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Accepting Yourself as an Artist: My Review of Art & Fear

Accepting where you are in your art journey can be frustrating.

As artists, we always want to be further ahead and more accomplished, full of amazing vision or master of better technique. Yet despite our hard work and efforts, it is sometimes easy to feel we are never as good as we could be.

I have often been self-critical and dissatisfied with my work. I have even tried hiding bad paintings behind cupboards to avoid seeing the evidence of “amateurish” work. Why does this happen to most of us at some time or another?

art-and-fearIf you’ve ever doubted what your art is about or where it’s going, then I highly recommend getting Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Art & Fear explores why artmaking is fraught with self-doubt and uncertainty, and why artists can become so self-critical.

According to the authors, this over-critical mindset is based on the false assumption that great art is the sole province of only the gifted or talented, a magical gift bestowed by the gods on the chosen few. It’s a mistaken belief that “great art is a product of genius, good art a product of near genius.”

. . .and the rest of us are doing paint-by-number. You either you have “it” or you don’t.

Bayles & Orland disagree.

They make the argument that despite the few truly gifted folks in the world, most art is made by ordinary people creating their own art very day. They state that becoming an artist means learning to accept yourself and following your own voice, thereby making your work personal and distinctive.

We are not gods, nor are we perfect artists. But those very human flaws can actually serve as a source of strength in our artmaking.

Rather than self-criticism, try to step back and say, “I really like what I just did, because it taught me something new and I’m moving forward.” This can be hard to do, especially for those artists who are constantly outwardly focused, wondering “will other people like what I’m doing?” instead of “do I like what I’m doing?”

Sometimes it’s good to stop painting for others, and instead, think about what you are painting and why.

Art, like many things in life, is a skill that can be learned through daily practice and dedication, much like musicians play scales, or dancers work on balance and posture. Bayles and Orland tell us that “our job is to learn to work on our work” and that “to make art is to sing with the human voice. To do this you must first learn that the only voice you need is the voice you already have.” What a beautiful thought!

So the next time you’re heading towards the wood stove with one of your paintings, take a moment to study what that ugly brushstrokes taught you, how the bad composition made the whole painting awkward, and why your values were all wrong. You were singing what you knew at the time, even if you would sing it differently now.

Keep painting, and learn to love your own voice! You are an artist. Never forget it.

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

Art impacts us all as individuals, but it can also reach into a community to impact the masses. This is the goal of Chicago Kids Create, a program initiated by Chicago public school parent Catherine Marchese and artist Jeff Semmerling.

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