There are all kinds of envy — including the kind that Freud thought he detected. The kind I’m talking about is called professional jealousy. Some artists have it bad. Salieri had it for Mozart. Who wouldn’t? It’s supposed to be one of the main sins. I’ve had lots of confessional letters from artists lately. They’re jealous of the success and talent of others. It happens everywhere — at art schools, with the artist next door, even sharing the same studio. One woman wrote to say that the envy she felt for her friend’s paper tole drove her to stop working in the medium.
I’ve noticed a few things about the condition: It’s generally a same-sex activity. The envied person is often perceived as having an unfair advantage. If not checked, envy can last a lifetime. It can destroy. Some artists develop systems to avoid falling into it. Some act as if other artists hardly exist. They only pay attention to their own private direction. They don’t join clubs, attend other’s openings, visit galleries. They only expose themselves on their own terms and in what they think is their best light to those who can be trusted to adore or become customers.
In my opinion the best antidote to overcome envy is to look at the big picture. All of us are in competition with all others. Life’s a jungle. Survival of the fittest is a basic principle. It’s easy to be intimidated in small worlds when we are willing to remain in them. Be philosophic. Read more. Smell the daisies. Think outside the box.
Mild jealousy and covetousness are actually a route to improved capabilities. It’s called creative envy. It’s part of aspiring. The pressure can be channeled to new skills that take artists to a higher level, both economically and as evolved beings. There’s always something left to give. The camp of artistic altruism is full of brotherhood and sisterhood. It’s a cool place.
PS: “Envy is a symptom of lack of appreciation of our own uniqueness and self worth. Each of us has something to give that no one else has.” (Elizabeth O’Connor)
Esoterica: Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) claimed that he was “the patron saint of mediocrity.” To know one’s own mediocrity is to wish to supercede it. We must be thankful to know mediocrity. Some don’t. For some reason, some don’t need to. “The only real influence I’ve ever had was myself.” (Edward Hopper)
The following are responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
by Bobbi Snope, Coeurd’Alene, Idaho, USA
“You can only have what you celebrate in others.” The concept being that what you bless you can aspire too also. Jealousy only keeps us stuck in “lack” or as it is sometimes called a poverty consciousness. This quote has pulled me into a more gracious place when observing other artist’s work and in general other peoples’ lives. Good for them I say… how wonderful for them… what a gift they have. I can only hope that I will be capable of using all my gifts in this life. We must resist this tendency to go down. It doesn’t serve ourselves or the world to do so.
Subject of envy
No name please
I know first hand what it’s like to be the person others envy. Outselling colleagues at shows and through the internet, building my dream studio, having a loving, enthusiastically supportive spouse, and being blessed with inspiration and passion have caused other artists to admit quite frequently that they are jealous of me. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I find myself going out of my way to prove what a nice and helpful individual I am. I try to play down my successes and be a humble as I can. What else can I do? Don’t know who said it, but a good quote that always has stuck in my mind is; “Enjoy your own life without comparing it to that of another.”
J P M
I suppose what you mean by “the envy that Freud thought he detected” was penis envy. This now largely discredited condition was supposed to affect little girls. It seems little girls are more inclined to be curious than envious about those things. In fact penis envy is far more likely to be present among males. Perceived potential prowess, etc. This may account for why men are more competitive in the arts — and in other fields for that matter. This would also explain the “short man syndrome,” where the little guys try harder. Napoleon, Picasso, etc.
Not same gender
by Marina Morgan
Envy is not same-gender specific at all. Women artists have envied male artists their uninterrupted career work, and acknowledgement of talent. Recently there was aired a documentary on women artists who couldn’t get a toehold in the “art establishment.” As a class, women tend to be more mutually supportive (due to more nurturing tendencies, perhaps out of necessity, perhaps both?) than male artists have been to any other artists, or in exaggerated cases, people. “Creative envy,” I suggest, is merely a passage from the ego to the true artist’s soul, which has access to artistic intuition and insight to spiritual and clairvoyant truths, and which is inspired by echoes of this in other artists’ work. I believe that that is the “cool place” to which you refer.
No prima donnas here
by Deborah Russell, Lutherville, Maryland, USA
I have worked with many artists, especially with my experience as an executive board member of a local art league, and in owning my own gallery. I have seen some pretty strange situations due to jealousy. I’m not sure if it is a same sex problem. My experience has led me to believe it is cross gender. It is especially difficult to deal with a situation where an artist becomes so greedy for recognition, they begin to manipulate situations such as gallery openings, presentation space, and try to take “the whole pie,” instead of the slice offered. Reciprocation is something that doesn’t happen with this type of ego. They do not show up for openings or receptions unless of course they are to get some award or incentive. They may mask their lack of consideration with a friendly smile, and offer some type of justification or excuse, followed by a statement to the effect that “they didn’t think so and so would mind. Or they just didn’t realize how much it meant to “so and so.” Perhaps “that ego” is why our committee, for selection of board positions, takes such care in screening the applicants. It takes individuals with stamina, broad range perspective and a great appreciation of others to work “as a team” to be both supportive and encouraging and to be fair to all members.
by Linda Timbs, Coquitlam, BC, Canada
My claws are exposed if an individual, be it friend or stranger, is awarded the praise and prize over myself in a writing competition! Jealousy can be a great motivating force, if managed selflessly. It is innate in the animal kingdom, in which we high and mighty humans belong. Humans, however, have been blessed with a higher reasoning ability than the rest of the animal kingdom… or so we need to believe! I think it is part of the human condition to feel envy. It is a difficult task to praise the opposition. BUT, in accepting defeat, one becomes a better person, more open to making changes and accepting further challenges. We can make choices… either sit on the side line and pout, or accept with humility, defeat, and move on seeking to improve oneself and one’s artistic skill along the way.
