Artists with low self-esteem

0

Dear Artist,

About ten percent of the general population is supposed to have low self-esteem (LSE). Perhaps the percentage is higher among creative folks. Often generated in early life, the condition can interfere with artistic growth and success, to say nothing of life itself. The difficult-to-shake problem can sometimes be traced back to a disapproving or critical parent. Early peer ridicule or teacher misguidance can also be fingered.

Even though they may be talented, artists who feel bad about themselves or carry feelings of hopelessness and the “Loser Syndrome” have a couple of strokes against them when they step up to the easel. Vital audacity is weakened. Deeming themselves not worthy of success, self-sabotage can win the day. “There, failed again,” they say.

Beating LSE is difficult and time consuming — often a therapist is needed to help edit the negative video the sufferer keeps running. On the other hand, close friendships and the buddy system can be useful. Here are a few ideas:

The LSE sufferer needs to systematically let go of the ingrained negative myths and bad baggage that high-self-esteem people don’t bother with. The original perpetrators ought to be identified and forgiven. The suffering artist needs to embark on a self-managed, measurable course of minor gains and accomplishments. Small paintings finished right down to varnish and signature, for example. Bit by bit, work by work, the sufferer gains tangible evidence that contradicts the ugly message in the old video.

Participating in workshops also is valuable. LSE folks often spend considerable time alone, building a degree of skill they may not be aware of. In a workshop one sees further possibilities and has the warm proximity of fellow travellers. Our world is basically a good spot. Good buddies abound. The LSE sufferer can move through self-doubt to the simple confidence generated by shared studenthood.

Success for LSE artists can be in the form of darned good art, being accepted or even loved by a community, the persistence of green feedback, or other winnings. Most are illusions anyway. Artists are beings of imagination. Failure can well be imagined, but so can success. With the good buddies and a patient, methodical approach, baggage can be laundered and progress made. Evolving art is a stellar route to acceptance, by others and by the self.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Those with low self-esteem have one thing in common — on some level they share a deep-seated fear that there is something wrong with them and wonder if they may be unlovable or unacceptable.” (Marilyn J. Sorensen, Ph.D.)

Esoterica: Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem by Marilyn J. Sorensen is a good place to start. Some of my troubled friends had cameo appearances on every page. Not specifically aimed at artists, the book has a self-evaluating test so you can get an idea where you stand. Case studies, authoritative observations and practical advice are laid out to set a better path for those who don’t think much of themselves.

Esoterica II: I read all of your proposed forwards for the upcoming book. There were so many good ones it was difficult to properly choose. We ended up knocking it down to 50 finalists, and with the help of wise editors we chose five. The selected forewordists who will be in the book are Fawa Conradie, Robert Fredric Goldberg, Nader Khaghani, Sonja Donnelly and Allan Soffer. All finalists will receive a goodly supply of free books. Thanks so much to everyone who participated. We have also chosen 17 short quotes from 17 other contributors. These will be added to the foreword area and, with your permission, on the dust-jacket of the book. These will also earn a free copy.

 

Results of Book Foreword Proposals

More than 800 authors wrote Foreword proposals. I read every one of them. There were many really excellent ones and I thank you very much. The five finalists we are going to use in the book are Fawa Conradie, Robert Fredric Goldberg, Nader Khaghani, Sonja Donnelly and Allan Soffer. These authors will receive a case of (8) books, plus two signed and dedicated copies.

In addition we selected short quotes from 17 other proposals. With your permission, we intend to use these in a double page spread at the beginning of the book as well, and a couple of them on the dust-jacket. We may yet choose more from other authors for this purpose. Each of these authors will receive a free, signed and dedicated copy of the book. Melissa McCracken, Henryk Ptasiewicz, Wayne Claeren, Pam Cunningham, Rebecca Hodge, Faith Puelston, John Burk, Peter W Brown, Elizabeth Austin, Haim Mizrahi, Jonathan Milne, Kathryn Zerler, Don Demers, Terry Wynn, Maggie Ferguson-Dumais and Sheona Hamilton-Grant. Thanks again for all the input, and more than anything for your friendship.

 

Love thyself!
by Kristina Zallinger, Hamden, CT, USA
 

092509_kristina-zallinger-artwork

Untitled
original painting
by Kristina Zallinger

I love my work and I love doing it! So I guess that means I have High Self Esteem (HSE)!

Robert, your article is timely and effective. Every artist should love themselves. This can be achieved through having healthy self-esteem and an ability to transform this into his/her work. Each can develop this state of mind by loving his/her work and hence loving themselves. Or vice versa. It works both ways. In my case, I am happy, therefore my art is happy!

 



There is 1 comment for Love thyself! by Kristina Zallinger

From: Terrie Christian — Sep 25, 2009

I feel the same about my work! I am not always happy though. I have my ups and downs, and my work changes being in different moods. What is wonderful, is that no matter my mood, I love my creations and they help me process through feelings. I actually like the differences in moods that come through the paintings.

I Love your painting. I recently had an atelier trained judge tell me that I use too many colors. You have about as many in your painting. I just laughed and told him that I am having a lot more fun now than I used to when only using the three colors he does!

 

Problems with the LSE concept
by Hannah Pazderka, Edmonton, AB, Canada
 

Okay, I see your point — but this week’s letter should probably come with the caveat that conventional scientific thought is generally counter to claims of low self-esteem. This concept was so bally-hooed in the ’70s and ’80s that kids were taught “you’re super!” in the absence of any real effort or accomplishment. (I’m sure you’ve had other columns making this point as well!) Anyway, this was clearly found to be counterproductive, and potentially problematic in terms of engendering a sense of entitlement.

