It’s a natural thing as a first instinct that goes back to when we were little kids: You see another kid with an ice cream cone, and you want it. You watch your buddy do a great drawing of Tears for Fears for his Trapper Keeper in Junior High, you feel jealous for yours that just has a cut out from Tiger Beat. (old people, you know what I’m talking about). One of the side effects of this artsplosion inter web visual volcano we are all experiencing each and every day is SO MCUH ART. There’s no way to digest it all and no way not to feel, even at your best ebb a twinge of that old primal envy. But here’s the thing, a peer’s success does not indicate your own failure. Not even a little.
We’ve all experienced it a bit and there’s no shame in those feelings. Be it an evolutionary drive that makes us better monkeys at peeling our stolen bananas, or some dark narcissistic ego thing gone wrong, Peer-Envy is not a thing you want to feed or chase. It’s an impulse that adds nothing and makes you see your own art as a comparative to others, and that’s no good for you either.But part of being in our community and now the wider more visually tidal wave scale of that interaction with other people’s art makes it trickier and scaled up. It’s entirely understandable to look at what all the other folk out there are doing and not feel like you’re one of those runners way back in the pack of the marathon crowd trying to make it across the bridge to Brooklyn. It’s not how it goes and it’s a mistake of context to see it that way. We live in an narcissism time and falsity. Some of how Instagram posts and FB feeds work seems bent towards making us feel like we’re not good enough parents, awesomeness enough cooks, living less than desirable weekends vacations or day to day fashion choices. Part of that brag is designed to do that for sure, but none of it requires you to believe in that bulls#!t. that’s the key here: it doesn’t matter if some insta-influencer is living truly as groovy a life as broadcast or not, what matters is how you see it and respond. Your participation in the envy screed is a choice and not a demand of the poster. The solution is simple: chose better.
It comes down to a difference between say, going to a show or looking over at a peer’s work at IMC, and feeling something like “Damn, that is awesome I want to do that”, and “Damn that bastard, my work sucks I wish he’d not made that so awesome”. One is how it’s supposed to be, the other is toxic, but both come from the same monkey place. Its natural for us to compare ourselves, to check ourselves against our peers. It makes us better, pulls out of our box and self regard and forces us to see our own work from that outside- I’d even say it’s entirely essential. But be careful internalizing comparatives as judgements or fuel for self doubt.Other people doing well at their thing has absolutely nothing to do with your state of play. it’s not about you when someone succeeds or fails, but you can twist it to be so if you don’t catch yourself. Salieri is not a hero in the story about Mozart. His tragedy is that his own ambition wouldn’t allow for Mozart to be better to an extreme, and while I assume no one out there is aiming to poison our fellow art friends, the dynamic can be toxic to one’s ability to be clear about their own path in their medium. To feel like giving up because someone seems more skilled or to see an art piece and feel like you don’t have a chance is simply not the right response, no matter how understandable. You deserve better than that at least.
Other people succeeding should inspire, and even moreso when it’s your friends. I confess sometimes I feel a grind when I see a peer kick ass on a project I would have LOVED to have tried a swing at. I feel it less and less each passing day. It’s a wolf that can be starved to near death by not feeding it and I make a conscious pfft to do so. A decade or so ago, that wold was much larger and it brought me no joy, improved my own work not a single iota, and overall made me withdraw from my peers more emotionally so I could protect that damned stupid thing. These days I seriously get a thrill seeing the immensely good work of my friends- in whatever medium. It sparks me forward and lights me up to see people kicking ass at their craft. It reminds me of the essential and basic love of the medium I work in and art in general and these days with all we have to be mad and scared of I can say without the slightest twinge of irony, that art is the one place where I feel nothing but a sense of hope and true aspiration. In this regard I am a happy vampire feeding off this vibe, and this work and I’d be a starved creative raisin of a man if I didn’t;t have the opportunity to feel this. It turns the flood of imagery into sunlight, makes the work of my peers and friends, the awards they receive, the success they earn and the accolades they enjoy something that makes me proud. The envy is absent and the initiating desire from back when I was a kid and saw Magritte at the Menil Museum in Houston for the first time: to want to make that, stand in place of the starved wolf of jealousy. I’m not saying we don’t always feel a touch of it, but what we do beyond that instinct is up to us. If art is about choices, this is one of the most important ones. To not do so is to deny yourself a resource and a relationship with your peers that’ll leave your work and yourself starved. See their rise as an inspiration, even if you trick yourself into simply trying it on as a temporary trial run. There’s nothing to lose but that sense of dread, and everything to gain. Jump into the stream of the world and paddle, wherever you go is where you end up, regardless of how you feel about others… but it makes the path to there so much more fulfilling if you chose to delight in the success of others. Try it out. There’s enough apples in the barrel for everyone.