07 April 2010

Looking at Other People's Work

Do you ever get discouraged when you see so much talent and such a huge body of work? Or is it always inspiring? Sometimes I think, why bother, there is no way my work can ever have an impact amid so much and so much more established talents.
This question was posed recently in a comment by a reader as she looked through my reviews of the exhibits I saw last month at SGC in Philadelphia. It's a great question and it's something we all grapple with, whatever our field of endeavor. Fortunately the work I saw while I was in Philly was more inspiring than anything for me, but boy, do I ever get discouraged sometimes!

We all have handicaps we work with. The handicap I feel most is my age, as I didn't start making fine art prints until I was in my late 40s. There are so many young artists who are more talented than I am and who already have more experience and exposure than I do. If I think about that too much I can pretty quickly plunge into "why bother" territory.

Then there are the general difficulties of the field itself: the difficulty of getting noticed, the feeling that there are more artists than there are buyers or opportunities, the expense and time required for making good art.

And now we've got the internet. With a few Google searches we can get an overview of an entire field. This can be useful -- we can get ideas, be inspired, discover new techniques, make new friends. Nevertheless, on the internet we can also see the true breadth and depth of our "competition." Looking at other people's work can send one into a downward spiral of envy and/or discouragement.

Over time I've developed a few DOs and DON'Ts guidelines for myself when it comes to trawling the internet for art. I'll be interested to hear if you have other tips from your own experience.


Don't look at other people's work when you're in a funk.
If you're already down and discouraged, looking at other people's work is like picking a scab. It's not what you need, so walk away before you send yourself down the cliff into despair.

Don't compare apples to oranges.
You are not Picasso. Enjoy Picasso, study Picasso, learn from Picasso, but don't hold your work up next to his and bemoan the fact that yours isn't his. It isn't, and it shouldn't be.

Don't be a stalker.
There's always that one person whose work and success hits a nerve. Maybe it's someone whose work is similar to yours, but they're getting all the attention. Or maybe it's someone whose work you absolutely hate and you can't understand why they're getting noticed. You're disgusted, yet you can't stop looking at their web site. This is a situation that calls for drastic measures. Plain and simple, you've got to stop looking. After you calm down you may want to look more closely at why you feel the way you do (it can reveal important facts about yourself) but first you've got to stop focusing on them.


Do set clear intentions.
Knowing why you do what you do helps you to achieve excellence and it also helps you not be so swayed by what other people are doing. Books like Jackie Battenfield's The Artist's Guide can help you formulate goals and make plans for achieving them. A lament like "why did she get into that show?" is easily defused if you know that getting into a certain show is not really as important to you as earning a living or engaging a particular audience. Don't let other people define success for you.

Do communicate with artists whose work you admire.
If you admire someone else's work, why not tell them? Sure, sometimes you'll get no response, but I've met some awesome artists this way. Other artists can be a wonderful source of support and information and also can open doors to future opportunities.

Do cultivate your fans.
I'm not talking about starting a "Fan Page" on Facebook, I'm talking about knowing who your friends are and knowing who you can rely on to help you when you get discouraged. This might be Facebook or blog fans, and it might be other artists, but just as often it's family and it's friends who simply like you because you're you. Keep those people close and turn to them when you need a boost.

Thanks for the question, dear reader. It felt good to me to put this all down in writing. And again, please let me know if you have other tips for dealing with discouragement or envy when you see other people's good work.


Rejinl said...

Great post Annie, thanks!

Maggie said...

Well put! I would agree with nearly everything, although I think looking at art historical work, rather than contemporary work can almost always be inspiring, funk or no. The contemporary stuff can make me easily call my own work in to question. You're absolutely right, though - we're not Picasso, nor should we be. The hardest thing sometimes can be sustaining confidence in a particular direction...and that's where having fans to gauge success of imagery & ideas comes in awfully handy!

Kellie Hames said...

What a fantastic post. Thank you.

betsy best-spadaro said...

Great post. Thanks for a wonderful list!

Angelo Rodrigues said...

Great comments, excellent post, thx.

jodi said...

Thanks, Annie. I needed to hear this, and I'll be bookmarking it to read again later on (probably when I've just made the mistake of looking at the work of a successful artist my age while in a funk!).

Annie B said...

Good point about historical work being mostly inspiring, Maggie. I agree.

Vicki said...

Excellent and necessary reminder to us all. I plan to pass it on to my students.

I'd also add that it is important to remember that most of us are enriched primarily by the process and the doing, by creating something that fulfills our vision, even when we don't quite understand the vision till the work is completed. Have courage.

d. moll, l.ac. said...

I haven't stalked anyone yet I think I'll try it just to see what's it's like. LOL I know for sure you haven't been stalking me! but seriously Annie, this was a great post and so true. I think Maggie is right too, when you are down look at non-comtemps.

Hannah Phelps said...

This post is really great-thanks for such a no-nonsense plan of action for hard times!

Katka said...

Great post, Annie. Very thought-filled.

Tibi said...

Thanks for the post. I have one question though, regarding that apples and oranges point. I take that as "don't compare your work with that of people that have changed the direction of art". Good point. But at what point do apples become like oranges enough to compare them? Are, say, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Pat Steir or Ken Nolan -- very good artists but not earthshakers -- fair for comparison? Where do we draw the line? Or should comparison be always off limits?

Annie B said...

@d.moll - Of *course* I stalk you. How else would I be able to gather all that valuable first-hand info about working with rabbits?

@ Tibi - Good point/question. For me personally, any direct comparison of my work with someone else's can be deadly if I'm in a self-deprecating mood. I can think stuff like "why didn't I think of that?" or "I wish I had a color sense like so-and-so." Comparison is not generally helpful for me if what I'm doing is rating myself. On the other hand, I do find value in looking at other people's work and allowing myself to be inspired by what I see. It's just a change in attitude, from "why didn't I think of that" to "I'd like to learn to think more abstractly;" from "I wish I had a color sense like that" to "I'm going to go to the library and take out a book about color."

d. moll, l.ac. said...

LOL and I bet your special knowledge comes in very handy when making small talk at art openings.

buttercup caren said...

I happened upon your work & blog via a tweet by Jackson Creek Press. Who would have ever thought Twitter would open so many doors into the world of art & the creative process?

I wanted to tell you that this post is so very timely & helpful for my own process, not only creatively but business-wise. Your DOs and DONTs were exactly what I needed to read. Plus, your comment about how detrimental comparing ones work with others can be when being in a particularly "self-deprecating" mode - well, this is my downfall. I am constantly working on re-arranging my thoughts; to put a positive spin on what I've learned/found. One needs to be in a place of near-Zen to accomplish this, I find. :)


Pamela said...

Hi Annie,
This is my first time here but will definitely not be my last.
I was looking into white line woodcuts and came across your blog...I love it and this post really says what I have been doing/feeling lately.

I am very happy to have stumble upon your blog and will be visiting often.


Annie B said...

Thanks Pam, nice to meet you!

Sun said...

I just found your blog through my friend. It's nice you write something like this, me myself easily get down, haha.

Anyway, i think its important to always know why you did the artwork, why you want to do it. Envy is the hardest (at least for me) one to handle, but well, like Louise Bourgeois said "Don't get the green disease of envy. Don't be fooled by success and money. Don't let anything come between you and your work."

yes, keep yourself honest and sincere to the work, there will be less things to upset us

: )

And keep doing it Annie, i would like to see more of your works, the technique is interesting.