Artistic Confidence, Being Nice, and Finding Your Artistic Voice

Can you imagine going up to a jewelry booth at a show and saying to the artist, “You work really sucks.  These people around you are so much better than you.  You shouldn’t even be here.”

Pretty shocking, right?  I mean, even if you THINK it, you’d never SAY it.

But some people do say it… to themselves… on a daily basis.

It breaks my heart.

Ideally, we wouldn’t only NOT say these kinds of things to ourselves or to others, but we wouldn’t even THINK them.  (Yes, I am an idealist.)  Can you imagine accepting everyone’s efforts as worthy?  Everyone. 

I was watching one of those cooking shows the other night and I was mentally trying to give a pep-talk to one of the contestants.

“Don’t worry about it.  Food is about taste and you can’t force people to taste things the way you taste things.  You can’t predict how someone will feel about your food… because it’s just too subjective.”

Granted there are certain things that could be more obvious deal breakers.  If you burn something, odds are you won’t find many takers.  If you accidentally use salt instead of sugar in your cookies, you may not be asked back.  But when we get into the finer differences, a good portion of the judging is subjective opinion. 

I realize this could be open to huge debate.  Cooking, jewelry making, etc.  I’m sure there are people who insist there are standards to be met.  But I ask each of us to look at that and ask why?  We must examine these standards and decide if they are nothing more than mass-opinion consensus.   And I say be careful between judging technique versus artistic value.

I was wondering if I’d rather be in a field that is cut and dried, a job where you win or lose based on ability, not opinion… like (most) sports, for example.   In a math competition, you either get the correct answer or you don’t. 

In cooking, you are making something according to YOUR personal preferences and YOUR taste buds and being judged by people with their own personal preferences and their own taste buds.  OR… people who’ve been trained to believe a certain way.

Same thing with jewelry.  We make (usually) what WE want, what WE find attractive.  Then we hope that people who have the same taste as us come along and buy our creations.

Have you ever made something you thought was hideous and yet people raved about it? And when you get those compliments on something you made that you don’t’ like, you feel like you can’t say “thank you” because you figure they’re just messing with you… you’ll look like a fool if you take them seriously!

And then something you don’t like sells… and it leaves you scratching your head.  Maybe even questioning a lot of things about your creative direction.

Don’t.

As an artist, I think one of the best things you can do is work on technique.  Because that’s one thing you have the most control over.  You can’t control how many people will love or hate your work, but you can control if it has scratchy wires, rough edges, loose stones, etc.

So tighten up your skill set and make jewelry that makes you happy.  It will most likely change over time anyway.  Evolution is natural and pretty necessary in this industry.

We’re in an industry that relies heavily on the opinions of strangers.  So the least you can do is be gentle with yourself.  Most people I know who are critical of others are twice as critical of themselves.

Have you ever done that thing where you say a word… over and over… and it starts sounding just ridiculous… like not even a real word anymore?

I think we get the same effect with our jewelry.  I made 22 charms for a charm swap a few years ago and by the time I was done I thought, “OMG this thing is so ugly. I can’t give this to people.  I’ll have to start over.” 

But that wasn’t the rational part of me talking.  It was the part that lost all perspective from seeing the same thing, in minute detail, for five days straight, inside and out.  My perspective went in the toilet.  I was too close to the charm, too intimate with it, and had just plain old seen it way too much to have any kind of reasonable opinion.

So not only do people have opinions that differ from one person to the next person, but even within ONE person opinions can change… perception can change.

I decided to opinionate on this topic now because of something someone said to me recently.  One of the ladies in my SRAJD organization (self-representing artists in jewelry design) was comparing her creative work to that of others in the group and making pretty disparaging remarks about her own efforts.

This makes me so sad.  I’d like to think sometimes people are just fishing for compliments or maybe aren’t even paying attention to what they’re saying… but taking it at face value, I sincerely don’t want people to feel this way about their creations.

So for starters: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.  Go back and read my first paragraph.  How can you be meaner to yourself than to an absolute stranger?  Yet we are, on a daily basis. 

Seriously people, start being nicer to yourselves!  Start talking nicely about your work.  What are you afraid of?

I want each of you who struggles with confidence in your artwork to do the following.  It takes a CONSCIOUS effort, but I have faith in all of you.

The next time someone compliments your work, just say “thanks”. 

  • Don’t say, “Thanks, but I feel I could have done better.”
  • Don’t say, “Thanks, but I was actually going for this other thing.”
  • Don’t say, “Thanks, but I know you’re just trying to be nice.”
  • Don’t say, “Thanks, but I know it doesn’t hold a candle to the real artists who do this.”
  • Don’t say any of that crap!  Just stop yourself!  Say “thanks” and shut your mouth (or stop typing).

It will be hard at first, particularly if you’re used to being down on yourself.  But it gets easier as time goes on.

Be nice to yourself.

Because you know what?  If you keep telling people your work sucks, they’re going to start believing you.

If you can’t love your own work, look at it and define precisely what you don’t like about it.  I had to do this about eleven years ago.  When I started making jewelry, I was trying everything and mostly imitating what I saw around me.  I ended up making lots of different things and not liking it all… not by a long shot.

So I took a hard look at what I did like.  I needed to pinpoint what direction what aesthetics and styles appealed to me.  I made a folder of photos of my few pieces that I really liked and/or was proud of (which usually is synonymous).

Then I started looking around… books, magazines, internet, etc.  I clipped photos, hundreds of photos until I started figuring out what design aesthetics I am attracted to.

Starting to work on pieces that more closely identified with my personal taste made me start to like my own work better. 

So figure out what you like… and then don’t just make jewelry… make the kind of jewelry you want to make.

And don’t compare yourself to others!  There will always be someone better than you.  Should you not do something just because someone else is better than you or even if you know you’ll never ever be as good as they are?  If you say yes, then it makes sense that we should only have one painter in the world, one photographer in the world, one chef in the world, etc.

And that’s too bad because there are always going to be people who don’t like that artist’s work or that chef’s food.

Fear is a prison.  Stop being afraid of the competition.

 

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