Wrestling With Creative Self-Doubt? Join the Party
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” — Sylvia Plath
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
Sometimes I catch myself assuming that successful professional artists soar through the seasons, powered by infinite self-love and piloted by creative confidence.
I have to repeatedly remind myself that’s a big, fat lie.
All Artists Have Creative Self-Doubt
All professional artists, even at the highest levels, do time in the Land of Doubt & Insecurity.
Why are they insecure?
After all, their work is great, people love it, tell them so and even buy it.
Because they’re human.
No one’s DNA rearranges itself once they sell a piece, publish a book or get a Costco-sized load of likes.
Those creatives we deem successful, do get elated when nice things happen for them.
But in a minute or a month, they’re back to dancing with doubt just like the rest of us. (This can be doubly true for women artists.)
Boundary-breaking digital artist Beth Spencer is just like you and me; Some days she is calm and confident, some days she contemplates packing it in.
However, there are two things that differentiate Spencer from many of us.
Two game-changing behaviors we can easily take on board in our own art practice.
1. Spencer Admits To Self-Doubt
Spencer has the guts to admit her self-doubt in public and even to make art about it.
So the first thing we need when we are down is to admit our doubt and make art about it (no one else needs to ever see it.)
“Doubt, insecurity, frustration…they’re with me all the time, Spencer said. “But once in a while…once in a while…I manage to make something I really love.”
Burgeoning numbers of fans on Spencer’s site, on Deviant Art, appreciate her unique style, which she refers to as “dark whimsy.”
One popular piece of Spencer’s, “The Arrows” is seen here.
I asked the artist to tell us more about the figure and the plaques beneath her (labeled Doubt, Insecurity, and Frustration):
“This piece is about the doubts that plague me when I make my art,” said Spencer. “‘Is my stuff good enough? Should I bother? Why can’t I be as good as _________?'”
“The Arrows” is about not giving up the fight.
Spencer wanted to show she’s still upright and trying again and again to create things she (and hopefully others) will like despite creative fear.
“The figure in the piece is still standing, …er, perching, even with those arrows in her back,” said Spencer. Can you relate?
But just because Spencer experiences self-doubt doesn’t mean she allows it to stop her from creating an ever-expanding portfolio of work.
Spencer has a technique she’s developed over time to temporarily bypass creative self-doubt and drive her further forward.
2. Only Make Art YOU Like When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt
Spencer makes work that pleases— herself.
“Because we artists are our own toughest critics, said Spencer, “It’s important to hang on to those moments when we please ourselves.
What was the last piece you made that really thrilled you?
“I remember the times I made something that really thrilled *myself* and that’s the feeling that drives me to keep creating,” said Spencer.
“I am still learning to accept the fact that I do my own thing.”
“I’ve honed my own style and that even if I go back to the same well again and again, it’s a good and original well, and that’s ok,” Spencer said.
Spencer advice for other artists or writers on facing or foiling doubt and frustration?
“Make what YOU like, even while understanding that we aren’t making art in a vacuum.
Of course, it’s ok to crave admiration and positive feedback.
(And it’s ok to be upset when you don’t get it.)
But still…make what YOU like.
Make what makes you stand back and smile and say, ‘THAT’S ME.’
Put yourself on the canvas. It’s really the most immensely satisfying thing you can do.”