Like many of you, I am an expert at doubt, but not always the greatest at overcoming it. But I have come up with five pieces of advice that seem to work for me. I hope that you find value and encouragement in them as well.
1. Be Present: When doubt, fear, and uncertainty arise, acknowledge the way that you feel and stay with the discomfort for a while. Try to see what is behind those feelings, and ask yourself why you are feeling that way. Look for objective reasons, and don’t make judgmental assessments. Saying that the reason for your doubt is that you are a lousy artist is negative, judgmental, and probably just plain false. Try to image the worst case scenario. What is the worst thing that could happen if you made a mistake or were not as skilled as someone else? Acknowledge the fear, and see if you can get at the real cause for it by being real with yourself.2. Regress: Try to make art like a child again. Scribble on a page. Make paper airplanes, and see how far they will fly. Break out the crayons and the Crayola markers. Find the joy and freedom in making art. These simple acts are effective in loosening you up, quelling anxiety, and allowing you to touch your creative energy.
3. Give Yourself Permission: In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron wrote, “By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one.” Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to mess up, to not be perfect. We learn the most from our mistakes, not our success. When responding to the idea that he had had 10,000 failures while pursuing a particular invention, Thomas Edison remarked that he had not failed, but that he had just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, and be forgiving and understanding when you do make them.
4. Work: Many people have the misconception that artists simply pull great ideas out of the air or that the ideas strike them like lightning. The truth is the only way to make good art is to make art constantly – the good art, the bad art, and the ugly art. Rule 7 of composer John Cage’s Some Rules and Hints for Students and Teachers states, “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It is the people who work all of the time who eventually catch onto things.”
5. Surround Yourself: You need a space, you need artistic accomplices, and you need inspiration. Create an environment where you can create – a spare room studio or your coffee table. Make it a good and inviting space. That dark, noisy space behind the furnace in the basement is not an ideal space. Find artist friends and have artist dates where you make art, explore museums and galleries, and talk about art. So many artists have many of the same fears, doubts, and uncertainties as you. When you have accomplices, they are more likely to inspire you, encourage you, and hold you accountable. Surround yourself with books, art, furniture, food and drink that will inspire you. These items bring you comfort, but can be immense resources as you work.
Dealing with doubt is a constant struggle, but learning to accept it, finding ways to deal with it, and allowing yourself to be human, can all quiet the inner critic.
(All images are details of journal pages from my current journal.)