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Artists and Self-Doubt: A Perennial problem and what to do about it

What is Self-Doubt?

 In my last post, I talked about some marketing techniques for artists, such as: why artists need to create a portfolio, but this week, the topic that resonates most with me is self-doubt. I know it sounds kind of depressing; however, I am trying to be more authentic in what I write about on this blog and not just what seems popular or trendy. And I promise I will end this blog post on a positive note. I believe that having self-doubt as an artist can really create obstacles to making more artwork, or having the confidence to step out and show the world your art.  Sometimes it can cause an artist to stop making art altogether, whether it’s for a few days, weeks or sometimes even years. I know this from personal experience from several bouts of artist’s block and countless doubts about my abilities as an artist. Somehow, though if you want to get your artwork into public spaces and out of your studio, you have to find a way through this issue, because without artwork artists cannot promote themselves, period. In her own words, Alyson Stanfield states: “If you are not consistently producing art, then you have nothing to take out of the studio and market. Remember you are an artist first and foremost. Your career starts in the studio.”(Source: “Alyson Stanfield Shares Her Ten Best Art Marketing Tips,”Artwork Archive, https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/alyson-stanfield-shares-her-10-best-art-marketing-tips, retrieved, 03/15/18).

What is an example of Self-Doubt?

 Here are a few examples of self-doubt, which I am citing from an article, entitled, “5 Fears that Can Destroy an Artist,” from the Skinny Artist website, https://skinnyartist.com/. For example, one common type of self-doubt that artists face is, “I’m not good enough.”(ibid)   In the interest of space, I am just going to focus on the first type of self-doubt, listed in the above-mentioned article. According to the author, Drew Kimble, the first type of self-doubt, describes an artist’s doubts in their craftsmanship and skill, and this is one of the most common types. (ibid) For example, as artists we are creating items that are not entirely essential, and that meets basic needs such as food, water, shelter, health, etc. (ibid) For instance, when times are tough and money is short, items that are not considered a necessity are often the first to be cut back from one’s budget. (ibid) Things like, “books, music, movies, art, performances,”are frequently considered to be an indulgence. (ibid)

What Causes Self-Doubt?

 You might ask what things can cause self-doubt for artists. This is a question that has many answers…Sometimes it may be a rejection form letter that comes in the mail for an art show, and it’s not the first one you’ve gotten. In fact, the number of rejections is beginning to grow. You will most likely get some sort of form letter stating something to the effect, Thank you for applying to this (blank) art show, but unfortunately, we were unable to select your work for this show. Please apply next time, etc. Or maybe, your cherished dream of getting into a graduate school program to study art did not work out, and it has made you wonder why you were not selected. Questions begin to swirl in your mind and you wonder, “Am I just not good enough?” or,” Why didn’t they choose my artwork, or why wasn’t I accepted to that particular art program?” The worst part about this type of situation is that you often can’t know why your art wasn’t selected unless you take the plunge and ask the art gallery director or dean for some feedback about your art. Sometimes, jurors or other decision makers might answer your question about why you didn’t get into the show, or the dean of the graduate school might give you some feedback about why you weren’t accepted into the graduate school program. If you can find out the reasons why for these types of rejections, especially if it’s in the form of constructive feedback, it can be very useful, to getting unblocked in your art practice, and start making progress toward your goals.

What can you do With Constructive Feedback about Your Art?

Maybe it means that your artwork didn’t fit with the style of that gallery, and you need to find a gallery that is a better fit. On the other hand, maybe you need to work on your portfolio some more and your artist statement to be sure that they both re-enforce each other. For example, I did get the chance to ask the admissions office of James Madison University why I wasn’t accepted into their painting program, and they were very gracious in their response with some specific guidelines about applying again. The dean suggested that I show my ideas and artwork to some art faculty members first, to get some feedback before re-applying for the art program. Ultimately, I decided not to re-apply for a number of reasons, but the feedback was helpful. So, what is an artist to do? Give in the feelings, press on anyway, take a break from painting and go on a vacation to Tahiti and avoid the whole problem until it hopefully, magically goes away?

