"I suck at art" : Self doubt and re-writing the narrative

My self-doubt has two favorite times of the day. The first is when I face a blank sheet of paper. Seeing the potential, she spreads herself out all over the paper, covering it completely and leaving no room for me to work. The second is when I lay down to sleep. But at this hour, she leaves her humble chrysalis and metastasizes into something truly impressive, a volcanic eruption of hurried thoughts followed by a strong wind, picking up all the bits of ash and swirling them higher and higher until my throat starts to feel tight.

Her primary goal does not sound particularly noxious. Above all, she exists to ask questions. Sounds harmless enough. She asks things like, "Are you actually any good at this? Why are you even trying? Since there are so many other artists out there who are better than you, why do you bother? Will you ever have a style? How are you going to get enough done? Do you have enough time? Where did all the hours go today?"

Now some days, I have such great answers to her questions. I smile at her, the unruly but innocent child she is, and then let her go on her way. But other times, particularly when I am in the dark of my room with no external input, the questions are daunting. And while searching for an answer, I peek over the precipitous cliff of uncertainty and negativity, and before you know it, I'm going down. My answers become futile attempts at grasping granite ledges as I tumble, further and further.

If I am not careful, I answer with that she wants to hear:

I suck at art.

I'll never be as good as ____.

My ideas are cliche.

My ideas are boring.

My ideas are confusing. Lame.

These negative answers seep in. They become the lines of a script that I read to myself relentlessly. Sometimes these destructive mantras burrow so deep into my brain that positive affirmations sound sarcastic.

"Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours" - Richard Bachman

The worst part of all these negative declarations is that they choke out any space for my neurons to fire in a creative new pattern. In other words, fear extinguishes creativity. Why do fear and creativity travel together? In Big Magic (a book I wholeheartedly recommend), Elizabeth Gilbert writes extensively on the relationship between fear and creativity. Please read this book!

But if you don't have time to read a book right now, I have one piece of advice: Act.

Because here is the thing I realized: The antidote to fear is positive action.

  • Worried your art isn't good enough? Sign up for a skill share class to learn a new technique. Change "I suck at __x__" to "I am still learning _x__".

  • Nervous you can't get enough done? Do something now, even if you only have 3 minutes. Then, instead of "I never have enough time" you can say "I did the best I could with the time I had"

  • Anxiously comparing self to an amazing artist? Ask the person a question about how they got to that level! Change "I'm no good compared to ___" to "There are so many amazing potential mentors out there!"

Whatever your specific art anxiety is, follow the pattern above. Figure out a possible antidote, then act. These actions will make it easy to rewrite your script. And the lines will be even better this time because they are based on reality.

Often by the time I am done, my self-doubt got sick of being ignored and went to sleep. And in the shadow of my action, my slumbering fears look tiny, and small, and powerless. Her lines deleted from the script.

Note: The information provided in this blog is not written by a health care professional. The information on this blog is written based on personal experience and conversations with other artists. All writing at marsnapart.com is for informational purposes only, and is not to be taken as medical advice or recommendation. If you have concerns about your mental health, you should consult a medical professional and you should not delay this outreach because of information found here.