….A slippery slope to insecurity?
As artists, comparing our work with others is unavoidable. Comparison can be a useful exercise to help us improve our skills and techniques, but the outcomes of doing so all depend on our intentions …
I would class myself as pretty new artist, having only set up this little business a year ago. Throughout the process, comparison has been a constant struggle for me; a struggle that I am still trying to tackle.
When we compare with the intention of learning, we reap the rewards. However, more often than not, we compare with the intention of criticising and judging… usually ourselves, and not kindly. I often end up comparing my weaknesses with others strengths….which will never end well! Inevitably it causes a total crush of self-confidence and motivation; all self-inflicted of course!
Comparison and Achievement
Comparing ourselves with others begins the moment we discover our identity as a baby. We watch and learn to find our place in the world. At school, our achievements are neatly defined by tests and scores. We are taught the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers and grow up working within clear boundaries that help us to define where our strengths lie. Achievement is calculated clearly using a grading system and through this system we tend to be guided down a particular career path.
If you want to be a surgeon, accountant or architect, there are very specific steps to take which, if you pass the exams, will lead you to a qualification from which you can gain employment. The schooling system serves this kind of career very well.
Creative industries don’t work this way. The rules are thrown out of the window and the schooling system which taught us that A leads to B leads to C often doesn’t serve us. This can be when the first signs of self-doubt show up. Working hard and being accomplished at something doesn’t always equal success in the creative world; a hard pill to swallow that leads us on an endless search for answers.
Art Is Subjective…
…which ultimately means there are no right answers and no certain steps that will lead us to success. We all have wildly differing opinions of whether a song is catchy or annoying, whether a film is slow or gripping and whether a piece of art is impressive or rubbish! How do you even define success as an artist?
I have come to believe this is the underlying issue that leads so many creatives to struggle with confidence in their work. In an industry that is so wildly diverse and where opinion is everything, you can’t please everyone.
Social Media and Comparison
We now have the ability to compare, not only with the people in our small community, but with a world of thousands of artists at the ends of our fingertips.
On opening Instagram I am immediately faced with amazing artwork by artists far superior to me. Their thousands of adoring followers and millions of ‘likes’ can quickly dwarf my small collection of lovely supporters. Although I have always been very aware of this fickle and meaningless social media popularity contest, I doubt there are many that go totally unaffected by it.
‘What is the point in trying when there are people far more talented than me out there?’; A question the lovely self-doubting personality in my head likes to whisper. Now I am finding ways to shut that little blighter up! Spending too much time focusing on others can be incredibly detrimental to our own journey.
This type of comparison can exist at every skill level because we tend to compare ourselves to people we aspire to be like. Comparison must have context. If you are a new artist comparing your skills with an experienced artist who has honed their craft, then you aren’t being fair on yourself.
If we use comparison as a method to learn, we can never lose. Following tutorials and implementing others work ethics can be a powerful and useful tool. If we can reframe a negative thought (‘I could never draw that well’) into an inspirational one (‘I want to learn that technique’) the we are back on the right track.
Channeling our attention to improve our skills and focus on our own journey will help avoid those self-doubting feelings.
Treat Yourself Kindly
Feeling free to express is fundamental to a creative flow. If we silence our own creative voice with negative self-talk, our work will suffer. The beauty of art is what each individual brings to it and we must learn to celebrate our own style and trust our own journey. I have found that obsessing over where someone else’s path has led them simply steals time and energy away from my own mission. Mind set, in my opinion, is the key! It’s certainly not easy to just switch off the negative chatter, but it’s vital to practise positive, constructive thinking.
My conclusion; learn from everything and everyone. Accept and embrace your own path, use what you see working for others, and remember that everyone struggles a little. Be kind to yourself.