(RG note) Thanks, Hannah. Not so long ago I wrote a letter discussing the problems with the whole entitlement thing and what it was doing to education, art etc. — just as you point out. However, after reading Marilyn Sorensen’s book and identifying some of my friends as chronic and traumatized LSE sufferers, I’m modifying my views.

 

LSE an impetus to create
by Phoebe Stone, Middlebury, VT, USA
 

092509_phoebe-stone-artwork

“Bay Window, Beacon Street”
oil painting by Phoebe Stone

I disagree with you in a funny way. I know that low self-esteem is a terrible, painful burden, but I also believe it is the great and powerful impetus that drives most artists and writers and musicians to work and work and work, and therefore, in some way to succeed. Those who feel comfortable and confident in youth hardly ever turn to the arts. The graceful self-assured people are too busy enjoying the outer world to ever bother to build the desperate, rich inner world that artists build. We artists are driven inward by our inability to entirely cope with the outside world. This inability is a blessing in disguise. Naturally it is painful, but don’t forget the cliché about an irritating grain of sand in the shell of an oyster making a pearl.



There are 2 comments for LSE an impetus to create by Phoebe Stone

From: Madeline Bishop — Sep 24, 2009

Phoebe, your comment may be sort of right, but I know more self-actualized, contented artists than I know painters with LSE. They don’t seem desperate, and they nourish and enrich their souls and lives by reading, discussing and being involved in other activities. My mentor/ teacher is a good example. He is 33 years old and a graduate of an atelier-based art school in Seattle. He creates wonderful immense paintings in the classical tradition. Even though I am in my 60’s, when I observe his joy, his kindness to others, his amazing skill and his interest in politics and justice, I think “I can learn more than art from this fine young man. Why does he know more about the good life than I do?” I have met so many very cool people in this little town that I never knew before just because I started learning how to paint.

From: Carol Barber — Sep 25, 2009

Phoebe, did you write All the Blue Moons? I was getting library books for my sons and wanted something girlish for myself. Not having time to go to the adult section, I picked it up. I loved it. The descriptions of the settings were superb. Having been a dancer in my youth, I cried during the final performance. I am drawn to your artwork also and I agree with your LSE comment.

 

Stinkpots
by Vicki Schroeder, Estes Park, CO, USA
 

092509_vicki-schroeder-artwork

“Secrets Known to Magical Crows”
mixed media by Vicki Schroeder

I am one of the 10 percent or more of artists with LSE, due to childhood experiences. Tonight I attended a presentation by quilter Susan Shie. She explained that one of the recurring images in her quilts is the stinkpot. Stinkpots, like compost piles or bins, are places to put your refuse of negative thoughts or blame. There they can transform into something nutrient rich that can help you grow. Robert mentioned that a ‘patient methodical approach’ is needed to make progress. I know that this is where I’ve run into trouble. In my impatience and longing for self-confidence, I routinely mistakenly conclude that I’ve made no improvement. My dear husband provides that validation, when I am blinded by doubt, that I have indeed made progress. The fact that I still have more work to do doesn’t negate all that I’ve accomplished. There’s always more to put into the stinkpot. The good news is that the more garbage you place in the stinkpot, and the worse it smells, the juicier and more lavish will be the bounty of your garden and flower beds!



There is 1 comment for Stinkpots by Vicki Schroeder

From: Carol — Sep 24, 2009

I think I will make a “virtual” stinkpot in which to throw all my negative thoughts about my work and in general….

Carol

 

It’s stronger than us
by Haim Mizrahi, East Hampton, NY, USA
 

092509_haim-mizrahi-artwork

“Calories”
mixed media
by Haim Mizrahi

The only way that one can handle LSE is by playing self-invented head games, which, in any case, will lead one, especially the artist, closer to consider the alternatives. There is no one person in the world that does not suffer from LSE and the sooner one accepts it the sooner one can resume with one’s creative journey. Problems really start when one is forced to believe, as we know society to dictate these motions and turn them into undeniable facts in our lives, that it is an illness and it needs to be treated. Well, I have news for you all, I am the most LSE successful person in the world, carrying with me the burden of a tough childhood with all the ingredients in the world to derail me emotionally. There is no way one can “cure” it, it is a lost battle, these forces are much stronger than us. Now, by understanding and accepting these facts one can use all the energy that otherwise was to be dumped into a lost battle, and put it to use by searching in the realm of abstraction and free-style. We need to take advantage of LSE by finding a new person within ourselves.



There are 2 comments for It’s stronger than us by Haim Mizrahi

From: Barb — Sep 25, 2009

Wow, lot of determination that the world is the way you see it – you have “no one”, “most”, “all” all over your letter. I think that you are in for a surprise one of these days. Your statements don’t apply to me or to many other people I know.

From: Marni California — Oct 09, 2009

Haim, I agree with you re your comment on ‘curing’ a rough childhood, and I *love* your final sentence. Thank you.

 

Carrying a sense of inability
by David Oleski, West Chester, PA, USA
 

092509_david-oleski-artwork

“Three Bartlett Pears”
oil painting by David Oleski

There was a point a few years ago that I felt that I was hitting bottom, until I had the revelation that the bottom is an ok place for me, for that time. In humility we approach each blank canvas; we’re wide-eyed students as we strike out across each vast empty plain. I think being ok with our inabilities can be the first step in accepting who we are, and putting away the mirror and facing the task in front of ourselves. The mirror that shows us how sad we are is the product of vanity, while humility has us striving to serve a higher purpose, and understanding the sense of accomplishment and meaning in our efforts. The greatest artists in history have written about finally figuring some things out in their last journal entries. If carrying a sense of inability inspires an artist to push the envelope of comfort for a lifetime, then it’s hard to believe it needs to be fixed. Being ok with the failures we carry in our lives makes us understand that there are no failures, only complex and interconnected experiences that create who we are. The scars and struggles are what make us all so very special.



