Have ever noticed that there is a connection between your artwork and the way you feel about yourself?
Tell me if you can relate:
Have you ever created a piece of artwork that you loved so much, only to be told by others that it “wasn’t very good”. This comment immediately changed the way you felt about it. Maybe this happened when you were a child or maybe it happened later in life, but those words had a major impact on your belief in your abilities, and as a result, affected choices you made later.
Did those fleeting words – forgotten quickly by the person speaking- become huge in your mind, deflating those feelings of affection for your art? Did you suddenly find yourself wanting to give up on your work?
Did you ruminate on the words, allowing them to play in your head again and again, and did you feel the urge to throw your artwork away or hide it where no one else could criticize it again?
Now, imagine instead that someone praised that very same piece of artwork, telling you it was amazing.
Did you feel that feeling of exhilaration and joy, believing that you had really created something worthy of notice this time, and start looking at it with pride and acceptance?
Then…did you notice that feeling of excitement was gone by the next day and you needed to get more praise to continue feeling that way? Then you sought out the opinions of others to see what THEY thought?
What do you think the reason for this is?
I think the answers lie in the fact that so many times in the problem of seeing our artwork as an extension of ourselves, instead of an expression of ourselves – which means that if someone doesn’t like our artwork, we believe they don’t like US!!
I think a lot of artists struggle with self-esteem and depression. I know I have struggled with these issues myself.
Fortunately, artwork has actually been very beneficial in my healing over the years. Maybe that’s why I gravitated to this type of work…for its therapeutic benefits.
I have always loved to draw, but when I turned 18, I began working hard on improving my skill. I loved to draw, and I began putting whole days, months, and years of effort into improving my drawing skills. This gave me a sense of purpose.
When people asked if I was an artist, I was very adamant that I was not actually an artist, just an “aspiring artist”.
Deep down, I believed I wasn’t good enough yet to be considered an artist. I just liked “doodling”.
I believed that if I ever described myself as an artist, others would know I was a fraud and would laugh at me if I even suggested I was anything close to that. So I was very careful never to say I was an artist but to let others know that one day I hoped to become one.
I inwardly did not accept any compliments I received, even though I wanted to. If someone told me my work was great, I would assume they just said it to be nice, and I would point out every flaw that I saw in my work – flaws they had never actually noticed before I mentioned them.
I just knew that my work wasn’t worthy of being considered the work of an artist yet. I believed that anyone who viewed my work could see all of the flaws that I could see, and were judging them secretly.
Because I was continually comparing my own work to the work of artists I felt were superior to myself, I never felt like I was good enough. I worked very hard to gain the approval of my fellow artist friends and kept hoping that one day I would achieve the level of work worthy of being considered “art”.
You see, I had a misconception of what an artist was, and I also had misconceptions about who I was as a person.
My feelings about being an artist were a direct reflection of how I felt about myself.
What had to happen over the course of the next couple of decades was for me to discover my true worth as a person. It was a slow process, and I’m still learning.
Why am I writing about this here? Because I believe that many people who become interested in the arts do so because they are struggling with some type of emotional problem related to self-worth.
I know I’m not alone in it because after speaking with artists over the last couple of decades, I have seen a pattern emerge in the things they say and do. And this doesn’t just apply to artists who draw or paint, but also to anyone who expresses themselves creatively in any way.
Many of us struggle with a core belief that we are not “good enough” as a person; that our worth is determined by external things rather than that we have intrinsic value as a human being. We have not yet learned to accept ourselves AS WE ARE, and at the exact stage we are in. This is mostly learned by our upbringing or the influence of those around us.
But the good news is that WE define who we are and WE can make a choice. We can decide what we are and make that a reality.
One day I decided to stop calling myself an “aspiring artist”. I realized that no matter how much I had improved, I still didn’t see myself as an artist, but I decided to challenge that belief:
Why did I believe that? What made me any different than other artists? What made my efforts any less valuable than theirs?
I decided one day that I AM an artist. I just made that decision.
I realized that I had been an artist all along.
What is an artist besides a person who loves to create something that they find beautiful, to work with their hands creating something they enjoy?
Whether one person values your work is NOT relevant to who and what you are. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone has different tastes.
If we express ourselves openly and honestly, people will recognize the authenticity of your work when you do this and will appreciate it!
Realize that ALL artists are continually learning. There is no point in time where an artist has “arrived”. No matter how good you are, you can always improve!
So the thought I want to leave you with here today is, as artists, we all tend to have doubts about ourselves, and struggle with self-worth and maybe wonder if we deserve the title of “artist”.
If you are creating something that you enjoy, you ARE an artist. You just are. Don’t let anyone -including yourself- tell you otherwise!
Now pick up a pencil and some paper -or some paint and a canvas- and express yourself without worrying about what anyone but YOU thinks! You’ll be happy you did!