TFW you have no idea what you're doing...

So, I’m behind on my blog posts, because life got, well, life-y, you know?  I’ve been working on new pieces, continuing to move, arrange, organize, rearrange, and reorganize my studio.  I opened a show, I taught a spring break art camp, I helped my boys clean out and organize all their stuff. My husband has been traveling a lot for work, and the aforementioned boys moved away last weekend.  So… yeah. Life. Everything is weird and changing, and amidst all that I’m working on moving my studio practice forward and trying to find my footing. What a great time to suddenly question EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER DONE AS AN ARTIST.  And on that note...

Let’s talk for a minute about imposter syndrome.  You know that feeling you have when you’re pretty sure that everything you do or make is really all bullshit, that it only LOOKS like you know know what you’re doing, but really you’re just kind of making it up as you go, and that pretty soon everyone is going to discover you’re a fraud?  Yeah… that feeling. Sigh…

I have come to believe that EVERY creative person I have ever met struggles with this, even the very successful ones.  Maybe especially the successful ones, because imposter syndrome basically tells you that you don’t deserve that success.  It came too easy, you just got lucky, you’re not as good as they think, because clearly you didn’t have to work hard enough.  And then, when there IS something you had to work hard at, you must not be very good at it because it didn’t come naturally or easily.  (See the contradiction here?)
    You may have heard this before, but I think hearing it from as many other creative people as possible is really valuable- WE ALL DO THIS TO OURSELVES. I think it’s part of the growth process.  It sucks, it’s hard to convince yourself that you’re good enough, and that you deserve a place at the table, but seriously, we all need to let it go. If you are creating, you are putting something out into the world that literally NO ONE else could possibly do.  You are the ultimate expert in your artistic endeavors- how could that not be the truth?!

Teaching classes and workshops for adults has really helped me combat imposter syndrome when it rears its ugly head. Not only has it helped me organize and define my process, it has made me aware that I absolutely DO know what I’m doing on a technical level.    When you are leading a group of people through a process that is brand new to them, being able to guide, advise, and answer questions makes you realize that you know more than you think you do.  Those first couple of classes also pushed me to look deeper into some technical aspects of encaustic painting, because if a student asks “why” and I don’t know, you better be sure I’m going to find out!

I’ve had to learn to accept a compliment, and that is a really difficult thing to do.  The imposter syndrome immediately wants to jump in and say, “Oh, well, that piece feels unresolved to me” or “I’m not sure about it”, or “I leaned too hard on green- I should branch out”.  That’s not helpful- not for you, and especially not for the person who just admired your (completely valid) work. Just say thanks, and move on. You made a thing that no one else has ever made- it’s ok to take the compliment!

Applying for shows and opportunity grants has helped. It’s not that I always get them- I had an awful lot of no’s in 2018- but I did get a few!  And I wouldn’t have if I’d listened to that inner demon telling me not to apply, that I wasn’t good enough, or that I wasn’t a “real” artist (what does that even mean?! Real? Seriously?). I think it’s harder for women.  Culturally, we have a tendency to not take as many risks, or we wait for what looks like a perfect fit before we try for something we want. What happens if we don’t get in the show that looked like a perfect fit? I feel like that can derail us.  Instead, apply for everything. Submit images to shows that you think you might not get into. Go for the long shot. Even if you don’t get it, you’re working. That makes you a working artist.

These things tend to help me push away the imposter thoughts, but there’s really no way that I’ve found to make them stay away.  It’s an ongoing battle for sure. But it helps me to know that I am not alone, and that everyone else is making it up as they go along, too.  And what we’re making up is a world that is a little better off than it was, because we put something new in it.