Life’s too short
by Craig Luce
I have spent a 25-year career in medical illustration, a highly technical commercial art. And I have seen professional jealousy show its green head in REAL, financial terms — or management issues — in several venues, public and private. Funny, I thought that there would be VERY LITTLE professional jealousy in “fine art,” since everyone is “doing their own thing” — how could there be perceived competition? But now I can spot a green-headed artist entering my space. This I learned last weekend at a local art fair. There were sweeping generalizations, talking too loud, nervous laughter, choked smiles. I felt sorry to have somehow offended them (my fault?) and engaged them in dialogue, though I was successful only part of the time. JEEEZ, what a waste of energy! I’m just starting to show my work and see everything as inspiring, including all other artists’ work. Its just tooo damn bad if envy comes into the picture. Life is toooo SHORT! Then, I am overtly laudatory to my betters, and I can immediately see who they are, so I try to pick their brains!
Not a sin
by Elsha Leventis
It’s good to remember that envy is not a sin — it’s just a feeling, an emotion. Emotions are energy in motion. When we feel envy, it’s good to sit with that envy a bit. Let the energy flow through us, not block it. That way we can become aware of what that envy is telling us, for envy tells us not just about our own shortcomings. It can teach us what it is in others that we want ourselves, and so if we can seek to nurture in ourselves what we envy in others, the lesson is learned.
Joining the club
by Marlen Muccio
I’m an art student and I find jealousy among my fellow students. My art teacher is constantly trying to keep us humble and explaining that one or two sales do not make an artist. He shares his knowledge with us because art is his passion and his life. This is funny. I remember the day I sold my first oil painting. A classmate told me, “Now I can call you colleague because you sold a painting.” I told her that I didn’t like that word. I am only an art student. For me, we never finish learning and when you share any tip with others you grow.
Unhooking from others
by Lesley Humphrey
I also have suffered from jealousy in a variety of forms: The painful variety that leaves you filled with anguish at your own shortcomings, and also the kind that forces me to ask “If I work harder, could I attain this level of excellence?” Through a journey of self-discovery I have finally realized that whenever ANYONE causes a strong reaction within us, that of obsessive admiration or even anger, we have really projected an aspect of ourselves, good or bad, onto someone else. We criticize vehemently those negative traits that we ourselves have possessed at some time, and tucked away where no one can see them. (This is a powerful tool of the ego.) They must be acknowledged so that they will lose their power over us. Conversely, when we greatly admire others, I like to think of them as beacons to which I should gravitate, analyzing what in fact it is about their art that I love, and work to understand it better. Usually, it’s because it’s pure and authentic.
I believe we are all capable of achieving our goals personal and professional. The truth is, we use many excuses why we can’t, usually born of fear of failure. Those whose life and art we covet, perhaps do not. When we acknowledge all of our personality traits, and stop projecting them onto others, we literally “un-hook” ourselves from others and embrace our true self. Honest, true and authentic art is the result… and who among us would not like to claim that!”
by Patrick J. Davis, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
You stated, “All of us are in competition with all others. Life’s a jungle.” I beg to differ.
Although this idea appears to be a motherhood statement in our modern society, I think it’s dead wrong. While it is true that from time to time one may find oneself in competition with others, whether it be for a job, a sale, or a mate, I suggest that in the long run most human achievement has come from human helping human. In addition I suggest that those who are most competitive are least happy. After all, if one is always looking over one’s shoulder, expecting to have to continually beat someone else to stay on top, how happy (or sane) can that person truly be?
I humbly admit that while artistic envy does occur, the solution lies not in seeing life as a constant competition, but in seeing our lives as co-dependent. Let me give an example: your success does not threaten mine (such as it is) Rather, your success may well help me in that if you turn more people onto art, they might just like and buy what I have to offer.
I would also point out that if you were truly competitive, you wouldn’t allow me free access to your letters. After all, it just might help me become a better artist and thus more of a threat to your success. Instead, your letter encourages me and helps me. I hope that in return my appreciation for your skill and wisdom may give you a lift and may make you feel more fulfilled. Co-dependence rules, eh?
I think the solution might lie, as you suggest, in looking at the big picture, but that picture encompasses realizing that someone else’s success rarely threatens oneself. Instead, I should rejoice that someone else has created a painting I wish I had or has made a big sale. I learn from others who have more talent and skill, and in some small way, I hope I might help others who are learning too. I think that way more of us experience greater pleasure, greater happiness, and a greater sense of fulfillment, and it certainly creates a better world than a dog-eat-dog one, right?
