To Be or Not to Be: Confident as an Artist
The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.
As a writer slash artist, I have been surrounded by fear-based judgment — by myself, and by others — all my life. As I started, at the age of 11, and I told people that I wanted to become a writer…? I was met with quote-unquote concerns such as: ‘aren’t you afraid that you will not make it or earn enough?’ ‘Do you not worry about the humiliation that comes with getting rejected by publishers?’ and so on.
Fast forward a decade, I got an article published that was appreciated by many. This led to people meeting me with sympathy that conveyed what they think: my career is over. Many asked ‘what if this was your best idea and you will never be able to write something that anyone will want to read?’ ‘you might get into an everlasting writer’s block,’ and ‘aren’t you afraid you will be left with nothing but bitter ash of failure surrounding you?’.
The short answer is yes. I am afraid of it all and quite a number of other things.
Creative Ventures and Fear of Failure
As I came across my — and other artists’ — experiences which are similar to the above-told story, I wondered what it is specifically about following your creative side as an artist. and making a career out of it, that scares us in a way that maybe other careers do not?
I do not recall once anybody asking my sister ‘Alex, aren’t you afraid you will not become as good of a doctor as Edward Jenner?’ In her defense, doctors do not have this established hype of being underconfident or unsure.
Artists, on the other hand, are reputed to be working with a glass of scotch on their desk, sipping confidence every 3 minutes.
Furthermore, this is topped with a now-rising generic notion that people who are truly putting their best into their work — or trying to — are mostly underconfident. This is contradictory to the cliché that one must use self-confidence as a key to succeed in their career.
So… which one is it: should an artist be confident?
Fun fact: A phenomenon under the name Dunning-Kruger Effect explains — based on 100 studies — that people tend to not be very good at estimating themselves, and end up with illusory superiority. What is most interesting is that those with the least ability are more likely to overrate themselves.
Dunning and Kruger explain that while we all tend to overestimate our abilities and have a limitation to accepting our incompetence, poor performers are most prone to doing this. It is because they lack the very expertise that is required to identify their own errors.
It is not because of ego blinding, people can — and do — acknowledge their mistakes once it is spotted, it is the task of spotting mistakes at which they struggle.
In simpler words, when artists reach a mediocre or above-mediocre level, they tend to have less confidence in themselves because they know enough to know that there’s a lot they do not know.
The Role of Confidence (or underconfidence and overconfidence) as an Artist
Lack of confidence, for the most part, comes from a place of fear: judgment, failure, disappointing self or others. On the other hand, overconfidence — again, for the most part — stems from ignorance: not considering an alternative that could lead to better results (known as option fixation), or disregarding a liability or scope of their work in the future, or denial of the need to build skills.
As an artist, or on any career path for that matter, fear could lead to limitation in terms of growth, and ignorance could lead to putting out partly-done in the world (which brings more harm than good).
We need a balance. There is no concrete solution to when and to which degree shall an artist be — or not be — confident. Therefore, attaining a balance is what we need to implement perseverance and honest growth as an artist.
Confidence and Awareness
Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist, coined a term known as self-efficacy. By definition, the concept means a sense of belief in oneself and one’s capacity to conduct activities and behaviors that are necessary to produce performance attainments.
In simpler terms, Bandura scientifically validated confidence by helping people get rid of their phobias by helping them take baby steps in exploring mastery experiences: achieving (personal or even minute) success by facing adversity. These people would, in turn, be more resilient in the face of failure.
So by performing tasks that bring us personal success (such as mastering cooking a dish you love or finishing reading a book), one becomes overall more confident.
Nevertheless, this confidence can cross the subtle line and reach obliviousness without giving any warning signs. Therefore, it is crucial to know what we know and where we are in our lives. As a writer, I could be good at creativity, but is my grammar above average? As a designer, you could have the instinct and skills to pick colors and fonts, but can you draw as well as you think?
These questions are not to belittle an artist, but we all ask these questions to ourselves all the time; not because we are scared to be judged, but because it is only through awareness and confidence, that an artist can know which areas need improvement and can grow.
A Little Trick:
From years of attempts at being confident while looking for my flaws at the same time, I have developed a mini trick: every time I perform a creative activity, first I do it for myself, and then it is for others. If on the way, I come across an error or so, I mostly go with “I will figure it out,” rather than blindly going with “I can.”
Also, you must remember that you are a professional too (not just an artist), so there will be times when creativity will not simply come to you or you will find errors in all that you do, but as a professional, you do not have the luxury to keep it on hold. So, you perform your tasks regardless, and the rest will follow.