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…