There are 3 comments for Carrying a sense of inability by David Oleski

From: Penny Collins — Sep 24, 2009

That’s a lovely painting. I like the way you made it look angular while also realistic. Nice colours too.

From: sheryl — Sep 25, 2009

Is this pear paintng from a series you’ve done? I like the brush strokes. It could be a cold and empty feeling painting ,because of the simpleness of the pears, but the way you sculpted the pears it is warm and interesting to me. It would be fun to see more of that series. Thanks for sharing it.

From: Anonymous — Sep 26, 2009

Dear David,

Yours was my favorite comment on this close-to-my-heart subject. LSE and art-making have been “embedded” in my life. I identified art as my only worth and value early in life. Life-long LSE issues have affected every significant choice I’ve made in my substantially long life. I continue learning to recognize and manage it. Art making is another life-long issue for me. I reacted to the world via art as a very young child and it has never stopped. My LSE latched on to art as the one thing I could do right. This self-imposed identity/ego has been limiting and painful. Now, I practice detachment. Rather than seeing my art as “me,” I approach it as my most intimate friend. I spend time with this friend to learn about myself. This friend is not the product but rather the process — the process of exercising skills as discipline, working with other artists, and working with joy. It is a spiritual practice. It is a process of acceptance. As you so well describe, “humility has us striving to serve a higher purpose, and understanding the sense of accomplishment and meaning in our efforts.”

 

Chicken or the egg?
by Jeanette Obbink
 

092509_jeanette-obbink-artwork

“Almost There”
oil painting 36 x 48 inches
by Jeanette Obbink

LSE is hard to fight and even harder to beat and I’m often wondering if it can be beat at all. For every winning moment, there are always plenty more that bring me down with a big ‘thunk’ at the bottom – yet one more time… only to crawl halfway up the hill again… This year has been tough, with hardly any sales of my work, with galleries that are closing, or galleries that are changing their artist base. Having to earn a living within the graphic design field, I have yet to earn enough from my painting to devote my energy full time to the brush…not helping the doubts I feel about my work to begin with. Chicken or egg… who can tell. No matter how supportive friends, fellow artists, even galleries are, the non selling of work is a sure ‘bring me down’ and an even surer way to make me doubt my abilities.



There are 2 comments for Chicken or the egg? by Jeanette Obbink

From: Caroline — Sep 25, 2009

Lovely painting Jeanette. I love that colour under a dark blue sky.

From: Marsha Elliott — Sep 25, 2009

I get really depressed & feel shot down all the time, too, Jeanette. I’m on a couple websites & get so many wonderful comments from friends & peers regarding my work & yet I’ve only sold 1 original & 1 print in 5 years. Because of this, I have a hard time accepting the favorable comments from others as even being true as I doubt my abilities all the time. I keep telling my sons that they’ll inherit it all someday & that it’ll make a wonderful bonfire. So discouraging, but in spite of it all, I keep on keepin’ on & I’m sure you will, too. Best wishes!

 

Can people change?
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
 

092509_paul-demarrais-artwork

“Mendota Reflections”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Psychiatrists speak of a ‘script’ that most of us carry around with us. It’s a little story we’ve developed based on our experiences and expectations. If it’s a good one, life is usually good. “Margie is successful at every business idea she comes up with. People are drawn to her creativity and spirit and she is well loved.” Margie comes to believe her story and acts accordingly to achieve the expected results. If it’s a ‘bad script,’ that becomes problematic.” Bill always manages to screw up in the end. His ideas often don’t pan out. Women are attracted to him, but after awhile move on and reject him. He can’t seem to get it together.” Bill is likely going to be unhappy, achieving the results he envisions. I feel that each artist has a script based on his art as well. Life scripts and art scripts can be different in the same individual. I feel quite confident in art making. I believe when doing a demo that the result will turn out successfully. Most of them do turn out all right. In business, though, my script is not so good. My confidence is lacking and I don’t envision great success. My attitude is more of a line like, “If all goes according to plan, I’ll manage to get by and make it through another month!” Naturally my results are not stellar. Hundreds of gurus offer to retool your self-image with dozens of methods. You are taught to visualize your success and say it a hundred times a day like a mantra. Lack a girlfriend? Imagine you are James Bond. Lots of these methods are tricks of self-deception. Artists can try these methods as well. It boils down to a simple idea. Can people change? I believe they can, but it requires a spiritual component, not just alot of self-trickery. You need a big picture, of a benevolent, forgiving God who values each of his creations and a vision of being part of a world of like-minded brothers and sisters. That is why people are drawn to spirituality eventually. If they have trouble valuing themselves, they can fall back on a feeling of being part of something much larger than their own little spin on the mouse cage exercise wheel.



There is 1 comment for Can people change? by Paul deMarrais

From: Sherry J. Purvis — Sep 25, 2009

Truer words were never spoken. When we can get past ourselves and know that we were created and loved, then we have worth.

