufacturers to use the art on their products ~ and, by the end of my first day walking that show, I was completely overwhelmed.  And sad, scared, depressed ~ you name it ~ I was wondering what on earth did I think I was doing getting into this business?  I wasn’t anywhere nearly as good as any of these amazing artists.  How could I possibly compete???

Again, I didn’t show up the next day with a brand new attitude, but I did remind myself about the story I just related about art school.  I remembered having the same feelings and knowing that I could overcome them.  So when I did return to the show the next day, I looked at the artists’ work differently.  I came to the realization that not only was I every bit as good as most of them, I allowed that I was in fact, even a little better than some.  Yet, I was still quite humbled by many.     But the important thing I came away with was that I was just as good as the artists I was competing with and that by learning all I could, I would make myself even better.

I have also come to realize that self-doubt and comparison to others’ are natural emotions and the trick is to recognize that I am doubting or comparing and to then remind myself that for each artist’s work that I admire and think is better than mine, I know that there is some artist out there looking at my work, thinking the same thing.  I had a lovely moment in Atlanta once where I met a very popular artist whose work I greatly admire (and compare myself to, wishing I were as good as her) and guess what?  She loved my work.

And finally, remember that nobody can bring to our art what we can individually.  So, feel free to admire somebody else’s work and even aspire to get your skill level to theirs, but remember ~ it may already be there ~ in its own, unique, wonderful way.

As the marvelous Mr. Wilde once said, Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

XO ~