What Can Artists Do to Alleviate Self-Doubt?

 Although this type of self-doubt may always be an issue for artists, there are some things that artists can do to challenge self-doubt, and re-evaluate how they think about their abilities. For instance, artists can complete a short-term art challenge, such as the Draw this Again meme, which was posted on the website, Deviant Art.com. This challenge charts the progress of several artists’ skills over time with photos of past and present artwork of the same subject, i.e. portraits. These artworks can be completed in whatever medium the artist wishes to work in, some of which include drawing and digital art. It is truly amazing to see what some time and practice can do when you look at the before and after photos. I’m going to try this challenge myself, between blogging, custom art orders, and building up a new portfolio in my “almost” daily sketchbook.  I’m hoping this challenge will help me to get out of my own pit of self-pity and passivity, and start picking up the brush more often, to see that change is possible and that growth in my skills as an artist is up to me. It’s been a week since I started writing this post, and I just completed a self-portrait painting to compare it to an older self-portrait that I painted as a student at McDaniel College in 2005, to do more own version of Deviant Art meme, Draw this Again. Next week, I will elaborate some more on other types of self-doubt that artists experience and hopefully, I can provide you with some helpful tips for overcoming these hurdles, especially the negative self-talk that seems to fuel the artist block and self-doubt.

self-portrait 2005, flat
Self-Portrait, oil on canvas, 2005, Jodie Schmidt.
self-portrait 2018m flat
Self-Portrait, oil on prepared paper, 2017, Jodie Schmidt.

 

 

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How Can Artists Protect Their Art Online?

In a follow up from last week’s blog post about copyright infringement and how to avoid it, I am looking at the other side of the coin and investigating how artists can protect their work from being stolen online.  However, I must offer the caveat shared by Drew Kimble, author of the article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” that there is no foolproof guarantee that any of these measures can protect an artist’s work. Indeed, according to Kimble, if a thief has the technological know-how, they can steal an artist’s work. However, in the words of Kimble, there are strategies which can be used in an effort to deter thieves from unlawfully using an artist’s content.

One of these methods which artists can use to protect their artwork is called watermarking (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/   . This approach involves creating a mark in a photo editing program, such as PhotoShop, often incorporating your name and the year in which you created the art. (ibid) I first learned about this technique when I was taking a Business of Art Class, taught by local photographer and art business coach, Rebecca La Chance, of Thurmont, MD. Previously to taking this class, I had not thought about protecting my artwork very much, as I had viewed it more as a hobby than a business. However, since 2017, when I made the shift from hobby artist to art business entrepreneur, I have been thinking more about the issue of copyright, both with regard to avoiding copyright infringement, and also how to protect my artwork from being stolen. As I started to do research about copyright infringement, I was shocked about how much art online has been copied wholesale from celebrity photographs and is for sale as handmade art on websites such as Etsy. And there is no way to know with certainty that the artist who made this artwork actually asked the photographer for permission to use their source as a reference for their art.

It is one thing to copy another artist’s work in order to learn from it and to give credit to that artist, as I have done with my master copies. However, it’s quite another thing to steal another artist’s work and take the credit for it. I’d like to think that some artists are ignorant about this issue, and to give them the benefit of the doubt. I hope that is true, but I don’t know if that is true in all cases. Copyright infringement certainly wasn’t a topic that came up in my art classes at college. However, I think it should be addressed, since these college courses in graphic design, painting, illustration, and photography are supposed to prepare artists for the professional world after they graduate, as graphic designers, animators, photographers, professional illustrators, and artists, etc.

More to the point, I think artists who steal others artwork are robbing themselves of the opportunity to create their own work and grow as artists. Although it may take more effort to take your own photos, the hard work is well worth it, because you get an opportunity to learn about the principles of composition, light, etc., and these fundamentals are critical components of making art in any medium.  These principles can help you make higher quality art in general, as composition and lighting are important aspects of making attractive artwork.