 

Are creative people more sensitive?
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA
 

092509_nina-freeman-artwork

“Irish Lass”
acrylic painting
by Nina Allen Freeman

I have wondered if creative people are somehow susceptible to injury by others more than other people. I have seen this in my students, who remember negative comments made by unthinking art teachers years ago that result in their giving up painting. I know of friends who find it impossible to paint while in emotional turmoil. Others, myself included among these, could not paint for a while after having a painting stolen.

The creative process is instead of being a comfort, takes emotional energy. When self-esteem is injured, it is very difficult to be creative, and perhaps creative people are more open to being injured. Others, of course, have self-esteem problems too, I don’t deny that.

Why do I think creative people are more susceptible? When we paint, write, dance or whatever, we put ourselves out there. Our soul is on that paper or that canvas, out for all to see. We are born for a yearning to do this and the world is a mine-field to develop the self-esteem needed to put it out there. Yesterday I met a new student, 80-something, who has always wanted to paint and has been frustrated with her attempts. Fearful of a new start, myself and the class encouraged her, but she may not come back.

Our creative lives involve continually balancing fear of the blank page and busyness of life with the joy of creating.



There is 1 comment for Are creative people more sensitive? by Nina Allen Freeman

From: Lou — Sep 25, 2009

Let’s see, when an engineer creates software that has to be reviewed by managers, peers, customers, is that not very much putting herself “out there”? Is that person not also susceptible to LSE as much as any artist? Creativity and emotional commitment to one’s work are in all endeavors, and are certainly not limited to the arts.

 

Why not be negative?
by Pam Craig, Memphis, TN, USA
 

092509_pam-craig-artwork

“Storm passing”
acrylic 30 x 40 inches
by Pam Craig

Reading your low self-esteem article brought to mind the comment many people say to me. “You are always so negative.”

It is me, why can they not accept it? I find that I can work within this realm. They really do not need to point out this flaw, I am very aware of it.

I look at my work and think, it can be better. I strive very hard to get it right, to try and satisfy myself, to satisfy anyone with something I have completed.

I am aware that I critique my work mainly to point out its faults; I do this to make sure everyone knows that I know it isn’t perfect.

To give a negative critique makes some people think this is a way to garner compliments or praise — it isn’t. It is mainly my way to protect myself from the learned behavior of thinking I am not good enough. When others keep pointing out my flaw of negativity, it makes me dig in deeper and compound the problem by thinking there really must be something wrong with me, I say “see they know it too.”

But then, as you say, there are friends or buddies that can build your confidence. I have several now who look past my low self-esteem, and without pointing to that flaw, manage to hear me, to see me, and to recognize when they can tell me that I have done well. I realize at this point, I have been accepted as I am and it helps me to move on. It helps me to see what they see in my work and that is a good thing.



There are 2 comments for Why not be negative? by Pam Craig

From: Darla — Sep 25, 2009

Pam, I love your painting. There is such a sense of space and air that it seems as if you could walk right into it.

From: fookie — Sep 25, 2009

Pam, you are fortunate to have found people who will look past and hear you. I am still sitting alone, hoping.

 

Power of the respected friend
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA
 

092509_angela-lyon-artwork

“Dreamer”
pastel painting
by Angela Treat Lyon

The most amazing thing happened to me when I was 52. I went to the fabled marble heaven, Pietra Santa, in Italy (after hand-carving for ten years), to study using air tools on marble with a well-loved Maestro. I wasn’t going to bring my portfolio because I didn’t think much of my work, but at the last moment, threw it in with my tools and work clothes. How glad I was that I did! The Maestro and every last one of the people who saw it clapped me on the back and said, “Brava, Angela! Brava! Bellissimo! Beautiful!”

Well, they could all have been blowing hot air up my patootey, but the effect was that my heretofore discouraged, self-critical slump turned into straight-backed strut, and I began to see myself and my work through their eyes.

Not that I shouted, “I’m great!” in the streets, but I felt as if a lifetime of family and gallery scorn, ridicule and criticism had been completely over-ridden and even erased by such enthusiastic compliments from people I loved and deeply respected. I came back to the States feeling like there really was hope, that maybe my work was good.

And when I was invited to do a year and a half artist’s residency in New Zealand, I accepted with ease, rather than shyly refusing as I’d have done before — and kicking myself later that I hadn’t said yes!

Studying with someone you respect — and who you know will be honest and kind to you, and who will shower you enthusiastically with praise when it’s warranted — can do the world of good for a doubtful artist — whether in his own town or another country.



There are 2 comments for Power of the respected friend by Angela Treat Lyon

From: Carol — Sep 24, 2009

A very moving portrait!!!

From: Kate — Sep 25, 2009

Having a respected, talented teacher/guide/mentor is an amazingly powerful thing, as you’ve discovered, Angela. Often I revitalize myself by reminding myself those people in my life don’t respect & love me because I’m incompetent, but becasue I have a valuable self too offer in mutuality — many of them have been my teachers over the years, so sometimes I realize I even kinda owe it to them to make best use of their efforts on my behalf, as well. Living in an area not conducive to creativity (making and/or selling) is difficult, but holding friendships/guidance close in heart & memory also keeps hope alive.

 

 

World of Art Featured artist Julann Campbell, WA, USA  

092209_julann-campbell-artwork

Willapa Bay Evening

original painting 36 x 30 inches
Julann Campbell, WA, USA

 

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Bruce Bundock of USA, who wrote, “There is a saying: no one can make you feel bad without your co-operation.”

And also Rand Teed of Craven, SK, Canada, who sent in this quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “He that respects himself is safe from others; he wears a coat of mail that none can pierce.”

And also Lettie McDaniel of Mobile, AL, USA, who quotes Ryan House of NBC, “Success is fleeting… failure lives on and on.”
 

