Dear Artist,

I’ve always wondered if my bad work happens because I’m a lousy artist, or for some other reason. Is there something such as sabotage insidiously going on? Sometimes I’ve been able to finger this devil — at times I’ve been able to see him at work in other artists.

There’s always a gap between the painting we want to paint and the one we actually do. We have our standards. We fall short. The sabotaging of these standards can be done by others, or it can come from ourselves. Here’s a few of the devils that can interfere with the quality you think you deserve, and the antidotes to exorcise them: Poor self-esteem is the number-one killer. Avoid the nay-sayers, sly underminers and warners. Seek the encouragement of thoughtful and authoritative mentors and gentle critics, particularly at the beginning. Internal feelings of guilt and shame may be based on childhood programming. They even strike advanced professionals. Many artists have confided that they don’t deserve to be successful. Down deep, they fear success and they lack the self-esteem to know that they can handle it. Positive self-esteem is the name of the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Other bedevilments include toxic dealer relationships and overly critical, jealous or hostile fellow travelers. Then there’s the chronic and silent sabotage of the dreaded Philistines. Avoid the proximity of persons whose mission in life is to make you crazy.

Too much expectation and artificial gushing encouragement can turn the brush wonky too. You don’t believe them. Take control and make a change. Know that everyone has the right to make the best of themselves, and there are those among your competitors who do.

It’s amazing how many problems can be solved with the simple device: “If what you’re doing now isn’t working — try something else.”

Best regards,


PS: “Creativity flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance.” (Julia Cameron)

Esoterica: Magic trick. The person who is abusing your creative growth is blocked in his own. Your emergence is threatening to him. Neutralize his or her negative energy by empowering him or her in other ways. This works for you too.

The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.


Disappearing act
EMT, Glasgow

A person of great fame and powerful personality made some remarks about my work. I am not going to say what he said. It was very personal and had the word plagarism in it. I had no intent on plagarism and did not know anything about it. Nevertheless it stopped me from working for more than a year. One day I got over it. I know what did it. I made myself think that that person did not exist. I’m back at it.


Lurking devils
by Jesi Barron, Victoria, BC, Canada

I have many devils lurking in every corner, ready to smash me into the canvas in bits.


by A serious artist

I am compelled to pass on an example of an artist wannabe who sabotages other artists. At a local art fair one of the volunteers with the organization that put the outdoor art fair together was a very big pain. He constantly came in my booth, smoked and basically scared away my potential clients. It was terrible. He actually was supposed to be part of the security team and therefore it was next to impossible to get rid of him. It was so bad that I went home early. He literally parked himself in my booth and over those couple of days told his life story and found out that he “oh, yes” is an artist. He also managed to keep one of my business cards and is now phoning me at home. I try my best to cut them off so they will move on and of course drive someone else crazy and not me!


Shamed at home
by Joan Burwash Gaetz, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Shame is what caught my eye in this newsletter. I had my second show of prints and paintings in my home gallery space. 60 people, 10 pieces sold, interesting feedback but I felt strangely troubled afterward. Unlike my first show held in a neutral space. I felt more vulnerable. Any comments on such a venture? Another artist thought the space was great and it could be a yearly event but I don’t feel so sure now. It all seemed too personal – too revealing. Back to shame. A neighbour purchased a framed collograph print that was not for sale due to a flaw in the glass, so I reduced the price and fixed the glass. He then returned to complain about ripples in the paper. Dictated all sorts of solutions. I finally had to enlist my husband’s help. We gave him back his $500 and hung onto the print. No way, he had to have it. So there it hangs, next door on his wall and I feel like I never want to sell another thing again. What a wimp eh? I’m sure that as time goes on the other nine people who were thrilled and gracious will surface in my mind and predominate and I’ll figure out how to handle it better next time.

(RG note) Times are changing. No need to feel shame at having a show at home, self-publishing a book, paying for your own CD. The arts are democratizing. There’s not as much need for the imprimatur of a middleman although they are a great line of defense for artists by taking the bugs in their teeth, defending from the occasional problematic individual. If you are going to have home shows just keep in mind that nine out of ten guests are honored to be invited to the artist’s home and sacred space.


by Roy McGiveron, New York, USA

You mentioned philistine and I had to go to the dictionary: a. member of a people of ancient Palestine. b. person who is hostile or indifferent to culture. A person who is not refined in the appreciation of the arts. Yes yes yes. These people are saboteurs in that they just don’t give a damn and they make you say, “What’s the use.”


Private mantra
by Sara Genn, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“Meadow and Fortress”
acrylic on canvas, 14 x 18 inches

Every once in a while there comes along a friend who is secure in her own personal journey and empowered by her triumphs and generous enough to deliver authentic encouragment. It’s rare. Ours is a society of should-dos and safety and avoidance of the dreaded big mistake. I could be dead tomorrow but I know for what I lived. As for today, my fun cup runneth over — enough to stomp on the Philistines.

It’s human nature to want love and acceptance by others for who we are and what we do. It’s vitally important however, to first develop our own private mantra: “I’m great.” That way it’s only amusing when someone else asks, “Are you sure you’re doing this right?” Life’s too short for “Am I any good?”

Empowerment is when YOU control your quality, dole out your own praise, know when to commit and when to move on.


Endured the test
by Elle Fagan

In background and education and experience, I was gifted, and my best work, and my financial success and stability in the work, in a range of situations, as with most people, has been best when properly supported. In my work with children’s groups for many years, it was rule one in setting up for the work. I expected, as teacher and mother, to give the children an improved sense of self esteem to take home, as well as a “picherr” to show their parents.

In start up daycare projects, some of the children came from first-generation liberated blacks, first-generation working mothers… what I gave was useful… However, at midlife, during an overnight disability, I worked part-time as I could at my art, in pain, at one point surrounded by danger and stress and oppression, and financial insecurity. I was amazed to discover that creativity with some people, simply IS as much a part of the person as the heartbeat, the blade of grass growing through concrete, the ray of light in the darkness, my confidence is forever innoculated against some pitfalls, even attack, for having endured the test.


by Lila Irving, Port Credit, Ontario, Canada

The solution to the jealous hostile fellow-traveler is to thoroughly stop contact with that person. Put him or her away.


Stay teachable
by Nick Arena, Tuscon, Arizona, USA

I’ve used Julia Cameron’s books and to this day write 3 pages of anything every morning. At this stage of my life I cannot allow any negative people into my life. I love to paint and specialize in seascapes. I do some teaching here in Tucson and in Mexico during the winter. Life just keeps getting better if we stay teachable.


Sabotage from within
by Tania

My “secondary easel” is on my fireplace mantel in my bedroom. Out of some (no doubt) masochistic motive, I leave my current effort on this mantel overnight — it’s the first thing I focus on with my morning coffee. This morning I staggered out of bed and turned the painting face down, morosely considering my options:

1. commit suicide
2. commit suicide, leaving my paints, paper, etc. to my worst enemy
3. burn the blasted thing and start reading “help wanted” ads

Why’d I feel this way? The feedback I’d received from the few people who’d seen this effort used terms like: “atmospheric, exciting light, glowing and luminous, mysterious and surreal.” However, come morning, all I could see was not what worked but what didn’t work. But instead of rationally reasoning, “Okay, do it again, repeat the good stuff, correct the rest,” all I could think was, “I can’t do it, I’m going into the garden to eat worms, I might as well quit, I’ll never be an artist, what’s the use?” So, why? Your letter offered some insights. Sabotage from within, the deadliest of all.



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