I’ve decided to start a new series, based on the art applications (or implications?) of The Seven Deadly Sins. Or, if you’re going old-school catholic school, The Seven Cardinal Vices. First up: Envy. I’ve been seeing a lot of great discussions going around in the art world on this topic lately, and I wanted to start my series of art sins there.
Before we begin, let’s define terms. People use envy and jealousy interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing:
Envy is a “feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.
Jealousy is a “mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry, unfaithfulness, etc., as in love or aims.
So, in short, you are jealous of the things you have, and envious of the things others have.
First of all, don’t feel bad or guilty that, as an artist, you suffer from envy. Almost every artist I have talked with about this has suffered from envy at some point in their career (me too, of course), and for most artists it is a common feeling. But just because envy is a perfectly understandable thing to feel doesn’t mean you need to let it rule you. A little envy is understandable, but being consumed by envy will ruin your career, and your life. Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy” and it is absolutely true in art and creating. How can you enjoy the process, if you are too wrapped up in how the end product is going to compete with others?
|Giotta di Bondone “Charity and Envy”|
Let’s break it down a bit, and I’ll try to summarize what I’ve learned about each particular flavor of envy:
Envy of another’s skill
There is a difference between appreciating someone else’s skill (a positive, glowy, happy feeling) and being envious of that skill (a sinking, pit of the stomach, crappy feeling). The difference has nothing to do with the other artist. It has everything to do with you. That feeling comes from insecurity and self-doubt. Sometimes it’s more of a whine: “It’s not fair that it comes so easy to them.” Sometimes it’s despair: “I’ll never be as good as they are.” I have found it helps to flip your thinking from a passive place (what they are, that you have no control over) to an active place (back to yourself, which you DO have control over): “If they could do it, so can I. I just have to keep working at it until I get just as good.”
|Karel Dujardin “Athena visiting Envy”|
Envy of another’s success
I think it’s easy to see a very competitive field and get scared that there are too many artists and not enough jobs. I’m going to be book-centric here for my example, but it applies across many art fields. “If another artist get a book cover, then that’s one less book cover for me”. That seems to make sense, but as an Art Director, I’m here to tell you that’s not quite how it works. Trends ebb and flow, and nothing convinces Editors that Illustration is the new trend than an amazing illustration on a cover that really sells a book so well it becomes a hit. For example, I’ve never had an easier job selling my editors on commissioning illustrations than after the James S. A. Corey Expanse books took off, due in very large part to the amazing Daniel Dociu illustrations. The success of those covers made more opportunities for illustration commissions for other artists, not the other way around.
Every successful book cover illustration, every article in Hi-Fructose or Juxtapoz, every Spectrum annual, every gallery show that pushes SFF art into the mainstream makes more opportunities for other artists in the same community. So celebrate each other’s successes, and pull each other along.
|Theodore Gericault, “Madwoman with a Mania of Envy”|
Envy of another’s opportunities
This sin has been exacerbated in recent years with the rise of social media and the universal onset of FOMO. The Fear Of Missing Out. This is going to be especially relevant this week, with Illuxcon happening. Everyone there will be posting amazing pictures of all the artists, paintings, art directors, fun dinners, lobby hangouts, and general carousing. Everyone not there will be imagining all the great times they are missing out on. Now don’t get me wrong, Illuxcon is fun, but it’s also a lot of work, exhaustion, con germs, awkward conversations, and nasty hangovers. Through the lens of social media, you see all of the awesome moments and none of the crappy down times in-between. I know I am especially guilty of this sin, and it’s not on purpose. Who doesn’t like to celebrate the fun times? Who goes out of their way to post the bad pictures?
The important thing is to remember you don’t see the whole story. This isn’t just about cons and events. This is about seeing the artist getting a gallery show, but not seeing them struggle to make rent. Or seeing an artist’s career take off, when their health or relationships might be self-destructing. No one is spared hardship and difficulty. I’m not saying we need to share the bad things on social media, in some depressing attempt to be more honest…I’m just saying look at your own life. There are great times and shitty times, and that’s exactly the same for every person you are envious of, whether you see it or not. You don’t know the whole story. Don’t assume it’s been a cakewalk.
|Pieter van der Heyden “Envy (Invidia)”|
Envy of another Envier
Ok, that sounds a little convoluted, but the fact is, many of the people who admit that they are burning with envy of another artist are very often the target of another person’s envy at the same time. Sometimes the very artist that is envying another artist is simultaneously being envied by that same artist. It’s ridiculous but it’s true. I can’t name names, but trust me, it happens more than you think. If it seems ridiculous to you that someone would be envying you, it’s probably because your first response would be something like “well, if they only knew what I went through to get here…” Exactly! Take comfort in the universality, and comedy, of this circle of envy, and then try to brush it off.
Ok, let’s summarize:
Envy = Awe + Insecurity.
If you take out the Insecurity, you’re left with Awe.
Awe = fuel for Inspiration and Motivation.
Envy and Inspiration are two sides of the same coin. Just flip it over to the positive side, and it’s no longer a sin, it’s an asset.