Blog / 2023 / Mistake #7: Not Realizing That People Want Me to Succeed

June 1, 2023

This year, my art career officially turned twenty. To celebrate this special artiversary, I’m doing a blog series about everyday errors, 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.

Today’s installment of the Flawful Festivities deals with how artists often assume that others want to see them fail, even though the opposite is true.

Yes, even the family member who’s always telling you to not set your sights too high and the friend who sometimes says cutting things about your artistic choices: they all want to see you succeed! Their negativity may convince you that they’d rather see you flop, but, if you dig a bit, it’ll be obvious that their pessimism and pickiness has more to do with them than you. The family member is trying to steel you for the rejection you will undoubtedly face and in that way protect themselves from having to see you hurt. And the friend is almost certainly expressing a bit of jealousy at your drive, wishing that they could be as brave as you. Ultimately, they’d rather see you succeed. As far as I can tell, just about everyone would!

So, instead of focusing on the fact that people sometimes miss your events or don’t buy your art—on the way they rarely open your email updates or never comment on Instagram updates—it’s time to think about all the ways people do show up for you.

painted portrait of Bill Bradbury (Secretary of the State of Oregon)
Gwenn Seemel
Bill Bradbury (Secretary of the State of Oregon)
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18 inches

In my case, that means thinking about people like Bill.

We met in 2004 when I was interviewing subjects for the series of local public officials I was going to be painting. At the time, Bill was the Secretary of State of Oregon, and I was a baby artist, a year and a half into my career. I’d already done plenty of interviews with people who were intimidating for a multitude of reasons, and, going into my meeting with Bill, I was ready for more of the same, but I needn’t have worried. When I asked the Secretary of State to describe himself, he told me he was “97% fun” and he may have been underestimating it by a smidge.

Over the years, Bill supported my work in lots of different ways, not the least of which by joining my sticker club and occasionally sending me photos of where a particular sticker ended up stuck.

But maybe the best bit of encouragement he ever gave me was showing up for this talk. I’d promoted it as the scariest thing I’d ever done as an artist, in part to pique my audience’s interest, for sure, but mostly because I’d never talked about my queerness in a live setting where I didn’ necessarily know everyone in the audience. I was nervous about how I’d respond on the spot to any aggressive questions about this delicate part of myself.

Bill attended the talk virtually and, when it opened up for audience questions, he insisted on going on at some length about what an amazing artist I am. Cheering me on publicly when he knew I was feeling most vulnerable: such a thoughtful a gift.

painted portrait detail of Bill Bradbury, Oregon politician
detail of Bill Bradbury

Bill died in April. I didn’t know him well, but he mattered to me. He made my life as an artist easier in small but important ways. He reminded me that people I may not even be particularly close to can still be rooting for me, perhaps even in ways I never see, but that I certainly need to make the effort to recognize.

Because, while no one will ever convince me that having a “mindset for success” is useful, I know that keeping gratitude at the forefront is vital to making it as an artist.

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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