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Artists with low self-esteem

 

 

From: David Miller — Sep 21, 2009

Here’s a quote from Vincent Van Gogh that I cut out of an article and posted on my wall years ago: “If you hear a voice within you saying ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint … and that voice will be silenced.”

From: Bunny — Sep 22, 2009
From: Chris Everest — Sep 22, 2009

If the world sees an outgoing extrovert, pleasant amicable and friendly with a manic sense of humour the person on the inside does not necessarily see the same thing. Self-esteem is a strange hunted beast and needs tender loving care and continuous attention.

From: anonymous — Sep 22, 2009

The trouble with workshops for low self esteem artists is that they are suddenly thrust into an environment where evaluation and comparison takes place. Comparing themselves to others, often unfavorably, is difficult to take and the LSE person goes down further. Struggling on your own is the preferable route.

From: Irena Taylor — Sep 22, 2009

Who doesn’t suffer from low self esteem? As you mentioned sometimes it’s outside influence but equally responsible is our own belief system about ourselves. We have lost the fundamental understanding that we are valuable. We believe a lie either manufactured by our own minds or conveyed by society. Do artists suffer more from this malady than others,? I don’t know. If we stake our esteem on what we do, how we perform,what others say about us,then we’re in deep trouble. We will always fall short in someones eyes in a world of competition and comparison. We cannot expect this reality to change so we must believe in Someone greater than ourselves who created us and declared his handiwork as very good. He is the source of our artistic gifts,inclinations, ideas. High self esteem comes from truth not falsehood, or flattery. Down deep we can tell if our work is pretty lousey and needs lots of adjustments. Sweet talk to make an artist feel “good about themselves” is basically dishonest and helps perpetuate this lse malady. Honesty/truth is like using a plumbline that establishs a true vertical in order to place things in their proper spot. What/who we trust has a lot to do with our mental well-being. Community is great because it can help a searching , lost soul find an answer through conversation, etc. I don’t dare trust myself solely to clearly see accurately what needs adjustment either in my art or my life. Friends help, but more importantly , it’s God who keeps my perspective straight.

From: Ron Unruh — Sep 22, 2009

Self Esteem and the Artist

I can’t deny that lack of self esteem is a crippling disorder. With sadness I reflect often on the confusion with which Vincent Van Gogh struggled and eventually succumbed. Yet to identify an individual’s low self esteem exclusively with one’s artistic efforts may be naïve. The diagnosis and prescription may be less emotional and more practical. An artist must ask for and be willing to listen to another artist’s comments and recommendations, or use a viewer’s observations to make adjustments. An artist will benefit by acquiring marketing tips, and promotional writing skills, and social contacts within the art community and finally developing some realistic objectives for one’s art.

From: Darla — Sep 22, 2009

Irena wrote: If we stake our esteem on what we do, how we perform,what others say about us,then we’re in deep trouble. We will always fall short in someone’s eyes in a world of competition and comparison.

——————————

That’s very true, and the problem starts when we feel, for whatever reason, that we have no worth beyond what others think of us. Artists face a lot of competition, but we create for ourselves primarily, and are our own judges.

I’ve fought with depression since the age of seven. Art was the only thing in my life that I had any control over, and I could do or say anything I want in a painting. It’s still that way to a large extent. Sure it’s frustrating when art doesn’t come out the way you want, but no one else can stop you or take over your painting. Only lack of skill, time, materials or confidence can stop you — and you get more skilled the more you paint. Art is all about seeing the worth and beauty in everything in the world. “Everything” includes you.

From: Madeline from Oregon — Sep 22, 2009

I began painting in my retirement, knowing that as a new learner, I would not get the esteem boosters I had in my career as a creative and enthusiastic French teacher. Creating a new “growing edge” and no longer feeling ease in my endeavors was an intentional decision, when I took my first painting class. However, after three years, I do feel discouraged as a painter/learner. Do you think that confidence and ability will come, even though I can’t afford to enroll in an art school? Any advice? How do I get through my present discouragement?

Madeline B

From: Gail CadufNash — Sep 22, 2009

I suffer from low self-esteem in everything but art. It comes to my art when I think about the framing/marketing part sometimes. But art has been my play, my study, my appreciation. The best of me. And about honesty: unto yourself only. Don’t need to be so honest to others. But be honest with yourself. Sometimes your work sucks. Sometimes you just miss the mark. Sometimes it’s really really good and nobody sees it but you. I have a piece I don’t plan to ever sell because nobody’s ever liked it, but i love it. I’m getting old and having to deal with self-esteem issues AGAIN, like a teenager, is a bother. But all Robert says is right. Some defeating events lately are making me look for places to volunteer, groups to haunt, events to join, just to get my face off the ground. I hope all of you enjoy your art more than you ever worry about its worth.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Sep 22, 2009
From: Jackie Knott — Sep 23, 2009

Self esteem is built on accomplishment and it doesn’t have to be exclusively in art. If we are capable in other endeavors, we take that confidence into the studio – such as being a good cook, a skilled carpenter, or a having a green thumb in our garden. You get used to doing for yourself and doing it well. “I can do that.”

The only difference with art is thinking we have arrived at our maximum skill at some point in time …. that this is as good as it is going to get. That is the one lie we need to toss. Art is a life time aspiration. We should aim at accumulating a solid body of work.

Do we remember Edith Head for one gown she created or the whole of her remarkable career in film costuming? Every writer, film maker, musician, and artist will have failures. It comes with the calling and I recognize that.

