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The Confidence Trick

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

Are you a "con-artist"? I don't mean as in some kind of trickster who is able to fleece people out of their hard earned savings. I mean as an artist, are you confident? I can almost hear you chorusing collectively "Hell, no!"

It seems that one thing we have in collective common as artists is that we are periodically plagued with self-doubt and lack of confidence in our abilities. Or in our ability to spruke our wares. Not all of us, of course, but the vast majority, because part of what makes us artists is our sensitive nature, our complexity and our imagination. Artists can potentially catastrophise like no one else, dreaming up negative outcomes that prevent us from taking risks and giving things a go. (Remember the character Meryl in the movie Look Both Ways?) Which is why, apparently, artists often seem to self-destruct.

This makes it all a bit difficult because, art, as you no doubt are aware, requires courage, if not confidence. Putting your work out there, as I have often said, is like stapling yourself naked onto an exhibition wall. You are putting a personal statement, a version of your inner child out there for everyone else to criticise, reject or pass over. Confidence helps us to withstand all of that, to weather the times when we don't seem to make the connections with our work that we want to. So a bout of low confidence can easily become a bit of a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

Lately, a combination of age, chronic illness and numerous other things have meant that my confidence has taken a hammering. It makes motivation difficult and procrastination easy. There are no shortage of online experts who will show you the "secret" to selling art or becoming insta-famous or whatever, usually with a pretty high price tag attached. No doubt, some of those people have some valid and useful ideas, but they all come at a price - one I certainly can't afford. So, what do we do, when confidence seems to be a rare commodity? How do we get back into the flow?

As a teacher, working with artists of all shapes and sizes, I often talk to artists about this issue, even when they haven't identified or been able to articulate it. And yes, I need to follow my own advice to get over my current malaise. So, ready? Here is my recipe for confidence building. At this point, I just need to say that some of the ideas are a direct steal from Julia Cameron's Artist's Way, so I highly recommend getting your hands on it if you can. Other than that, here are my suggestions to develop your confidence:

  1. Find what Cameron calls a "believing mirror" - someone who will reflect back to you what you need to hear regarding your work; someone who will encourage you, help with your motivation and keep you accountable. Our solo time is important and integral to our work but we also need someone to cheer us on.

  2. Your art will resonate with someone. It can feel like that is only you sometimes, but even that is a good enough reason to keep doing it. People who love your work are out there, and if you never show it to them, they will never benefit from it.

  3. Art does not have to be technically brilliant to touch people. Make sure that you are worrying more about what your art work says, than how good it is in a technical sense. Often work that evokes mood, emotion and resonance is more desirable than something that is photorealistically correct.

  4. Selling work, although highly desirable, is not the measure of whether your work is any good or not. And it is important to remember that the success of other artists doesn't mean that there is less success available for you.

We need art in our society. Without it, we are all lessened. Consequently, we need artists. So when (probably not if) you encounter a lack of confidence, do your best to work through it, and keep on making your special art that only you can make.

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