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.