I have quite a few canvases stuck up in my attic. Not everything we paint is worthy of framing and hanging, or certainly selling. As long as we are progressing the work has served its purpose.

Lone diligence in applying our craft can’t be emphasized enough. Self confidence will come as we develop our skill. And don’t be surprised if that takes decades.

From: peter scott — Sep 23, 2009

I have been fighting this debilitating condition for decades, even though I am a professional art educator and also seem to have success selling my work,I always have major panic attacks before an opening and really hate showing my work to people for fear of criticism. For years I locked myself away in my studio struggling with paintings I thought were horrific and wasted hundreds of hours and many dollars worth of materials by destroying half finished work. I’m now in my fifties and am just finally starting to appreciate my talent(?). It’s comforting to know other artists battle the same demons.

From: Marilyn Hartley — Sep 23, 2009

Work … work … work … When my confidence starts slipping I know I have missed a few days or more of my practice of art. Whether from other priorities needing my attention, or (ashamed to say) a bit of laziness, I am out of THE ZONE. It’s amazing how I get the subtle but real feeling of being very unsure of myself. Then my creative self knocks me over the head and gets my attention. The sooner I can get back to work, the faster I feel like an artist again.

Also, when a mentor shows, by constructive criticism of a work of mine, that he or she takes me seriously as an artist, that also gives me a feeling of worth. To be ignored or passed over is the worst let- down.

When another artist is discouraged and looks to me for an opinion, I honestly find a part of the other artist’s work that is good, and point it out to him or her. Then, I encourage the artist to develop that feature. When my own confidence slips I have to recall my own words and use them on myself.

One more aid I reach for during times of doubt: since I believe in God as the supreme creator, I make a simple request to God to get me back on track. I usually works.

From: Marilyn Kousoulas — Sep 23, 2009

I have mentioned before how art therapy has helped me. Since recovering art basics that I learned so many years ago, the world is my oyster, so to speak. It does not matter if the viewer appreciates my art. Creating art is a personal matter for me – a good feeling that keeps me content, happy and focused. With that said, the years have passed since art therapy brought me back to my passion, and tackling new types of art is a fun challenge.

When my husband and I walked through our wooded meadows a few years ago, we decided that my husband, the writer, and I, the illustrator/artist, could produce a series of fun, fiction children’s books.

Watching the critters antics, we snapped photos of some critters and the wooded and open areas of our lovely Misty Meadows to create our first children’s book. This book introduces small children to light forensic science and “mouse tales” relate information about critter behavior. There are blank pages for children to create their very own drawings. This book will be a prized possession as the child matures and he/she can look back at their very own drawings with a smile.

The hurdles we encountered and conquered: For my husband, Jim, it was a task to reduce his polished formal writing to “childrens’ vocabulary.” That took team effort from both of us. For me, the illustrator, I wanted the critters to be whimsical so I had to stretch my imagination to produce the cartoon-like critters. Not an easy task. Then, the backgrounds for each illustrated page became monotonous. That is where the camera came in handy for the shoots of various parts of the actual Misty Meadows. Once the critter drawings were accomplished, and with the help of Corel Photoshop Pro 12, I placed the drawn critters on downloaded pictures, backgrounds, of the meadows and erased around the critters , now rosters or vectors, with my stylus pen.

The creation of our first children’s book was a labor of love and passion for not only our critters but the Arts. With combined efforts, the book became a reality. Then, the actual test to see if children of all economic family conditions would be able to follow the story line with the illustrations leading them through the book to the very end. The feedback was wonderful and some changes were made. Professional proofing was accomplished and this book is now available on our website, Atlas Books and Amazon.com

Owning a Farm

Robert, I do not intend this article to be a ‘sales pitch.’ My intent is to share a story with you about two artists, in their individual art capacities, who have decided not to waste their golden years complaining about aches and pains; and, how art therapy has changed my outlook on life in general.

Thank you for your twice weekly news. I do enjoy each article very much. Having saved nearly all newsletters, I can refer to them when I want some information or simply to enjoy the art world through many artist’s contributions.

As you can see, I am now happily remarried and enjoying life and art.

From: John Ferrie — Sep 23, 2009

We all have our journey.

Sometimes what seems like a series of damaged events can only fuel our creativity later in life.

I know that being an artist has come to define me. It has also made me my absolute self.

But when I was a boy, I was diagnosed with a “Learning disability”, tough when you are only 8 and wondering what you did wrong.

I was and still am terribly dyslexic. Try as I may, classes like mathematics was like learning an alien language!

Having the last name Ferrie didn’t help and I was horribly bullied, picked on a teased.

I failed grade 3 and instead of having the chance to be good at something, I was always sent off to remedial reading or to talk to a councellor while everyone was doing arts and crafts.

The trajectory of my life changed forever when in Grade 7, I discovered something called the art department.

It was like Nirvana for me and I spent a great deal of time there.

I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life and I not only sharpened my artistic skills, I grew some armour.

Suddenly, I was good at something!

I know now, that was then and this is now.

Of course, if I knew then what I know now, life might have been easier.

Who ever knows in those formative years that we can actually grow self esteem.

But we can…

From: Tiit Raid — Sep 23, 2009

My best friend’s brother had low self-esteem. It started at a very early age when neighborhood kids ridiculed him about something quite meaningless in the bigger picture, but he took it to heart, and suffered from it his entire life. He was smart and had a good sense of humor once you got to know him and he trusted you. But, he never married, had very few friends and was basically a loner. Very sad.

