The Laws of Nature

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fears About Yourself ...

Annie Leibovitz' self portrait

Many thanks to all of you who took time to consider the answers to my Mother's Day Quiz. Our resident "whiz kid," Don, provided the correct answers. Good job!

And now, back to Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking by Bayles and Orland. Chapter three is entitled "Fears About Yourself" and begins with the observation that when you act out of fear, your fears come true. The authors go on to be more specific to artmaking and lump our fears in that regard into two general categories: 1) fears about yourself, which keeps you from doing your best work, and 2) fears about your reception by others, which keeps you from doing your own work .

These fears naturally lead to what the authors call "pretending," but I call it "the impostor syndrome." It's doubt about our skills, intelligence, talent, credentials coupled with the fear that others will find out that we're really pretending to be an artist, or impostor. Of course, when things aren't going well in the studio this feeling increases since we often fall into the trap of thinking that true artists aren't subject to the shortcomings that we find in our own work. This feeling causes many artists to quit or at least take a prolonged break.

But, for those of us who don't quit, there's still the temptation to make excuses or even put-down our work. The authors also point out that it's easy to feel like a pretender when the definition of what is and isn't art is a moving target. If we're not certain about what we're doing then self-doubt creeps in.

What solution is offered to cure the impostor syndrome? While you may feel you're just pretending that you're an artist, there's no way to pretend you're making art. Your work may not be what curators want to exhibit or publishers want to publish, but those are different issues entirely. You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn't very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren't good, the parts that aren't yours. It's called feedback, and it's the most direct route to learning about your own vision.

I completely agree with this statement. It's how I've struggled through. Tomorrow, we'll bite off another chunk of meat from this chapter.

And now, what are your thoughts?


-Don said...

First of all, it was process of elimination with the artists' mothers. The only two I had to guess were Picasso's and Dali's (who could have been sisters - they looked so much alike)... Next time I'm going to use Stan's shortcut so my brain doesn't have to work so hard...

Now, about today's subject. I've never thought I was an impostor - I've always known so. 8-} (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...)

I love the impostor syndrome solution offered. As Andy Warhol always said, "It's just work". The harder we work, the better we get and the more fine-tuned our vision becomes.

Now I'm going to go pretend to be an artist and make some more art.


M said...

I agree with just keep working as a solution when the doubts creep in. The more work you make, the more you have to choose from, the more chances you have to doing something that you will be proud of. Working is concrete and it wins every time. Another advantage to continuing to produce in the face of imposter fretting is the opportunity to turn what might be a mediocre painting today into an excellent one at a later date. This has happened to me numerous times. Working creates better work down the line.

Carolyn Abrams said...

The hardest thing i've done so far is call myself an artist. So if you think like an artist, feel like an artist, work like an artist, you are an artist and others will think so too (if that matters). Now with that out of the way i just keep producing because i need to and who knows what will be created.

RH Carpenter said...

"Working produces better work down the line." Margaret, you said it so well and succinctly! I'm off to work now...and hope to create art - as opposed to just "a painting."

hw (hallie) farber said...

Am I cracking up or are you changing your background color several times a week?

Love the Annie self portrait and think the last phrase of second paragraph should read "keeps you from doing your own work."

Long ago I read that "thought creates reality." I believe that. I don't think the impostor syndrome applies only to artists--do people actually live up to their job descriptions? I remember the ones from the Fed. Government--they were filled with words that circled around the real work.

Unknown said...

Hi Don - You are no impostor! You're definitely an "artist."

Hi Margaret - that's a good solution, too. Improving old work is a great way to measure progress.

Hi Carolyn - I like your new avatar! And, I like your attitude :-)

Hi Rhonda- Happy painting!

Hi Hallie - thanks for catching the omission; I made correction. Yes, sometimes I change the background colors so don't adjust your glasses. I actually learned about the "impostor syndrome" from my graduate advisor who told me that I'd feel that way when I got my first professorial job. It does apply to newbies in all professions.

Mark Sheeky said...

Hmm, as a surrealist(ish) I'm nothing but a bundle of fears yet, despite being technically unhappy with all of my paintings, I rate each one from the start as a good artwork and would be proud and unsurprised to see any in a national gallery.

You don't have to call yourself an artist to make art but if you paint something you should tell people you are proud of it, and tell yourself too, and then you'll be it, and see the good and bad in it. Every picture has flaws and merits. There are Klimpts and Matisses out there I'd be truly ashamed to have painted. Those artists simply had the confidence to paint what they felt, show it without embarassment and declare it "good".

Unknown said...

*Argh* I feel this was written about me and for me. Doubt is that vulture that has been perched on my shoulder these past years. I know I didn't feel confident in my past job until I hit my 5th or 6th year. I guess I should wait until I've hit that milestone before I throw in my brushes. Now I'm going to look for a big stick to poke at this pesky vulture.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark - I, too, would be "unsurprised" to see your work in a prominent national gallery. And, I agree that we should be proud of our work. If we're not, then who should be??

Hi Sheila - you have a LOT to be proud of when it comes to making art. I'm a fan!!

Celeste Bergin said...

I honestly don't worry about if I am an "artist" or not. It has always seemed a funny word to me, used to describe both Picasso as well as Kinkade? Mary Cassatt and Leroy Neiman? I'm just a painter and it is a word that describes perfectly what I do. Granted, many people automatically think this means that I paint HOUSES. lol. don't care.

Anonymous said...

Despite taking a break from blogging- I've not taken a break from creating. I do have a fear about reception from others- and I'm working on that- because I know that fear will keep me from doing what I want to do. I think my past obsession with using the term "artist" is waning. I make art. And when I put it in those terms- I've made art for a long time.
Fake it 'till you make it has always been my motto. I'm quite good at it. I like Mark's advise- paint what you feel, show it without embarrassment and declare it good. My husband has been telling me that for several years- it's time to listen.

Mary Paquet said...

We all can agree that we tend to feel the same way as artists. It's comforting to be in good company. I once read that the most successful people in business often feel like imposters. It was always true for me and remains true in art. I just tell myself to be the best imposter I can be.

Kathy, your latest series is awesome. Producing such a unique body of work certainly proves the theory that the way you become a better artist is to paint a lot.

Casey Klahn said...

I have gotten props about my art since day one. Enter Facebook, and I have become reacquainted with all of those wonderful High School classmates who now say "told you so," when they hear what I do now.

Having said all this, I did experience some fear this year after receiving some top awards (for me they were top). I went into the studio after these awards, and wondered how to paint to that level. It was a crisis of confidence created by success!

Somewhere I read of another artist who experienced this, and felt much better about that.

I especially like Mark, Sheila and Celeste's comments - among all great comments, BTW. This blog is such a gift.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - you're wise to avoid the hang-up of a label. But, as you mentioned, people ask us about our professions and we have to tell them something.

Hi Pam - Mark and your husband offer good advice!

Hi Mary - you're no impostor! Thanks for the support :-)

Hi Casey - I know what you mean about awards. I've been there, too. The major competitions that I enter every year show that everyone is upping their game and it becomes more and more difficult to keep up. But, I try my best and that's all I can do. I have to paint to suit myself, anyway. Thanks so much!