Bonnie (last name withheld) recently posted the following question:
“Hi!! I have decided that what I need most is confidence!! I didn’t graduate with an art degree. I think degrees do give confidence. So now my confidence lies in the reactions of my friends and some sales. These types of approval do not lend themselves to improvisation or experimentation. How shall I gain confidence to explore?”
I think that this is a common feeling among many artists. First, I don’t think that a degree necessarily gives confidence. Neither do I believe that the lack of a degree inhibits confidence. The important thing is to recognize where confidence comes from. Unfortunately, it is complicated. But here are a few thoughts.
The Fear/Confidence Continuum
There is a delicate balancing act between fear and confidence. An artist needs a healthy balance between the two extremes. I know artists who are extremely gifted and create masterful works, but completely void of confidence. I know other artists who have almost no skill, yet they are totally confident. Then, of course, there are those who are good and know it and there are those who realize that they don’t have what it takes. The best place to be is somewhere in the middle.
If your body temperature is too hot or too cold, you have serious problems. If your blood sugar is too high or too low, you have problems. It’s the same with your art. Too much confidence can hinder growth just as much as too little.
You need enough confidence to believe in yourself and know that you can express yourself through your work. Yet, you need enough self-doubt to be humble and realize the need for constant improvement and learning.
This leads to my next point:
Learn About Your Art Making
I am a firm believer that you need to know the rules before you can effectively break the rules. Just as a musician must understand music theory before he can improvise, the visual artist also needs to understand the fundamentals.
As I said before, you don’t need an art degree. But you do need a way to learn. It can be through books and DVDs or through workshops or mentorships. Or there are ateliers that provide rigorous, intensive training. Or you can go back to college. Choose the method that is best for you, but never quit learning. And be sure that you choose learning options that actually teach you the fundamentals. You need that foundation first. Knowledge is the most effective way to liberate yourself in terms of self expression.
What art would you do if sales weren’t an issue? If you could create just to create what would you do? Pursue that. That is where your greatest joy of experimenting and exploring will come. And ultimately, that is where your greatest work will come from. If you follow your heart, if you follow your muse, you will find the confidence to explore.
Many companies have a product development department. The function of the department is to experiment and try new things. Set time aside for product development in your art creation. What I mean by this is to try something new in terms of technique or subject.
Okay, here is another assignment for you. Spend 20 - 30 minutes a day for the next couple months doing what I like to call Painted Etudes – little exercises that help you explore and grow (this in not just for painters, but for any artist). They are simply exercises that focus on one thing at a time – just like musical etudes. It could be a study in color theory, it could be trying a new brush. Or maybe it is trying a new subject.
The key is, these are studies or exercises. They are not finished works. You are just practicing something in a focused way. Because these little studies don’t ever have to be seen by the public, you can have enough confidence to explore without the fear of failure. And as you see growth as a result of these, your confidence will grow to the point of incorporating some of these things into the work you offer for sale. These new skills will have improved your product.
There is much more that could be explored on the topic of confidence. Next week I’ll offer some cautionary advice. In the meantime, share some of the ways you have gained confidence.