Self doubt and the room next door…

I heard a great quote on the radio the other day. An artist was explaining how they dealt with self-doubt: ‘I look at complete confidence as the consolation prize of the less able, while self doubt is the essential partner to talent’. This had me feeling instantly more cheerful, convinced as I am that in the urbane studio next door there are real artists who know what they’re about, while I simply muddle through.

It’s almost impossible to judge where you stand as an artist. Do you choose to measure yourself according to finance, audience approval, gallery wall space, job offers, rejections, social media, student bookings, personal fulfilment or some other criteria? And even if I could pick a gauge and go through the unpleasant task of rating myself, would that stop the nagging voice telling me that those in that other room (a room incidentally I picture as a sort of eighteenth century art salon designed by Tom Ford) have a grip where I don’t?

About a year or so I did some thinking and came to realise that I had it wrong. It’s the self-doubt that’s the important measure of how I am doing, not the other stuff I mentioned. Without that unsettling yardstick of insecurity, I’d fear I was getting comfortable and had stopped being honest; that I’d found an adequate visual vocabulary and was sticking with it, instead of taking the the risk of hunting out new and better ways of saying precisely what I wanted for each new print.

So I accept the discomfort of self-doubt as a good sign that I’m doing my job properly and not slumping into easy ways. It doesn’t make the sensation any more comfortable to feel, but it’s at least familiar and it does keep me rigorous. Sadly, it also means I’m forever denied access to the elusive Tom Ford salon for the grown ups of art, but maybe that’s a good thing too – I haven’t got a thing to wear…

Little Things

A while ago I wrote about ten universal truths applicable to artists. Here are ten more that could probably ring bells with most working artists and makers.

The other person in the queue at Ikea with 100 glass tea light holders will be wondering how they’ll look at her wedding. You’ll be wondering how your students managed to smash their way through your previous stock of paint pots.

You’ll look at ‘working wardrobe’ suggestions with amused fascination, most designers coming up short on places to loop oily rags and nitrile gloves, or indeed garments with the necessary padding for a winter studio.

Within moments of your new supplies arriving, you will have opened the tin/tube/box and sniffed. Probably you’ll need to dip your fingers in too and then find there’s nowhere to smear them clean near your front door.

You’ll find it possible to sit through almost any film if the colours are pleasing, whether they are in the landscape or on the corpse.

Whatever way you organise your storage, the paper you need will always have migrated to the middle.

In a strange and unfamiliar city, the public art gallery will offer you the same rights to sanctuary as did the medieval church.

The assistant in the DIY shop will not thank you for saying that you quite like that green for your kitchen, but has he anything with a touch more ochre and maybe a little vermillion to knock it back a bit?

You’ll clean yourself up for a party and, just as you pick up your car keys, you’ll spot something in your work that needs correcting. It won’t take a moment, but all the effort of scrubbing your nails will have been in vain.

It is perfectly reasonable, when you accept that a huge proportion of your mind is given up to solving creative problems, that you will have no room left for minor issues like mathematics, buying a tax disc or keeping track of time. Be like Sherlock Holmes and embrace your specialism.

Ordinary people will question how you have the patience spend so long making your art. You’ll question how long you’ll have to be patient before they go and you can get back to making your art.