This article is complementary to 3 MINDSETS THAT HELPED ME BREAK IN, to kinda balance things out. Here I‘ll be focusing on mindsets that caused me most trouble when I was trying to become a professional artist, since I believe looking at why people don‘t succeed is equaly, if not more important as looking at why they do.
As I revisited my old artworks, rediscovered highlighted paragraphs in art and psychology books I read at the time and as I swiped through an old diary, I realized there were a lot more than 3 unhealthy mindsets, fears and beliefs I was dealing with but for the sake of keeping the magical number, I‘ll stick with 3 most detrimental. All of these had to be fought and reframed in order for me to start moving towards my goals as a professional painter, and honestly, I‘m quite amazed that I didn‘t just quit at various points. I mean, that diary girl was seriously miserable at times! While I can confidently say I feel WAY happier and more confident nowadays (yay!), these are not thoughts that I just got over and never had to deal with again. They are all natural human fears that pop up their ugly heads from time to time, even now, a couple years into the profession and some new ones appeared along the way as I made my way further into the industry. They all have to be constantly kept „in check“. Luckily, with experience, time and help of my dear mentors and colleagues I became much more equiped to deal with them quickly and bounce right back. I will write these points for myself as well as I‘m sure I‘ll be back to re-read them in no time.
FEAR OF MAKING MISTAKES
In the diary my younger self wrote „I can‘t paint well, but I‘m scared to start learning because then I will see how much I actually don‘t know and I‘m afraid I won‘t be able to handle that.“ That‘s a completely paralazing mindset, because there‘s nothing a person can do without risking messing up. The idea is to be able to tolerate that possibility! Why would I expect myself to do anything amazingly, if I never did it before? Making mistakes is human, and as soon as I got over myself, the ball could start rolling. What needed to be built was a compassionate attitude towards myself and a bit of resilience and perseverence. Allowing for the mistakes to happen, and seeing them as a message and as a pointer to what I needed to learn next was crucial. Once that was done, positive emotions from moving forward quickly replaced the fear, which was a much nicer place to paint from. Soon, hunger for more knowledge grew in me and the snowball started getting bigger and bigger.
THE PROBLEMS WITH MY ART ARE INNATE
When working on a piece of art that was especially challenging (and if you‘re really ambitious, every piece is like this), it‘s used to be so easy to slip into doubting the wrong things. Instead of seeing the issues for what they were, most often technical errors in values, colors, composition, edges or drawing, I started thinking more insidiously. What if I‘m not intelligent enough to understand what needs to be learned, or gifted enough? What if I‘m just not a good artist and never will be? That‘s a bit more frightening than having to fix my values, and also, honestly, a bit of an excuse to not have to do the hard thing – to actually work on the problem. It took me a while to realize that it‘s quite cruel to doubt my whole person each time art got hard, and it was also useless, because none of those things were in my control, not to mention they were not true. We know talent is a myth and that art is not rocket science that only geniuses can grasp. The best strategy therefore is to come back to Earth and focus on what we can control, which is getting more information about the problem and making the effort to solve it, and move on.
EVERYTHING IS SUPER SERIOUS
I‘m generally a pretty serious person and though that‘s great for doing what‘s neccessary for learning art (since as Richard Schmid said in his book Alla Prima II: „Serious painting is not something that can be learned casually“), mixed with a touch of neuroticism it can also be a bit of a pain in the ass mindset. I remember being super stressed with each painting as I started getting bigger professional work, and I panicked so much each time I thought I wouldn‘t make a deadline. I was convinced that once I make a mistake and show myself as unreliable, I‘d be fired, the word will spread and no one will ever hire me again and this fragile career of mine would crash down. I worked evenings, nights, weekends, took classes, everything was deadly serious. Slowly (with subtle, loving signs from my partner and friends) I realized this was a completely unsustainable way of working, of living actually. If I didn‘t want to start hating art and the way it made me feel, I had to loosen up a bit. I had the good fortune of having a great mentor at the time with whom I could discuss these issues and learned that the humongous problems I saw in my paintings weren‘t that detrimental to the overal read, or that, actually, sometimes you can ask for a bit of extra time on an assignment, or that sleep and downtime are quite important to my artistic goals in the long term. Good info.
It‘s clear that all of these issues were psychological rather than anything that can be related to my actual skillset. Almost all situations where I was unable to move forward were fueled by my emotions, and emotions are often results of our thoughts, of what we tell ourselves and what we believe. That‘s why it‘s so crucially important to shine light on the mindsets we have, especially those that make us miserable. The tortured artist thing is just a myth, no one super stressed and unhappy is able to do their best work, not long term anyway.