Artists have to have some belief in their work. Or rather, some sort of impulse to keep on making art, even when self-belief wavers. This much is a given, else the self-doubt that riddles most artists would prevent us from ever making anything! Indeed, I read something the other day which described art as happening in the space between crippling self-doubt and utter narcissism!
To clarify, and given people sometimes like to quibble over definition, I use the term “artist” to refer to anyone making things with their own hands (or collaboratively) that requires use of both their technical skill and aesthetic sensibilities. “Craftsperson” might be a term preferable to some, or “artisan”, and perhaps it depends upon the degree to which your personal aesthetic is involved, but I stick with artist because it just makes the most sense to me. At any rate, this sort of artistry, whatever you call it, involves being closely connected to your work. And thus without being pathologically full of self-belief, any artist is going to have peaks and troughs of confidence.
So when people (clients, friends, peers, and strangers alike) comment kindly on the work, one feels obviously pleased and validated… but more than that somewhat bewildered!
It makes no sense for someone, friend or otherwise, to be so nice about my work! I always, personally, endeavour to be nice rather than nasty and to encourage others… I think that’s just how we should operate in the world. But even so, when people are nice to me in turn I feel somewhat undeserving. Which I imagine is a pretty standard feeling for creative people. And it probably feeds slightly into the wish for anonymity that I think often accompanies art… I make beautiful things so as to experience the glow of doing so, but I want the attention on the object, not on me. And then once its done I usually want to move on to the next thing pretty quickly, else dissatisfaction begins to set in. Not because the work is bad, but because the artist can always see how it could be better. More beautiful, more refined, a more pure expression of an aesthetic.
Seeing as the self-employed artist these days (perhaps especially in my field of bespoke corsetry, in which galleries and agents do not yet exist…) has to also be a business person (thinking about the proper presentation of their work, for the appropriate specialist client base), one must learn to function without rock-solid confidence. It can be rather frustrating, having to perform this role of brand spokesperson, even on the days when you don’t quite feel up to it. Your self-belief may dip, you might have a day where you don’t believe any of the kind things said about your work… But it matters not, you can’t hide away and be too shy, you need to present your work regardless. It’s your livelihood and your passion, so it needs to be shared.
I have corsetmaking friends who keep positive client feedback printed out and readily available to give them a boost. Others who love motivational quotes. Still more who support one another through confidence dips. Kindness matters and I try to do my bit to help other artists when they need a bit of encouragement.
But why I am rambling about confidence and kindness…? Unsure. Perhaps because there is this curious duality at the heart of being/running a creative business and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of kind feedback all come at the same time recently, so it’s just been on my mind.
You definitely grow in confidence when people respond well to your work, but at the same time you almost learn to discount their opinions… You start making up reasons for why they might have said the nice thing! Reasons why they’re wrong.
The overall result of which is that you graciously appreciate every compliment that comes, but still feel a slight unease each time you hand over a commission… You learn that 99% of the time everyone is happy, but you still feel sharp terror at the possibility that one person might not be, that they might be the one to point out that you’ve no right to do your work, as though you almost have no right to exist. I’ve seen other artists refer to this as The Fraud Police (I believe it was Marianne at PopAntique who brought the term to my attention first), and the sensation ebbs and flows in intensity.
So for my part, I try to focus on facts rather than feelings, and use those facts to influence my business choices, the way I present my work, etc. etc. It doesn’t always work (sometimes I am sure I undermine my own work) and I can certainly look at the industry and see that confidence is the best route to success, and sometimes lament the fact that I don’t have more of it… but if you’re someone for whom confidence comes and goes, establishing the facts of your work’s merit/worth is a good starting point.