How do you respond to setbacks or frustration with your work? For artists this question is especially important. Most artists work alone and must keep creating new work. This can create pressure especially when this involves personal expectations.
For example, which of these people remind you of someone?
Three Creative Personalities
Artist A: Submits her work to a juried exhibition. Unfortunately her work is not accepted. She reacts with anger before slumping into a depression.
Artist B: Has his work on exhibit. He has built up his expectations for recognition from the judges. Everyone says his work is awesome. His works do not receive and awards. He is furious and calls the system rigged.
Artist C: This artist does not show her work at all, because it is safer that way. If nobody can see her work then nobody can judge her. She avoids disappointment and safety is the best policy.
Sound familiar? We all know that these reactions are not helpful. Instead there are better ways. In this article I want to talk about ways we as artists can avoid these toxic situations.
Is Work and Reward the Same Thing?
I want to refer to a quote from the Bhagavad Gita. It states that you are not entitled to the fruits of your labours but only to the labour itself. This means that for artists it is the process of creating art from which you must take your joy and not the rewards.
The Logical Song
Remember The Logical Song by Supertramp? One of the best songs about finding meaning in life. What is really worthwhile? Is it our creative freedom or is it official recognition? If you are too young to know this song it is worth a listen.
I've come across many artists of all types trying to achieve external recognition. What are the odds of success for these artists? Let's say that there are 100 people entering a competition and there are only three prizes. Does this mean that ninety-seven people are not good artists? Of course this would be a ridiculous conclusion. Only three could get a prize and official recognition. Even if all entrants are masters the position remains the same
The ideal response is to move on and not internalise the disappointment. Yet some artists will not see it this way. The problem arises when these artists attach their ego to the outcome. They cannot control the outcome and this exposes them to pain. They do not empower themselves with these expectations.
These artists may argue that taking part in competitions and juried shows is taking positive steps to build their portfolio. The results will strengthen their portfolio and their professional reputation in the art world.
On the face of it this argument may seem logical and if you have this opportunity then why not take it? The difficulty arises when the artist attaches herself emotionally to the outcome. If the outcome is not to the artist's liking then what reaction is the artist going to have?
The Power Game
Artists who take a negative result personally are going to suffer for it. They may blame themselves and lose confidence. They may decide that they are not ready to put their work out there. Some may even give up. Instead of getting stronger from the experience it weakens them.
The artist is in fact disempowering herself. She gives control of her self-esteem and well-being to a third-party. Judges are people who have their own personal feelings and responses to somebody's work. In almost every instance there is no personal involvement. They are making a judgement based on their own reasons and not to attack an artist personally.
Freedom is a State of Mind
Getting feedback from a professional or someone you admire can be constructive and helpful. But taking part in an event is often impersonal. All you get is either a certificate or a ribbon or you get nothing. Then what is your reaction?
For the artist to remain empowered and in control of her well-being she has to disconnect herself from the end result. That attachment to recognition and reward is not the way to approach the creative process. The two things are completely different from each other.
Fear of the Unknown
The fearful artist who is too afraid to publish her work is also doing herself a disservice. She using an emotion that is not helping her develop. She has disempowered herself believing that the outcome is going to be terrible if she steps out of her immediate comfort zone. If you are fearful try these methods to stop fear killing your creativity.
Is this situation rare these days because of all the social media? People can share their work and put photos and blog posts and all that sort of thing. It now seems much easier to put your work out there. But as we know there comes a lot of pressure with social media as well.
The fearful artist sees fantastic art from other people. This artist believes that her work is not good enough compared to others. She cannot compete with everybody else's perfect Instagram feed or Facebook feed. But why the need to compete at all?
Know When to Move One
If you do not achieve any official recognition then accept that too and move on. Take comfort in the knowledge that by persisting to work on your process and improve your work, over time, you will improve. You will become so good that they may ignore you sometimes, but they will not be able to ignore you every time. Persistence is the secret to success. Like the river that wears down the mountain and creates the Grand Canyon. Persistence for every artist will achieve rewards at some time or other.
How to Find Long Term Happiness
The artist who enjoys and loves the process of creating art is going to have a long and happy career. Taking pleasure in the daily process. Whether it's actually creating something or planning your creative path. The artist in this situation is going to find happiness no matter what career stage they find themselves in.
It is all part of a long-term creative life that has rewards and setbacks from time to time. Nobody is going to remember that you did not get best in show ten years ago. They going to look at your entire career. They will celebrate the fact that you have been an artist creating wonderful work for many years.
To Yourself be True
It is also important to remember that as a creative person you need peace of mind in which to create effectively and honestly. If you chase after awards and accolades are you going to be true to yourself? For example are you tempted to copy what is the trend at the moment? Are you constantly looking at what is trending to get an edge? Will following a trend generate sales or get you more recognition from third parties?
If this is the case are you being honest to your own creative self? What happens when the trend comes to an end? In this situation you're always going to be playing catch up. Never establishing your own True Voice and your own unique art form.
Create good work and raise your own game not someone else's by copying them.
What is Success?
Occasionally you need to take a moment and ask yourself what success looks like for you now? For some it might be the amount of certificates and ribbons on their gallery wall. For others it may be the number of sales of their art and the amount of money they have earned from these sales. Is this another form of rat race?
Of course an artist needs to make a living like anyone else and I'm not suggesting that earning an income is wrong. Earning an income is different from attachment to rewards from other people. An artist has some control over earning an income.
You can try and improve your work and improve your marketing. Reach out to potential collectors, galleries and through other avenues open to you. But when you want recognition in the form of praise or awards you are opening yourself up to trouble. Because now you are disempowering yourself and empowering others. You cannot control the outcome.
If the results do not go your way you can remain empowered by controlling your reaction. In fact it is not a negative result it is simply a result. It is what it is. It is neither positive nor negative and it is not a reflection on you as a person and as an artist. So control your reaction. Then you are able to respond graciously in a way that is true to your calling.
To react with anger or disappointment is to also lose your creative energy. You will feel weaker as your focus is no longer on the process of creating art. Finding excuses, anger or recriminations are exhausting.
None of these emotions or activities are going to fill you with positive and creative energy. You are now working against yourself. So the answer is to release yourself from these responses that do not help you and instead learn, adapt and know yourself.
This is the way to long lasting happiness and creative Joy.
Let me know what you think about this.