Updated: Oct 1, 2019
Do you ever find yourself scrolling down your Instagram feed and suddenly you come across a painting or drawing that floors you because it's just sooo gorgeous. It's all you ever hoped to capture in your work, but there it is, created by someone else, not you.
And then it begins, the creeping feeling of envy, the semi-conscious comparing of your art to this art, and before you know it you feel like you just got off a roller coaster you knew your stomach wasn't ready for.
It's probably the most insidious aspects of social media. First you are having a good time, and all of a sudden you are miserable:
@superproductiveartist has the perfectly curated studio space... and you don't.
@Ihaveamillionfollowers seems to be selling art ever day... and you don't.
@perfectlyskilledartist posts flawless painting after flawless painting... and you don't
You feel defeated and hung over for the rest of the day.
Even though I don't want to admit it (just how I don't want to admit that I was a Bon Jovi fan when I was 11... I was young and didn't know any better), that's me way too often.
When that happens I wish I had an instant pop-up in my brain telling me the following:
"What you see as you weakness and shortcomings are your potential main source of strength and individual style."
Now, wait wait wait, let me be very clear that I don't mean to say that this is your, or my, Get Out Of Jail Free card. No, it doesn't mean that we can stop working at improving our skills. No, it doesn't mean that because you don't have the perfect studio space that you can stop creating art. And no, it definitely doesn't mean that we can use the excuse "Well that's just my style" for when a mentor or respected peer points out a flaw in our work (and that better have been a solicited piece of feedback, because nobody likes those schmucks critiquing our work when it's clearly still in the "ugly" phase).
Here is what I do mean by it. In their book "A beautiful Constraint" Marc Barden and Adam Morgan point to the groundbreaking inventions and forward developments that have been created by companies, engineers, designers, teachers and others, not regardless of stifling constraints, but because of them. Dr Seuss, for example, was given the assignment to write a children's book bestseller while only using words from a 250 word list. After being completely frustrated by the limitations he eventually just picked the first two rhyming words from the list, and out came "The Cat in the Hat". Imagine if he'd have said "I can't do It , I need the words that @longforgottenauthorfrommytime is using". It would've meant no cat, no hat, and fewer children in love with reading.
Let's apply this to us artists, shall we. If, like me, your constraint is "I have very little time which doesn't allow me to sit in my nicely set up oil painting studio to happily paint away for 6 hours at a time" then our job becomes to figure out a format and space that will allow us to create something regularly. Small scale Watercolor or Gouache paintings in a portable sketchbook, or simple pencil drawings. Maybe it's not what we ultimately love to do, but it will undoubtedly bring a new direction, new insight and skill to our usual practice of same old same old. And when there is a season in our life where we can have the blessed 6 hours of uninterrupted time again, then we'll be ready, primed and full of new insights.
If you are in the beginning phase of studying art, your constraint may be something like this: A)"I'm just so heavy handed with my pencils. Everyone else in class has delicate lines and I just can't seem to lighten up"
B)"No matter what I do all my drawing turn out to be super faint. I like how my friend's art has lots of dark accents but mine is so light."
If one of these is you here is what I want you to do: Notice your tendency and embrace it!
Give it a nice squeeze. The kind that your favorite grandma or aunt would give you when you were sad because everyone else had sparkly shoes and you didn't. Now find some artists whose art you love and would describe as either A) full of energy and gusto, or B) as deliciously delicate and poignant. Your "limitation" could become your gateway to future pieces of art that are in line with these artists you admire so much. And yeah, I know, the grass is always sparklier on the other side, and we want to be that which we aren't.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't aspire to grow. I just don't want you to demonize an inherent tendency of yours. Being heavy-handed means you can capitalize on it and give your art boldness. Being timid means you'll have the subtlety for a potential piece of visual poetry. So instead of seeing it as something to overcome see it as something to befriend. Not so you can stay the same but so you can grow without feeling like there is something wrong with you.
And the next time when you feel the comparison nausea creeping in maybe you'll be able to hear me whispering: "You are just right! Keep going!"
Like this post? Feel free to share it with a friend who would appreciate the reminder, too :)