One of the more terrifying issues an artist must deal with is self-doubt. It’s so easy for a person to get negative about their own art. Mostly, this occurs because you hear critics put it down. Sometimes the criticism is justifiable. But most of the time its just opinion.
Photography is an art form that is very dependent on focus, composition, and lighting. If you get these wrong you don’t require a critic to point it out to you. Your own self-doubt causes you to have no doubt that something is terribly wrong. This is a point where a little self doubt actually is helpful to making better art.
Other works of art have expected benchmarks you judge by the medium used to make it. With charcoal drawings that benchmark might be shading. But pastels and painting could be measured by the shading, blending, and use of color. The personal feeling that you somehow don’t reach that mark is what causes self-doubt.
Each notion representing the proper way one creates a work of art in a medium has its supporters and dissidents. These people are critics. The endless bickering of critics and artists cause some real tense social moments.
For instance, I’ve been told at gallery opening, directly to my face, that I could never be a fine artist simply because photography is barely an art and just can’t compare to painting. Never mind that I had to convince them that the work was a photograph and not a painting.
This was bruising at its best and self-doubt most definitely tried creeping in. Upon further conversation, I discovered this nice little elderly artist developed that opinion from their professors at some art school back in the 1950’s. The artist then repeated it so many times for so many years it became a mantra.
All I can do is stand there and look in disbelief of such narrow vision. I also felt sorrow because they paid money for that education. I wanted to argue, but an opening is not the place. So, I entered into the respect your elders for one day you will be one of them zen mindset and let it go.
An event later that week was just as much fun. I get approached by a nice middle-aged man who proudly claims, loudly enough for dead, that he could take the same picture with his new iPhone. Again, here comes the zen mind tricks. I told him that I couldn’t wait to see it. But even after forgiving the ignorance, the rudeness, and the lack of common decency, I was, at this point, strongly considering moving to the French Polynesians like Gauguin did.
The next week, I learned something valuable that helped with the self-doubt caused by these caustic doubters. I was at a speaking event with about 50 other artists. There were only 3-4 photographers and everyone else worked with pastels, oils, mixed media and a lot of watercolor. The speaker was a visiting artist in her late 80’s. It wasn’t her age that was inspiring, although you have to admire it.
No, it was what she proceeded to do. She talked and slightly rambled on about her life as an artist and what that meant as a young woman in the late 40’s. But then she shared what her professors had shared with her. If you were an artist you had to paint in oil. Watercolor would never be a real art.
I almost spit out the sip of coffee I was enjoying while she talked. She went on to berate about 25-50 percent of the room as only a lovable elderly old woman with a stuck opinion can do. It took everything I had to keep from jumping to my feet, pointing around the room and yelling “See, that’s what it feels like!” Ah, the sweet vindication.
The result is that criticisms are opinions. Usually bad and terribly weak opinions created by people who find what you are doing threatening somehow. Consider their source and why they might feel that way before you give any credence of their opinion of your art. Most of all be honest with yourself.
It’s your art. In the end only one person has to like it. You.