Blog / 2023 / Mistake #6: Confusing Bravery with Confidence

May 16, 2023

Today, my art career officially turns twenty. To celebrate in the past, I’ve done things like vlogging about my first New York art show, running a blog series about how to love your art, or sharing diary entries from my time as a baby artist. This year, I’m focusing on my mistakes, because, if I had to choose one reason why I’m still making art after all this time, it’s that I refused to let these little missteps stop me.

To fete my failures today, I’m going to talk about always thinking that one day I’ll finally be confident in myself. It took my sweetheart pointing out that there’s a difference between confidence and bravery for me to find a kind of peace about my lack of lasting self-assurance. I want to share that peace with you.

[video transcript]

This weekend, I’ll be speaking in front of fifty people after watching myself on the big screen with them in the documentary Queerying Nature. It’s a new kind of brave act for me—the big screen part—and I’ve been busy promoting the event as if I’m totally fine with it, while also struggling to sleep through most nights.

The thing that keeps me going is that the film is too good to be missed. I’ve been lucky enough to have many special opportunities in my twenty year career: everything from being flown to Switzerland to speak at TEDxGeneva to seeing my art on the cover of an Oxford University Press book. Still, Queerying Nature is the one project I’m most excited about. The film is beautifully put together and, of course, the subject is deeply meaningful to me and to every person who’s ever felt like the “boy + girl = babies + bliss” view of nature doesn’t include them.

Screening of Queerying Nature with Q&A to follow
Sunday May 21st from 3p to 4:45p
Buy tickets here!

ACME Screening Room
25 S Union St
Lambertville, NJ 08530

acrylic painting of monarch butterfly by New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Monarch Butterfly
acrylic on unmounted canvas
9 x 12 inches

The original butterfly painting already has a forever home, but if you want prints or other pretty items with this image, check out my Redbubble shop!

acrylic painting of monarch butterfly
detail of Monarch Butterfly

I was sure I had it this time. What I was feeling was confidence in myself and in my work—or at least I felt like I was feeling confidence.

I’d just emailed the A&E editor of the local newspaper again even though my read-receipts had been showing me that this person never opened any of my messages. But this time I had honed the subject line to perfection. They were going to open the email.

A half hour later, it became clear to me that this latest act of bravery on my part was still just that: an act of bravery. I hadn’t unlocked any kind of lasting confidence. And it had nothing to do with whether or not the A&E editor would finally open an email from me. I still didn’t know what it felt like to believe in myself truly.

My entire twenty year career has been a series of brave acts. Single moments where I felt courageous. Moments that never add up to actual confidence in myself.

Because that’s the thing about bravery and confidence: they’re related, but different. One is a certainty beyond any doubt that what you do is worthwhile—that your art is valuable to your community. Meanwhile, bravery is a momentary burst of YES that floods you with the ability to take action without really changing how you feel in your core.

It makes me sad that I’m probably not built to be a confident person—I’d love to know what that kind of self-assurance feels like. But repeated acts of bravery are definitely something to be proud of. I couldn’t have made it where I am in my career without finding the courage again and again to do things like email a closed-minded gatekeeper one more time, or speak in front of a three hundred people, or put together a video showing the making of a painting.

I can’t say whether a butterfly ever feels courage—either the fleeting or the lasting kind of courage—but I do know that it makes a pretty metaphor for the life of an artist who’s never felt confident. As delicate as this insect seems, it nevertheless goes on doing what it has to in order to live. And that’s what artists must do too: keep on keeping on, one brave act at a time.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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