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…

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6 Responses to Self doubt and the room next door…

  1. Davida Macdonald says:

    Oh my, how this resonates. My art school days taught the value of self- criticism as an essential tool in the making of real progress. Sometimes it is a hard thing to do but invaluable if one is to avoid mediocrity.

  2. Anne Lange says:

    So wonderful,what you have written! So much what I needed to hear. I am happy I met you on a holiday in england, at missenden abbey. you talked about your first trip to Japan.

  3. Paula says:

    You’ve put your finger on something here and perhaps it’s universal. As a medical herbalist I have the same critical voice – look at all those ‘proper/successful’ herbalists running herb walks, doing radio shows, selling lovely handcreams and contributing to books, tv and research… whilst I quietly meet with my own community and try to help them make their lives better. And I have to remind myself that my self-doubt keeps my practice safe, caring, humble and efficacious.

    Any, by the way, your art is AMAZING! It was a pleasure to meet you in Ulverston yesterday and I have been dreaming of your Cheddar Gorgeousness ever since 🙂

  4. Mari Elin says:

    I stumbled across this post while looking for nori rice paste, which I only decided I needed last night where, in a moment (well, a few weeks really) of utter self-doubt and lack of confidence, I decided to try something new.

    Anyway, I’m glad it led me to this post as it absolutely 100% the exact words I needed to read this morning.

    Diolch 🙂

  5. Ashley says:

    An excellent post, well written too! I have suffered from self-doubt all my life, even now that I’m into my 60’s. I think what I must have missed out on when growing up was that sense of humour you also show here. When you wrote at the end that you had nothing to wear, I laughed out loud, something I’m ashamed to say I haven’t done in a long time. What had come to mind was the fairy tale, the Emperor’s New Clothes!

    • Ashley says:

      When I mentioned the Emperor’s New Clothes, I should have added that I was thinking about all those so wanabe emperor’s in the studio next door!

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