There’s always someone better than you…. artistically speaking.
I’m going to admit something I don’t often out loud… I want to be the best, and it bothers me when I’m not. Now before you totally judge me, know that it’s not based on some weird ego thing where I want to look down at others and feel superior. I just want to be really really good at whatever art I’m creating at the time. Knowing you’re not “the best” is humbling and can motivate you to keep trying to get better. In my experience, there are 2 types of people when it comes to this. Those who see room for improvement in their skill and use that to motivate themselves to get better and those that see that as a shortcoming and instead give up because they feel the level they want to reach is impossible. I like to think I’m the first person, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes feel like the second.
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, and I’m not sure when things changed from it just being pure enjoyment to wanting to achieve a goal of being really good at it. I want to say it was probably in elementary school when they start giving you awards for things and people start telling you that you’re “really good” at something. It oddly starts to become part of your self-esteem somehow. At times I felt like I wore my “talent” as armor. When I felt like I was just the kid who had a crazy long last name that no one could pronounce or didn’t have the coolest clothes or wasn’t good at anything to do with running in gym class….at least I knew I was good at drawing, and I felt like everyone else thought so too… so at least I had that. It was my way of getting attention when I felt like maybe the rest of me wasn’t good enough to get that attention otherwise. Having a “talent” can be your friend in dark times, but it starts to become less so when you start turning it into a measurement of your worth. Using something that once made you feel good as a way to start saying to yourself once again that you aren’t good enough, is a dangerous path to tread.
Social media and the internet in general, has afforded us the great ability to have massive exposure to so many artists and their work. While generally I use this to inspire me, at times I find myself feeling inadequate and lacking in my skill. When I find myself going into that toxic headspace I do a few things to set myself back on the right course:
- Take a Social Media Break
This sounds like an obvious one maybe but it’s an important one. Social Media can appear at times to be a highlight reel of people’s lives and work. Most artists don’t post the work that looks awful or the hundreds or thousands of portraits they spend years perfecting with weird proportions or bad shading.
- Every Artist was once an Amateur
This is probably one of my art favorite quotes of all time and I think of it often when I start feeling like my work isn’t at the level I want it to be at. The saying that it takes 10,000 hours to master something is not an overstatement. Yes, some people have a knack for getting to a certain level quicker than others but don’t kid yourself they still put in the work. A guy I went to college with filled something like thirteen 8.5×11” sketchbooks front and back pages in our 4 years together in college and I think I maybe filled one in that same time. He was a phenomenal drawer and artist and is now more so. He put in the time. (He probably still puts in the time, cause he’s crazy like that.) As good as he was even then though, I remember him telling me once that he wasn’t good at drawing women. I’ll admit they did have a certain mannish charm to them, but he’s since overcome that…obviously…with practice.
- Take the time to see how far you have come
Sometimes we can lose sight of how far we have progressed over the years. Look at something you did 4 or 5 years ago and honestly look at how much you have improved. If you have been making a consistent effort to improve your skills you will definitely see the difference. Sometimes it happens at a slow pace but it will still happen. By virtue of doing something repetitively you eventually do get better at it.
- Realize that no one is judging you
You are always your harshest critic, and despite what anyone tells you there are no Art Gods out there judging you on your lack of being able to draw hands correctly. If that were the case many of us would be sent to whatever hell exists for artists.(Something that includes a pencil lead that continually breaks I’m sure.)
- You may never be as good as some of the artists you admire and that’s OK
So what if you never paint as well as Leonardo DaVinci….some people will never sing as well as Beyonce either, but that doesn’t mean they have failed at life and it doesn’t mean they suck either. There are plenty of singers out there that aren’t what the majority of people may agree are “the best of all time” but their unique talent or sound makes them great in their own way. For that matter, some people don’t even like Beyonce’s singing. (Please don’t send the Beygency after me for typing that!) This can be the same for art in a lot of ways. Use those who’s talents you admire to inspire you and push you forward. Set a goal for YOU not because you are trying to be like someone else.
The thing to remember at the end of the day is that art is supposed to fun. It’s an expression of yourself and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful things humanity is capable of. Be patient and kind to yourself. Being “the best” is subjective anyway and a standard you create in your head. I would also like to add that if you put a bunch of people in a room with a bunch of different paintings by different artists they won’t all pick the same one as their favorite. That alone should tell you that “best” isn’t definitive when it comes to art, its opinion based. Just because you didn’t win in a competition doesn’t mean your work wasn’t good. It just means the person who was judging the competition liked something about the other person’s work more. Again, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOUR WORK WASN’T GOOD.
We all have moments of weakness where our heads go to bad places, just don’t get lost there. Nothing productive ever came from feeling bad about yourself or your artwork. The fact that you are even trying is something to be celebrated, who cares if you don’t win awards. They’re great sure, but it shouldn’t be your driving force for creating art in the first place. All you are setting yourself up for in the end is to tell yourself you aren’t good enough if you don’t win or if you do win, and then don’t continue to every time. Whatever you are doing right now IS good enough. Keep pushing, keep improving and one day you may get where you want to be. Even if you don’t though, it’s still ok.