Between isolation and competition
by Sandy Triolo, Washington, DC, USA
“The only real influence I’ve ever had was myself.” (Edward Hopper) YES! I find I’m usually floating somewhere between isolation and competition. I clearly benefit from just about all artwork that I examine; however I find that I often don’t take advantage of observing artwork first hand. Which is curious. Through the years I’ve studied art history and had particular artists that I have connected with or work that I admired. BUT there is a place where only my opinion, my work and my concepts are permitted and it is a place where all other input is of dubious benefit. As long as I remain focused in this way I’m able to blast ahead, blazing my own trail with little regard for who thinks what about it… ! Then of course the rest of the universe comes by to visit and I see something that blows my socks off and I’m left in the dust of my doubts and I have to start building the wall of conviction/isolation all over again.
Edward Hopper’s problem
by Martine Gourbault
Could it be that Mr. Hopper was in denial? How can one only be influenced solely by oneself? Would you not have to live in a dark cave for the whole of your life? The influences may be subliminal and subtle but all that surrounds us in some way changes how we see things and who we are. We may resist being influenced by other artists but I would venture to say that all of us retain images we have seen and use that information to inform us in our own work. To that great big soup that has been cooked up by everyone who has gone before us, we attempt to add our own little brand of spice. That’s the challenge.
by Patrick Rarey, Japan
Your correspondents might be interested to know that it is still possible to follow the road that Hiroshige traveled and sketched. I walked the Old Tokaido Road in 1990 and found that about 70-80% of the original Old Tokaido still exists and is relatively unspoiled: same width, same meandering alignment. Several of the Hiroshige scenes can still be recognized. A journey down the Old Tokaido, preferably on foot, is one of the hidden pleasures of Japan.
(RG note) My letter from the Tokaido Road and valuable artists’ responses are at http://painterskeys.com/odyssey/.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 93 countries worldwide, including Afghanistan, have visited these pages since January 1, 2001.
That includes Roberta Loach who says that “talent is only a small part of getting ahead in the art world.”
And Loraine Wellman who affirms, “I rejoice in other’s successes knowing that there is plenty for all.” And Moncy Barbour who says, “I choose to envy the masters.”
And Bill Cannon who wonders whether his just completed 250 page online course Write Like a Pro for www.educationtogo.com should’ve spoken about professional jealousy as part of the ‘creative process’?
And Susan Spoke of Chelsea, Quebec, who says, “Jealousy equals fear equals insecurity.”
And Gerhilde Stulken who says, “I would like to encourage all artists out there not to sour their hearts with envy and waist their energy — rather take this energy and paint the masterpiece you always wanted to paint — it might not be a Monet or Gauguin, but it will be ‘YOUR MASTERPIECE.’ ”
Quotable quotes on envy
“Envy is an insult to oneself.” (Yevgeny Yevtushenko)
“Envy is a littleness of soul, which cannot see beyond a certain point, and if it does not occupy the whole space feels itself excluded.” (William Hazlitt)
“Jealousy would be far less torturous if we understood that love is a passion entirely unrelated to our merits.” (Paul Eldridges)
“An inexhaustible good nature is one of the most precious gifts of heaven, spreading itself like oil over the troubled sea of thought, and keeping the mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather.” (Washington Irving)
Naples Yellow and the Science of Authenticating Art
Authenticating artwork is a complex task that has historically required experts who have the knowledge of an art connoisseur and the eyes of a detective. In recent decades, however, chemistry and physics have helped transform the previously subjective skill into a more objective pursuit. Analytical techniques for authenticating art are growing ever more critical in light of new European laws which place greater liability for misidentified works on art merchants.
It was with these issues in mind that Joris Dik and colleagues in the Laboratory for Crystallography at the University of Amsterdam trained a host of analytical instruments on a lead/antimony pigment known as Naples Yellow. Dik explains that throughout the history of visual arts craftsmen have perpetually sought cheaper, more stable, and less toxic pigments. Naples Yellow, in particular, was manufactured by various methods as it was incorporated into numerous paintings produced between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Dik’s collaboration studied Naples Yellow samples from historical paintings of known origins from various collections, such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. In addition, the researchers surveyed portions of historical pigments in the Hafkenscheidt Collection at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (the Netherlands) and the Turner Pigment Collection in London’s Tate Gallery. They examined samples with electron microscopes and identified the chemical compositions with Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS), a technique that involves bombarding a sample with electrons and monitoring the characteristic x-rays emitted by the various sample components. X-ray and synchrotron diffraction studies revealed differences in physical structures of distinct versions of Naples Yellow.
In combination with literary research into pigment production manuals and technical treatises describing manufacturing methods, Dik explains, “We are able to sketch a chronological and geographical map of the production of Naples Yellow.” The map should help narrow down the origins of unidentified artworks, and potentially verify the pedigrees claimed for otherwise established works.
(From the Inside Science News Service, American Institute of Physics)