Overcome Self-Doubt to Make Artistic Decisions
We can be taught craft and technique. What is less talked about is the artistic decisions we have to make and how to learn to trust ourselves enough to make them about our work.
What do we need within ourselves to make sound artistic judgments about how we create and shape our work? Where do we learn to trust our own opinion more than anyone else’s as we assume the role of “artist”?
Let’s start at the beginning.
Own Your Role as Artist
What is an artist? One who brings forth into existence something for the first time. As such, we are responsible for what it is we bring forth and because we are the First Trustee of that work, we are ultimately the only one who can decide what form the work will take. Until you assume and own your role as “artist” in whatever media and format you work in, you will not have the foundation within to make the decisions you need to make.
When do you stop being a student of art or an amateur and claim your role as artist? Some people feel that they must sell their work before they can claim that role. I disagree. Commerce equates a certain level of professionalism perhaps, but more so, it just backs up the artist’s decision to get serious about being an artist. Money does not make you an artist. It makes you a paid artist. But you most likely won’t offer your art for sale until you fully claim your role as artist. So if you are waiting for someone to buy your work or discover you, you’re waiting for the wrong thing. You have to claim the role first, then you’ll make your art available for commerce.
You own the role of artist usually when you are actively producing work, when you find that creating art is when you feel most alive and when you can’t imagine your life without it. It becomes an identity that feels natural and right within, because it simply is who you are.
So, the first step to being able to make artistic decisions is to fully own your role as an artist/creator/conduit.
Now that you know who you are, what’s next?
Own the Necessity to Be Different
Artists who are just starting out on their journey often begin by emulating an artist they admire. There’s also pressure from industry to conform and create “what sells”. Yet, the truest work and the work that resonates most deeply with audiences is work that is lit by the artist’s spark. Work that is fresh, authentic, pure and different.
Studying those who have crafted work we admire is a natural learning path. But it should only be used to learn craft and technique. Not voice, not subject matter, not style. The world needs something that only we can give. It needs us to birth what has never been brought forth before. It needs our particular insight, our care, our nurturing, our vision. And it needs us to be strong enough to stand up and believe in ourselves.
The industry – which is commerce – wants what sells because it reduces risk. What delights the industry though is when an artist answers to his or her own vision and offers something that has never been seen before.
Do Not Base Your Artistic Decisions Solely on What the Industry Says they Want
Every art industry has established formulae and protocol that do a couple of things: 1) define professional standards and 2) make it easier to repeat the process.
What artists are called to do is be mindful of that and then forget it. Artists can get too caught up in the desires of the industry, in worrying about the details of format, in making sure that their work “fits in” – that we forget that by definition we are supposed to be bringing forth something new and emergent.
If we all bring forth work that cautiously fits current form, how will we evolve art?
There is, of course, a fine line to walk. To reach an audience today, we typically have to engage with the industries who have the power and resources to present our work. We have to meet professional standards. We can do this and still be original. We can conform to format and tell original stories. But we can also be bold enough and willing to risk bringing forth something entirely original. This is innovation.
We expect and require innovation in technology, medicine, manufacturing – we need it just as desperately in art.
So, while we have to know what the industry wants and expects, we also have to know that they need us to be innovative and original. We need to know what part of our art – such as the formatting of a script – needs to be honored because dozens of other creative professionals will use it to do their work – and what parts to make fresh.
Be Willing to Listen to Your Intuition
Artists are by nature perceptive, intuitive and to some degree psychic. We deal with realms that other people are not receptive to. Characters that exist in totality, visions, feeling color as emotion, sensing a form within a block of solid material, we connect to a realm that is real and quite often channels itself through us. We are conduits between the seen and unseen and chosen to relate to and with each world.
Which is why, in the end, we alone can make the necessary decisions about the shape and structure of our work. We alone know the Story, the Characters, the Image, the Form. Because we alone are the ones the work has chosen to communicate itself through.
Emergent artists often doubt themselves because they’re still learning craft and technique. Don’t confuse questions about technique with questions about the art itself. What’s the difference? Other artists can teach you craft, give insight on technique – but no one can teach you the art. It comes to you from the art realm. To receive insight on a particular work, you have to listen to your intuition and the guidance from the work itself. No one can hear that but you.
Be Careful with Feedback
Asking for feedback may or may not be beneficial. What we should ask ourselves before we ask for feedback is: what are we really looking for?
Do we want professional insight on craft and technique? Or are we looking for someone to validate us? Do we want to gauge how our work is resonating with a sample audience? Or are we feeling insecure? Do we want ideas for how to improve a particular element of our work? Or do we want someone to tell us that we’re doing a good job? What is the purpose of the feedback?
We’re all sensitive and prone to insecurity because we deal with what hasn’t been brought forth before. We are continually creating something new. And it’s so easy to doubt ourselves. So easy to want someone else to assume the responsibility of determining if we are bringing forth the work as it is meant to be done. We need to remember that we can’t allow ourselves to pass off our responsibility as the Artist to others’ feedback.
We can get beneficial feedback on technique, format, craft – but it will be limited to what has been done before. If we have a truly emergent work – one that creates a new category – then there is little feedback that can be useful – except for the preliminary reactions people have to it. But even then, is that beneficial? And to what?
Which leads me to ask: what is the purpose of art?
Is it to please audiences, agents and industries or is it to simply bring forth the work?
Does it ultimately matter what others think or is it enough just to be the conduit, to channel the work, to birth it into the world and have it exist.
Why does art want to flow into our world? What is its reason for being? Every artist has a different perception. We each need to find an answer that resonates.
Trust Your Judgment
It’s not easy to live up to our responsibility as the First Trustee of our work. It’s a lot of responsibility. And we’re all prone to doubting ourselves, to feeling we’re not good enough, to questioning our ability to do it well enough. No matter how long you’ve been an artist or how much prior “success” you’ve had. Each new work is a new work. And it comes as a whole new experience.
It helps to remember that if we were not meant to bring forth a particular work, it wouldn’t have chosen us. The work has faith in us. Of all the artists in the world it could have chosen to express itself through, it chose us. That means that we must have the ability to give it what it needs, to have the exact perception it needs us to have to give it its place in the world. And no one can reverse its decision. When you’re chosen, you’re chosen.
It takes a leap of faith and saying no to fear to make the final decisions on a work of art. If you’ve listened to the work, made decisions that resonated with what you feel to be true to the work, blocked out voices that do not have the best interests of the work or you in mind, and sense that you’ve given it everything you can to survive on its own – you’ll feel more comfortable deciding it’s done. But you may never feel absolutely certain.
Creating art is a process and one that evolves as we evolve – which means we could literally continue to improve and change a work over time as we change. All art has the potential to never be done. Be aware that this tendency exists.
Art is always at risk of us not having the courage to own our role as artist and make the decisions it needs us to make.
There are far too many unfinished and nearly finished works of art languishing in our world.
Let’s not let our work be one of them.