I’m not sure what advice I can offer. Perhaps the book Robert suggests is a good place to start. But I do know that without acceptence of one’s situation there is little hope of ever solving any personal problem. Realizing what the difficulty is and knowing what might have caused it is a relief, and it can bring great joy and happiness. But, it is only the beginning of the journey. It is important to never give up, because old habits are hard to break, you will need to revisit and acknowledge and ACCEPT what is taking place over and over and over again. There is no other way. Constant attention to what is happening outwardly and inwardly is essential. And gradually, you’ll become more and more aware of what is taking place, and when you notice that you’ve ‘fallen-off-the-wagon’, so to speak, you just get back on, and each ‘ride’ will get longer and longer and longer.

We all have moments when we feel inadequate or not-worthy or stupid. It comes with the territory. But these moments are all things we can learn from. I don’t know about you, but the lessons I’ve learned from messing-up or from failures or from the dump things I’ve said and done, or from my own short-comings have always provided longer lasting and more profound lessons than the things I’ve succeeded in.

We all come into the world with ‘something’. And life enchances or messes with that which we have been given. Our task is learn from our experiences and to do the best we know how. To pay attention to what is taking place and take our best educated guess, and then watch what happens. Without attention to what is taking place in the outer world of our surroundings, and in the inner world of our thoughts and feelings and beliefs, and accepting what is taking place, there is little hope of living a reasonably peaceful and happy life. We may not always like what is going on in the world or with us personally, but there it is. So, what can we learn from it?

From: ednsally@ruralnetwork.net — Sep 23, 2009

Thanks again for another good article. I used to feel that only gay men would be acknowledged as world class artists. Or that only extroverted types got the shows and the press. But I don’t worry about these things being stacked against me anymore. I’ll admit that I had stage fright and LSE and besides my plate was full with motherhood and I was disorganized in my professionalism. I have observed that successful people are not discovered but do all they can to get where they want to go. I don’t blame gay men for holding me back or crowding me out anymore, rather I salute their networking and creating support for one another. I find many American women are too competitive to help one another or in my case, reticent to even try.

The issue that bothers me now is that I want to contribute to the tremendous cultural changes coming now with the advent of Maitreya and Sai Baba with the Ascended Masters working behind the scenes to improve the quality of life to every human in the world and to save the earth herself.

Art is supposed to be able to express these things but I don’t want to do illustrations or propaganda posters for this. It has to be heartfelt I think. I am not selling anybody anything. I just want to celebrate our being human. The Beingness. Just not sure where to go from here with the visuals….

From: Barbara Tibets, Chandler AZ — Sep 23, 2009

A few things come to mind:

“Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present”

and

“What other people think of you is none of your business”

I have no idea the orgins but food for thought.

From: Caroline Trippe — Sep 24, 2009

Recently I leased a studio/gallery space in my city where there are 35 working artists. Once a month the public is invited to tour all open studios,and these evenings are well-attended. This kind of atmosphere is a healthy one for me because not only am I now part of an artist’s community—but I get a lot of visitors and a considerable amount of positive feedback. Mostly I’ve believed in my work—though there have been “fallow” periods, of course— but when you work in relative isolation it’s hard to know whether you’re getting across. Since art sales are way down in this slowed economy (all the artists vouch for this) , the gallery where I had exhibited (and sold) a few pieces now and then was no longer a good measuring stick for me. Now, in my own space, I hang what I want when I want, and with every wall occupied, anyone who comes in can see the range and continuity of my work in a way that was not possible before. I’ve come to realize that there are always people who just don’t know what to say when they look at your work–even friends, or visitors to your home—which is why it’s a pretty good thing to hear comments from strangers, who are going to be more objective, and often quite articulate. I have an email list to announce the open studio nights, and a guest book. I feel “validated” as an artist, and my self-esteem has never been better. Sales is a different matter—but I’ve only been in the space a couple months, so it’s too early to feel discouraged about that. But the possibility of making many new contacts and getting a wider audience is quite stimulating, and there is always the potential for sales. I realize that not everyone has the means to rent a studio space, (though there are some at the lower end of the $ scale, like mine, and other artists share spaces) and this is the first time I’ve done it– a luxury that I can afford because I am now retired and do not need to make a living with my painting—but just getting accepted was a huge boost, and it’s one way for an artist to “belong.” It seems that many progressive, arts-conscious cities now have such spaces for artists to rent , and with galleries closing, perhaps it’s a “wave of the future.” And if I end up a “failure,” that is, not selling my work, I’ll at least know that I was “out there,” and making the effort. And that’s an esteem booster too.

From: john ferrie — Sep 24, 2009

Dear Robert,

We all have our journey.

Sometimes what seems like a series of damaged events can only fuel our creativity later in life.

I know that being an artist has come to define me. It has also made me my absolute self.

But when I was a boy, I was diagnosed with a “Learning disability”, tough when you are only 8 and wondering what you did wrong.

I was and still am terribly dyslexic. Try as I may, classes like mathematics was like learning an alien language!

Having the last name Ferrie didn’t help and I was horribly bullied, picked on a teased.

I failed grade 3 and instead of having the chance to be good at something, I was always sent off to remedial reading or to talk to a councillor while everyone was doing arts and crafts.

The trajectory of my life changed forever when in Grade 7, I discovered something called the art department.

It was like Nirvana for me and I spent a great deal of time there.

I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life and I not only sharpened my artistic skills, I grew some armour.

Suddenly, I was good at something!

I know now, that was then and this is now.

Of course, if I knew then what I know now, life might have been easier.

Who ever knows in those formative years that we can actually grow self esteem.

