Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Self-Motivation & Fearlessness

I have written a lot about failure, rejection, self-censorship, and setting goals. But I cannot even begin to reiterate how important it is that we, as artists, are self-motivated and learn to cope with rejection. I see so many other artists fall victim to their own insecurities, and I experience it myself as well when I procrastinate working in my studio.

Artists must be extremely self-motivated in order to make it. There is no free ride - there are too many talented people and too much information for any one artist to be noticed if he/she isn't actively trying to get his/her work and name out there. But being an artist is also inherently risky. We have to take a lot of chances and learn to face rejection. When first starting out, we take chances when we submit our work to shows. As we become better known and more established, we take chances when we deviate from our signature styles to experiment with new media and methods. We take chances when we work to develop our own styles. We take chances each and every time we show our work - will it sell? will people like it? will people get it? will people come to see it?...

There is a certain fearlessness required to being an artist. Many people are afraid of rejection. They are afraid of drawing attention to themselves. They are afraid to make their presence felt. But actively-exhibiting artists must not only deal with rejection, they must be able to do so in the public sphere. Not only do they have to be able to cope with not getting into shows that they have applied for, they also have to cope with viewers rejecting their work even after it was accepted for any given show (sometimes including other artists who may be bitter that their own artwork was not accepted). Some dislikes are very strong, and some viewers are very open in voicing their negative opinions loudly. At the same time, artists also have to cope with apathy and with people who just don't get their work, some of whom really don't care that they don't get it and others whom are confrontational about it. As a result, it becomes all too easy to fall into a pattern of making excuses and avoiding opportunities.

It is extremely important not to make excuses for yourself. I find myself doing this from time to time, essentially avoiding working on my own artwork. Sometimes I am legitimately uninspired and am in no state to create. At other times I may be stewing on a new idea or concept and developing a new focus in my work. Oftentimes, I just need a breather from doing too much too fast and I need some downtime. But even good and valid reasons turn into excuses when we embrace them and inhibit ourselves from creating. We can avoid working on our art for fear of making mistakes, just as we can avoid showing for fear of rejection.

Another important thing that I have found is that I must detach myself from my work. Not to the extent that I become apathetic to it myself, but to the extent that I don't take criticism personally. If artists take criticism and rejection too personally, it buries them and they get to where they limit what they do to avoid confrontation. Since a good deal of my work actively encourages people to think about and see things in different ways, it can be interpreted as confrontational itself and I often find myself having to explain what I have done and why. So I simply cannot allow myself to get defensive.

It is also important not to berate ourselves and our own work. Artists can be their own worst critics and can be extremely harsh and unforgiving of their own imperfections, especially as it pertains to their work. This is good because it means that we work hard to do our best and show our best work. But it can inhibit us from creating when we dwell on our insecurities, censor ourselves, and reject our own work before anyone else has even had a chance to see it. It never ceases to surprise me the fact that some of my least favorite pieces are among the ones to sell, but that only goes to prove that everyone has different tastes and I can be overly hard on myself.


Dail Chambers said...

"...They are afraid to make their presence felt..." this is right in time with my own thoughts... very well verbalized... actualized.

Heather Haymart said...

Well said Jennifer. I needed that.

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Thank you Dail. It took a long time for me to get over my shyness. A lot of people just don't want to draw attention to themselves, even if they have something worthwhile to say that others need to hear.

In my artwork it took even longer because it can reflect even more of my soul than my physical being, and I still don't think I could sing for anyone publicly for all that I have taken voice lessons. (When we were supposed to sing solo for the group at midterms, I freaked and drove six hours home - the flight instinct took over.)

The big thing that helped me immensely was acting as a tour guide when working through the Student Conservation Association at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire. I had to overcome my fear of public speaking just to do my job. It was easier when I wasn't talking about myself and was imparting information that most visitors didn't know, but there was a lot involved in getting to that point and being comfortable.

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Thank you Heather.