On the other hand, I admit that when I was a teenager, I used celebrity photographs to learn how to draw portraits from magazine covers. The truth is, I had no clue about copyright laws at the time. But, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t offer these drawings for sale or display at an art gallery or any of my commerce shops, such as Etsy and Red Bubble. I have also used the celebrity photos as a learning tool in my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge, but these drawings were not for sale, and I frequently gave credit to the photographer’s name in my Instagram posts. I feel now though, that I want to step it up a notch, and not even use copy written photos at all as a reference, but to search for public domain photos, or better yet, learn to take good photos of my own, so that the artwork I create can be more original.

Of course, the issue of artistic theft is not a new one, because, in the past, art was stolen by artists who made forgeries of other artists work such as the famous case of the so-called Vermeer paintings, (i.e. Amsterdam vs. Han Van Meegren (1947). Source: “The Essential Vermeer,” retrieved from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/misc/van meegren.html. So with all this being said, should artists stop making their art available to others through the World Wide Web or not? And if artists decide to post their art online, what are the options to protect their art from thieves? To make this decision, I think artists need to weigh the pros and cons of posting their artwork online to decide how to market their art. And they also need to look at the options available to them to safeguard their artwork online by researching different methods, such as watermarking, slice and dice, disable right click, and shrink wrapping, (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images).

On the benefits side of posting artwork online, artists can gain a wider level of exposure for their artwork than ever before, on a worldwide level, (ibid) by using the world wide web to post their artwork on social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. They can also sell their artwork online through online galleries such as Art Fire or Daily Paintworks. In the past, such opportunities did not exist and artists were completely dependent on currying the favor of art gallery owners in order to obtain a platform for their artwork. Now, any artist can get their artwork into the public eye without having to pay for application fees. If you have electricity, an internet connection, computer, and cell phone, you can post your artwork to a plethora of websites, for a minimal expense. Added to the social media channels I have already mentioned, are online art galleries which are subscription-based, such as Art Fire and Daily Paintworks, at www.dailypaintworks.com,  created by artist Carol Marine. Many of these require only a small monthly subscription fee with an unlimited amount of posts for an artist’s artwork, which can be linked to commerce sites such as eBay and Etsy, so artists can control their sales completely. Best of all, there is often no jury panel involved to become a member of these online art galleries.

On the other hand, if artists opt out of posting their artwork online, they are much more limited in their ability to gain new followers or control their sales. It can also be more expensive to get your artwork in front of influential decision makers such as art gallery owners and art jury panel members. In this instance, you are limited to the gallery shows you are accepted into and more traditional art events such as art festivals and fairs, which often involve the traditional jury system to gain admittance. Moreover, it can be discouraging to artists (especially emerging artists), to receive one rejection letter after another, especially when they don’t know why their artwork is being rejected. To be successful with this approach, you need a thick skin, perseverance and a specific plan to find galleries who will be a good fit for your art. It can often be like trying to find a job, in that you are trying to make a match between the artwork you create and the artwork that a specific gallery already promotes. This process cannot be random to be successful.

Another option is for artists to choose to combine their art gallery shows with an online presence in social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. In this case, you can probably attract more fans and customer and the instant feedback you receive from your posts can be encouraging and help you to create more art. So, if you decide to go this route, you have several options to protect your artwork from unlawful use. These options include watermarking, slice and dice, shrink wrapping and disabling the right-click option (Kimble). The different strategies I mentioned are described in detail in Drew Kimble’s article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” with an analysis of each method involved. A tutorial for watermarking is embedded in the above-mentioned article. If you are interested in learning more about these techniques you can click on the link, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/.

Robert Frost in wooded landscape.
Here is a photo of my box project in progress. I used Liquitex acrylic paints to create a monochromatic underpainting. I plan to complete the box in color, and it will illustrate the poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.
Three dimensional cube with portrait and landscape painting.
This photo shows the box from a higher vantage point and shows the other sides. I plan to include text on the lid of the box from the poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Night, so viewers can make the connection between the poem and the illustration.