But we can…

John Ferrie

From: Marie Johannes — Sep 25, 2009

I often remember what Ken Auster said to students in a workshop years ago. “If you think your work is good and others think it’s bad, it’s bad. If you think your work is bad and others think it’s good, it’s good”! Think always helps me when I find I cannot stop thinking about a work I’ve done. I do what I can and then finally put it away for a while. I have felt like my artist’s ego is much weaker than the rest of my ego, but recently I am feeling much stronger with the technique part of oil painting and with that I can feel my artist’s ego getting stronger. The process continues.

From: Janet Toney — Sep 25, 2009

It would certainly be nice to JUST PAINT. To let go the worries of being “good enough”. The feeling my art must be sellable and-or liked be others to be real.

I’d love to paint like my three year old grand daughter I’m visiting right now. She is excited just to see the bright colors, and she loves purple the best, go onto the page!

She has painted only twice in her life.

I brought the paints with me. We talked about it on the phone for weeks before I arrived and the next morning after I arrived I set her up to paint. She was sooo excited. She said, “I’m gonna paint all day.” She painted for at least and hour, which I thought was pretty good for someone who turned three in June!

The paints we started using then were watercolors, which required cleaning of the brush before changing colors. Well, that didn’t last long, I mean she’s three. She was happy with the experience, but not me. She, of course, ended up with all paints as black!

So…then I found some paints in pots that can’t spill and a brush that’s more like a pen, and easy to clean! This time she actually cleaned her brush between colors! The colors were brighter! She was delighted, squealing now and then as she made little lines or twirls of color on the paper.

THAT’S HOW I WANNA FEEL WHEN I PAINT!

Who needs self esteem for that? Self isn’t important, just the experience of painting.

From: Pel Handelbaum — Sep 25, 2009

Some people confuse having self esteem with overweening egotism. Thinking you’re okay is not the same as taking license for agressive assertion. Just thought I’d throw that out.

From: ANNA HAMNES — Sep 25, 2009

Is there a difference between LSE and humility?

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 25, 2009

Hmm. Commentary has hit east to west with this letter. I think part of the problem may be there is no clearly defined goal to our individual quest in our art.

What do you wish to accomplish? A living? Fame and fortune? To be the best artist you can be? To impart a profound thought or philosophy? Regular sales to validate your ability? To master your discipline? A means to work through personal issues?

Once we establish what our artistic goals truly are our self esteem will stabilize. You might have actually met your goals but haven’t recognized it.

I decided I wanted relevance. I’ve reached that goal regardless of how much I sell, who praises my work or who dismisses it. They don’t matter. There is tremendous liberty in that.

From: g easton — Sep 26, 2009

quite agree, these letters are such a help.Just to know that others get the same feeling and get beyond them

From: Vivian A Anderson — Sep 28, 2009

I must be the only one among you who has realized the lovely truth: I’ve said/done all I wish to do in paint…in all humility, I have no voice. And, I am not troubled by the realization. Happy to move on. This “truth” has liberated me, and might just be what some of you need to “see”, to save you from the torment of LSE, etc. Good luck to all who “do” and all who “don’t”. Cheers from Australia, www.viviansartworks.com Gallery Diversity

From: Bill — Sep 28, 2009

Anna hamness. Yes, there is a huge difference. LSE is an unfortunate weekness of a character that tortures the owner and everyone who get’s in touch with them. Humility is a strength that enriches people.

From: Bill — Sep 28, 2009

Pel Handelbaum, I agree with you. Dealing with agressive LSEs is a horrible thing, especially if they have any sort of power over other people.

From: Anon. — Oct 05, 2009

I have been painting all my life with some manner of success.

I feel I could have been much more productive than I have been due to a life-long problem of depression. I have never heard the term LSE. My psychiatric diagnosis is “major depression.” Van Gogh was thought to have been bi-polar/manic-depressive. Some of these comments sound so glib, like “low self-esteem” is something you can just fix by following a few steps, or “getting over yourself.”

Someone who suffers from LSE should be wary of such suggestions, especially if she is suffering from something more organic or serious.

LSE may be the presenting symptom of something that needs to be treated by a professional.

From: Janet Toney — Oct 06, 2009

“Some people confuse having self esteem with overweening egotism. Thinking you’re okay is not the same as taking license for agressive assertion. Just thought I’d throw that out.”

Pel, this sounds really smart, but since I’m not, what does this mean? Not intending to be rude, I just really don’t get what you’re trying to say?

What I was trying to say was:

My lack of confidence in my work stops me from enjoying doing it; causes me to worry too much and sometimes stops me from trying.

Watching my little grand daughter I thought “why” do I worry so much. It’s not necessary, since I’m not trying to make a living, or wow the world, only paint a respectable piece and enjoy the process.

From: Linda — Aug 25, 2010

This is a wonderful thing to read. Especially since, just this morning, I had a slight breakdown and tore my sketchbook to piece.

I will try all the things suggested and try to be more positive.

Again, thanks, this letter was exactly what I was looking for :]

From: Janet Summers — Aug 31, 2010

I have a friend who unvalues herself, a sure sign of low self esteem. I am a positive thinker, and beleive that what ever you plant in your mind grows. It is perhaps the hardest thing to accomplish to change someones perception of the glass being half empty to being half full. I believe it is their upbringing that leaves them with low self esteem and perhaps the only way to overcome the problem completely is to delve deeply into their past find the reasons, events or causes and face them, it’s like a computer program, uninstall and reinstall this is how I overcame my personal negativity.

 

 

Share.

Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop
Share.

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.