I thought that I’d chat for a few columns about the subject of confidence. You may feel quite confident in some areas of your life—and then find yourself much weaker than you would like when you get to the canvas or when you need to talk to a gallery owner. A reasonable amount of general confidence isn’t enough for an artist if you want to succeed—you need more than general confidence, you need confidence as an artist.
What happens if you aren’t really confident as an artist? You may start relying on your first ideas and not go deep; you may flee the encounter completely; you may think small rather than large; you may give up at the first hint of trouble (which will come sooner rather than later); you may avoid the marketplace; and so on. Simply by not feeling confident enough in your abilities as an artist and in your abilities as a salesperson you may do you and your career a great deal of harm.
What should you be confident about? Not that a given project will succeed – you don’t really want to attach to outcomes. Not that somehow you can avoid missteps, mistakes and messes – nobody can avoid any of that and that isn’t how the process works. What I would like you to be confident about and have no doubts about is that you are a legitimate human being with the right to be and the power to create. If you can find the way to feel confident about your legitimacy and your powerfulness you will work better and sell better.
You may not actually feel very confident as you paint, as you advocate for your work, or as you present it to prospective buyers. But even if you aren’t feeling confident, you should keep confidence in mind as a goal and an aspiration. Aim for confidence, just as you aim for excellence in the work itself. It is that aura of confidence that propels one person past another in the marketplace. When someone is confident in his approach, you listen; when he hems and haws and shifts his feet, you look for the exit. When you portray yourself as not really counting and not really mattering, you’re likely to be dismissed out of hand.
If it’s become your habit to apologize for your work, to hide from potential buyers, to avoid marketplace interactions, to dismiss yourself as soon as you can (as if beating others to the punch), then these are bad habits that you will want to alter. To alter a habit means to work on it for months and for years, not to work on it for just a few minutes. It is unlikely that, for example, you can change from not taking opportunities offered to you to suddenly taking them just by snapping your fingers: you need to be on a lifelong strengthening program, a self-coaching regimen where each day you remind yourself that you intend to manifest your strength and your confidence.
Remember: it is one thing to be quiet; it is another thing to be meek. It is one thing to be modest; it is another thing to be self-disparaging. It is one thing to be principled; it is another thing to live by the principle that everybody else comes first. You want to step out of the shadows and risk standing up for your work and for your future. Maybe you doubt your work: either stop doubting it or create work that you doubt less. Maybe you doubt yourself: stop doubting yourself and, over time, create a version of yourself that you have no reason to doubt.
Present yourself with strength. If this does not come naturally to you, practice. Practice in your mind, in the mirror, or with an art buddy. Practice saying, “I love my new work.” Practice saying, “If your gallery has an opening for one new artist, it should be me, and here’s why.” Practice saying, “I know that you collect contemporary surrealists and I’m pushing the surrealism envelope, so you must visit my studio!” Practice saying, “Let me describe the nine ways in which I will be an asset to your gallery.” Practice saying, “I am doing excellent work and you should really take a look.”
It is not just what you say—it is how you survey the world, how you think, and what you do. You are either looking for opportunities to show or you aren’t. You are either mulling over new marketing ideas or you aren’t. You are either thinking about your next sales opportunities or you aren’t. You are either calculating what might work in the marketplace or you aren’t. You are either a player in the game or a spectator in the stands. You are either fantasizing about what might transpire or you are taking action.
All of this translates into a way of presenting yourself that is professional, savvy, energetic, proactive, eager, and decisive. Your intentions are clear: you intend to succeed. Your handshake is firm: you have people to interest and customers to acquire. Your first thoughts aren’t “What should I say?” and “Where’s the exit?” You know what to say and you know where you mean to be: right here, right now, representing yourself in the strongest light possible.
Even if you don’t actually feel confident, try to act confident. You may find yourself growing into that role and that persona! More to come next time.
Eric Maisel is the author of 50+ books. You can learn more about him at www.ericmaisel.com, subscribe to all of his blog posts at https://authory.com/ericmaisel, and write him at firstname.lastname@example.org