Yesterday I asked a small question but it got a big answer. It kind of took me by surprise. I was standing in the middle of a hum of 20 people busily making art in the Art2life Workshop at Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma, CA.
I asked a question. I just kind of threw it out there… “Who in the room during this workshop so far, has wondered if they are good enough to make their art?
Before I even finished the question, there was a collective sigh and every single person in the workshop raised their hands.
It is bewildering to me that this kind deep uncertainty follows art making around. I sometimes feel this way too. It doesn’t seem to matter your level of art experience either.
Why? And more importantly how do we get rid of this feeling?
I am not sure why. I just know that this problem never seems to go away. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we are making art. And art pulls at you, relies upon parts of you that are more vulnerable, more unknown, more delicate. Since we are always inventing, creating something we haven’t before we just never can feel entirely sure about what we are doing.
I wonder if dentists wake up in the middle of the night and get this sinking feeling too?
So maybe it just comes with the territory. I have never been able to entirely put it to rest.
I have, however, had some success in mitigating or minimizing these thoughts that can so easily undermine our self-confidence… We have two kinds of thinking around our art making. When something good happens, maybe we receive an award, or someone buys several paintings or we just fall in love with what we have created, we feel more confident. We feel happier. Generally, we like these kinds of thoughts. I do. We always want more of these.
And then there are the negative kinds of thoughts. Maybe no one buys anything at a show. Maybe you spend the first day in a workshop surrounded by people who all seem to be making art that is better than yours. Maybe you just don’t like at all what you have made at the end of the day. Your art sucks. We generally want less of these.
So both responses, both reactions to what we perceive, need to be looked at together, instead of separately. The problem as I see it is that we are selectively choosing the good ones over the bad ones, grasping for more of the good ones and trying really hard to keep the bad ones at bay. Even though, for most of us, they manage to creep in. They come no matter what we do. They seem to come together.
So what I decided to do was to not bother too much with either of them. In other words putting too much focus on either the good or the bad is just one big distraction. I notice if I overly focus on some uber positive thing that just occurred in my career, in no short time some equally crappy thing comes along to knock me back down to earth. The ups seem to match the downs. And it gets tiring.
Instead, the workaround for me has been to shift where I put my attention. I like to put it on the one totally solid piece of terra firma I have.
My art practice. How I feel when I am in the process of making art.
I can always make my art. I can control this. The practice, the moment-to- moment learning, surprise and wonder of it are always patiently waiting for me when I begin.
By emphasizing the present experience of making art, and not picking up either the good or the apparently bad ones swirling around your past or future art life, it becomes possible to even things out. And then slowly but surely, the curiosity, the wonder and even the joy begin to return. These are consistent and sustaining, but they only reside in one place… the experience, the moment-to- moment experience, of making your art.
How do you manage feelings of uncertainty in making your art?