Welcome to my blog series “From the inbox” where we tackle those mindsets and
issues that hold us back and keep us from living creatively. Enjoy!
“I like art…I make art. But I can’t call myself an artist, and I don’t know why.
What’s your advice?”
Hello dear friend,
Thank you for writing to me. Yes, claiming an identity as an artist can be difficult, and I have some thoughts as to the why. I will also share some techniques that hopefully will help you say “I’m an artist” with pride and accomplishment.
These days we hear a lot about where people (and artists) struggle with self-doubt regarding their skills and talents, and fear that their “accomplishments” are fake and don’t really mean anything. There is actually a psychological term for this “Imposter Syndrome.”
My Own Battle with Imposter Syndrome and Art
In the early years of my art adventures, I never called myself an artist. Rather I was a “dabbler” – acrylic painting was my hobby. But I “wasn’t very good at it.” I’d take classes from artists. I’d hang out and create with artists, but I myself wasn’t “one of them.” Perhaps I felt that the term “artist” was something that one earned – and I hadn’t earned it by going to art school, showing in galleries, or teaching art classes.
And even though I was taking art classes at the local art center, I didn’t even think of myself as an “art student.” I was simply a hobbyist, trying to create a few “good” pieces of art to hang in my home.
A friend of mine, and a really accomplished artist, often scolded me when I called myself a “dabbler.”
“You are an artist,” he’d say, but I didn’t believe him. I didn’t think I was good. I didn’t have an unique, visual voice. Learning technique often felt painful because I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted to. The end result so different from what I wanted to create. I didn’t have art I was proud of or could show people.
In July 2017, I found myself in the right place at the right time, taking the right class with the right teacher. I found an immersion art class in “fearless painting” – a week long art trip in the mountains of North Carolina. As we introduced myself to the class, and said “I’ve been painting for 8 years” I heard another say “she must be good,”
My heart sank because I really knew “I wasn’t”.
But all that week, I painted from early in the morning ’til late in the evening. And as I immersed myself into the process, a shift began to happen. I began to realize that I was a painter. I was an artist – and the process of art making became fun and joyful in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
When you have the break-through – the right messages start coming to you internally. You begin to realize that you CAN paint (or draw, or write, or sing, or play music.)
And eventually, you move from CAN to BEING:
- you ARE an artist,
- You ARE writer or a poet, you become a musician or singer.
- You ARE a poet
- You ARE a musician
- You ARE a singer.
Three Strategies to Combat Imposter Syndrome
#1 – Recognize that your “inner critic” is pretty much a jackass and you have power to shut it up.
Imagine someone coming to you and says “My art sucks. I’m not an artist.”
You wouldn’t let that person get away with saying that about themselves. You would talk with them and try to help. Yet, when it comes to dealing with our own “inner critic,” we let that internal voice beat us up. It convinces us that we can’t do what we want or be who we want. For many of us, this voice stems from social conditioning from a very young age. We’ve taken criticism leveled at us from those who didn’t know better and internalized it.
This internalization become our identity – and the story we tell ourselves about ourselves: “I’m not creative. I’m not an artist. I can’t sing. I can’t draw.” This is really sad, but you have the power within yourself to tell the inner critic to “shut up.”
Talk to yourself as you would your friend. Ask yourself:
“Where is this message really coming from?”
“What can I do to prove this criticism wrong and simply create?”
The more you engage in conversation with the inner critic, the less power it will have. It’s really that simple. You will begin to have the upper hand, and will have more energy to create what you want from a deeper place within yourself not tainted by the critic.
#2 – Focus on the process of creating to combat your own sense of perfection
Release the tension around creating a perfect, finished product by focusing on the process of creating. The quest for a perfect product is exhausting. We burn out all our creative energies thinking that our work is not perfect. I say, reject the product and you will open yourself up to the playfulness and joyfulness that comes from simply creating. It’s okay to make messes, and have a closet full of bad art – if you are having FUN! Approach art making with wonderment. The more fun you have in the process, you will develop your unique, authentic creative voice.
Also, allow yourself to leave imprints of imperfection in your art.
I do it all the time – consciously and intentionally. I leave evidence of imperfect layers in my finished art projects in order to make a statement and remind myself that pure perfection is a myth – perfectionism doesn’t exist. We can aspire to it, but nothing is “perfect” in this world. Everything – including us as artists – are a work in progress.
#3 – Show your work as much as you are able and keep a journal of the positive feedback.
Since we can be our own worse critic, it helps us cut through Imposter Syndrome by simply sharing our work. Sure, if you show your work to others, chances are you will hear someone say something critical to you and of your work. It happen to me ALL the time. But for every negative comment, I receive feedback from those people who’s opinions really count.
It is a proven fact that criticism leveled at us is exponentially more powerful than positivity. It takes at least 5-7 positive comments to override one negative comment in our brain. That’s why it’s important to keep a journal of the good things people tell you about your art, your stories, your poems, your music in order to combat the negativity with positivity.
Read those positive comments often, and remind yourself that you ARE an artist (a writer, a poet, a musician). Override any negative criticism in your head with positive feedback. The more you show your work, ignore the inner critic, and pay attention to the positive feedback, the more you will break free from Imposter Syndrome. You will find your voice, and soon, be able to call yourself an “artist.”
What voices around you, both internal and external, hold you building your identity as an artist? What strategies do you find useful to you? Not useful?
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