November 2012 – Afraid of Failure

While reading through the pastel forum posts on Wet Canvas, I came across a post entitled “Afraid of Failure”. Curiosity made me click on it, expecting to see a picture for which an artists was asking for help… but instead I saw this:

“Hello, I haven’t been on for ages as I haven’t painted anything for nearly 6 months now. I’ve given myself various reasons… But underlying it all the truth is that every single painting I’ve ever done I struggle with not knowing if its going to work and I can’t bear the thought of failure.

Mostly they work ok for the level that I’m at-I very rarely bin anything, but I spend hours and hours trying to get them to work and there are only a couple that I’m actually really happy with once finished.

I’ve just started on a painting that I agreed to do before I gave up and Im back in that place not knowing if its going to work and this time it’s even worse as I wonder now if I’ve even lost what ability I had after not painting for so long … my point in posting is to ask if others feel like this and if so what do you do about it? I wonder if I should just give up for good if it makes me feel like this?”

After reading this my heart really went out to the artists because I know how it feels all too well; to continuously question the value of your work, to think it’s no good, and ultimately wonder why you even gave it a go to begin with. It’s self defeating indeed but a common occurrence amongst many artists which resurfaces now and then. As a matter of fact,  let’s see a show of hands for the people who experience this  with every single painting… am I the only person with my hand in the air?

And more than likely this artist, like me, has a tendency to be afraid of failure generally… sigh! It ain’t easy but working on it big time folks.

Immediately  I replied to the message and posted the following:

“I have felt that way MANY times and still do from time to time but then I remind myself that painters don’t become great at what they do overnight. I remember expressing how frustrated I was with my work to an artist that I admire and she said to me “I’ve been painting for over 50 years, what you see before you took 50 years of continuos painting and learning… if it was easy I would have been painting like this from day 1”

And that is the point blank truth. Like anything else, it takes time and work.

We have to keep our expectations realistic. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment before you even begin else you won’t enjoy what you do. I’d love to paint like an artist with 50 yrs experience and have an impeccable portfolio but it’s something to work towards while enduring the hills and valleys along the way.

Besides, you never know who’s out there looking for work just like yours. You don’t need to be Picasso…. I’m not a Picasso fan anyway.

I once read an excerpt on rejection in a magazine, it’s a bit different but I think the concept of internalizing negativity is the same:

“As an artist, it is important to develop a thick skin. It is impossible to create work that everyone is going to like. Those that are indifferent to our work, or actively dislike it, can cause us great pain and can influence us more than perhaps they should…”

“Essentially the choice comes down to this in any rejection situation: is it worth the effort to try to salvage the situation or is it best to accept the disappointment and move on? We cannot please everyone and some will prove impossible to please, no matter how hard we try. I think the key is to not internalize a lasting sense of failure. The great majority of my clients are very happy with my work. But we can have 99 successes and 1 failure yet, somehow, we tend to internalize the bad experience…”

“Ultimately, we are like waves pounding the beach. We just keep at it, knowing that we are doing what we were put on earth to do and always trying to advance down the endless road of learning and becoming better artists and people…”

Source: Thoughts on Rejection by Richard Christian Nelson

Similar to internalizing the negativity of others, some tend to engage in something that is even more destructive, internalizing their OWN negativity. Yup guilty here too.

A great motivator I find is to have a look at work you did perhaps 1-2 years ago. I’m sure you can see some growth. Hang in there, be kind to yourself, keep painting and more importantly allow yourself time to develop….