Last week I chatted about the very mixed experiences that artists often have when they attend juried shows, trade shows, or art conventions and see excellent work that can cause them to doubt their own efforts and abilities. What ought an artist to do in such situations? Here are four simple tactics for maintaining equilibrium when you attend events of this sort and find yourself surrounded by talented artists and their excellent works:
1. Focus on the positives, enjoy the camaraderie, allow yourself the luxury of not thinking about your usual chores, tasks, and responsibilities, and consider it a vacation with (and not from) your art-making by taking the opportunity to make some art in a new locale.
2. Remember that comparisons are unnecessary and unhelpful. A thought to think that might serve you is, “I don’t compare myself to others.” Have that be a rule of thumb. Museums and galleries are filled with excellent art and there’s no reason to turn that undeniable truth into self-criticism or self-denigration. Do your own work, intend to improve, and skip the comparisons.
3. Be smart and savvy when you get home and make sure to get right to your art. Because it’s easy for resistance to build up after such events, and because we’re also burdened by having to catch up on all the tasks that got left undone when we were away, very often we lose a week of working—and then a month—and then longer. Make sure to get right back to making art as soon as you get home or as soon after getting home as is humanly possible.
4. Maybe take a little personal inventory and see what you learned from your attendance. Did you perhaps discover that you’d like to make some subject matter changes, try your hand at a new technique, or even investigate a new medium? If so, then take coming home as the opportunity to do exactly that. Don’t just pine for some change; actually make it!
It would be a shame if you stopped attending such events and missed out on visiting with your tribe just because the negative emotions seemed a little too hard to handle. Your better bet: realize that such emotions may arise and that you have some tactics in place for handling them!
That is exceptionally reasonable advice. I have experienced the anxiety you described and it resulted in 2.5 years of lost time… all due to self-inflicted trauma. Thank you for articulating things so clearly.
Interesting, Eric. I, too, have a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. I have a masters degree in art therapy. My theoretical orientation is CBT, but I used art as therapy in my work.
I like your positive perspective. Rather than catastrophizing and giving up, artists should incorporate what they have learned from the experience, and keep on with their work.
Such wise advice. I grapple with this. Too often, I find myself becoming demoralized after viewing excellent work, whether at a convention, online or in print form. I realize how distant my talent and skills are from the level I desire, and knowing I will never reach such heights makes me sad. Left to fester, these thoughts can be lethal to ever making progress. It is helpful to understand and acknowledge that this is a common reaction among artists. Thank you!
Wonderful article. Very helpful advice. Thanks!