The “art life” can be emotionally taxing. It takes time to see improvement in your art and it's easy to get frustrated and discouraged. If you aren't getting the responses you want, you may begin to feel like no one cares or is noticing your work. The publishing industry is a slow-moving slog. In the time you spend waiting there is plenty of space for self-doubt to creep in and you may feel like nothing you are doing is working.
I am involved in several online art communities and all I have to do is scroll through a few posts to see that everyone at some point feels discouraged, no matter how good their work is. The good news is, these same communities can be valuable sources of support and encouragement. If you find yourself feeling down, reach out to others. I promise you are not alone! Here are some thoughts that I have found inspiring recently:
Don’t give up before you feel the wind in your sails.
I recently listened to what might be the best episode of Chris Oatley’s Artcast ever. It was so good I listened to it three times. Chris says, many people fail at art because they give up too soon. They feel pain and frustration and don’t stick with it long enough to be rewarded for their effort. He compares it to the runner’s high: a feeling of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain that some people experience. Once you’ve experienced this feeling, it becomes easier to mentally push through the lows because you know a high is coming.
You are a statistic.
In the previously mentioned episode of The Artcast, Jenn Ely talks about a sociopath (read: emotionally detatched) doctor who was interviewed by a psychology journal. He had accomplished many things that others often fail at and he credited his ability to remain objective in the face of failure. When he decides he wants to do something, he researches the steps for accomplishing that goal, completes each step and submits his work. If his first attempt is rejected, rather than dwelling on it, he uses the rejection to guide his next attempts and repeats the process until he is successful. Jenn points out that this man understands he is in a game of statistics and he wants a white gumball. He knows that if he keeps trying he will eventually get one. This is not helpful in every situation, but when faced with failure or rejection, I find it encouraging. It's tempting to wallow in the misery of being rejected, but if you allow yourself a brief mourning period and then focus your energy on improving using the feedback you receive (when appropriate) you may find that you can maintain some forward momentum even when you fail.
Mind the gap.
This is what Ira Glass refers to as the “taste gap.” It’s the idea that people who pursue creative endeavors have killer taste. It takes a long time for your skill to catch up with your taste and this is why your work disappoints you. I have watched this video many times.
Remember that big growth often follows periods of frustration.
Check out this helpful chart by Mark Dalessio who, like Ira Glass, also points out that our ability to see improves faster than our technical skill.
Repeat after me: Finished, not perfect.
Sometimes it can be paralyzing to work when you feel like everything you do has to be perfect. This is a mantra I learned from Jake Parker and he even made a video about it:
What encourages you when you are feeling discouraged? Please share in the comments and to all of my art friends, you are amazing and you inspire me every day. Keep going!
It's important to notice the difference between feeling occasionally discouraged and experiencing real depression. If have signs of clinical depression I encourage you to seek professional help.
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