The artist’s self-esteem
When I started out as an artist seven years ago, I often found it difficult to make work or to promote it. I was paralyzed by a severe lack of self-esteem and an unhealthy inclination to overanalyze my every action.
Then, at some point, I discovered a neat little trick that allowed me to believe in my work fully while still doubting the rest of myself. I separated my work from my self. I stopped looking at my paintings as an extension of me and started seeing them more as objects with their own lives to lead.
The split allowed me to make work confidently without having to worry about the parts of me that I didn’t want to expose. And, as my confidence about my work grew, I let it feed my personal confidence, helping me to became a more self-assured person in other areas of my life.
All in all, my division between my work and myself isn’t as absolute as it once was, but I’ll never fully give it up because it keeps the more vulnerable parts of me safe. Most importantly, the split means that criticism of my work doesn’t feel like criticism of me. And that, in turn, means that I can listen to commentary—whether written and formal or spoken and casual—a lot more objectively. I can more clearly see a critic’s biases; I can digest opinions as valid and informative without letting them take over my future work. And that means that I can grow as an artist.
Over the years, I’ve had some pretty strange things said about my work in the public forum. For example, I have been told that I should have slept with my subjects—in this review for this show—and one of my subjects was quoted in the paper as saying “I hate the thing” in reference to his portrait. And though I don’t agree with many of the criticisms leveled at my work, the split between self and work stops me from getting defensive and tuning out my critics. Because I don’t take comments about my work personally, I can learn from what is said.
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