Why Artists are Never Happy With Their Work
How often do you look over your work, saying to yourself: ‘This is awful’, ‘this isn’t good enough’, ‘why did I spend all that time on that?’. If you do, it looks like we have something in common.
Are we scared of our own work? Scared that when we finish it, the outcome will be underwhelming? We might never create the work, not wanting to reject our own ideas.
They look perfect in our heads, and I believe that’s where the greatest art stays; for life.
To give a short answer, to this incredibly complex question, our projects never live up to the originally conceived idea.
Ideas are, well. ‘Ideas’.
They aren’t real. They always seem much more perfect in our minds, than on paper. The reason for this can be summed up in one word though, Perfectionism.
“The refusal to accept anything short of perfection”.
Perfectionism can make us obsess over individual details in work, that make-up 1% of the design/project. It makes the flaws transparent, and the strengths opaque. We never see the ‘good’ parts. Most of the time we’d rather look at other people’s work.
Endlessly scrolling on Instagram. Sitting. Staring.
You keep working. Creating days and days of ideas that ultimately end up in the scrap pile. Looking forward to the end of this saga when the ‘right’ idea finally appears. This is me. I’ve spent weeks making work I’m ultimately unhappy with, but I realized that this is because I had no goals or expectations for my work. I never actually completed a project. Instead, I’d started 30 or more projects, with no end-goal in sight.
So why does this happen?
In some way or another, every single artist is on a quest to create something that we can call ‘good’. The problem is, what is ‘good?’. Many of us know the feeling of finishing a project, to only hate the work the very next day. This is because there is ALWAYS something wrong, and our perfectionist brains can’t accept a ‘final’ outcome, because there is always more to do.
The journey to that ‘good’ design can also be extremely long and arduous, potentially leaving us in a worst state than before. We may become resigned to accept the fact that we just aren’t ‘good’ enough, and the cycle continues.
Compliments are another potential reason we can’t take our work seriously. We read them, say ‘Thanks’, and move on. Yet we have full-on conversations about the negatives and critiques of our work. Compliments to me have always felt quite empty when itcame to my work, because how can you like it when ‘I’, the person that made it, doesn’t.
To be an ‘artist’, it requires an incredible amount of ‘negative capability’. Ask any artist about one of their projects. I can almost guarantee that they were at some point ‘confused’ or were looking in the ‘wrong direction’ for the answer. But one thing the very best artists can do is immerse themselves in this pool of negativity, and stay afloat.
Negative capability was a phrase first used by Romantic poet John Keats in 1817 to characterise the capacity of the…
After spending around 3 years in art subjects in an educational setting (Product Design for 2 years, and Graphic Design for a year) I can completely see why people give up, as I have. Many a time. We realized that immersing ourselves in this pool is FUCKING hard to do, and any rational person would jump out in a split second. Especially in a subject like Graphic Design, where every single style, typeface, album cover, book cover etc.. has seemingly been created before you even started making them.
Negativity Affects Us All
The idea that ‘Artists don’t care what other people think’, is complete and utter bullshit. Creative people spend an infinite amount of time thinking about the failures and insecurities in their life and work than in most other professions, but the fact is no matter how good of an artist you are, you should expect to struggle with self-doubt, and understand that this is the process of becoming a designer.
Some of the best artists have dealt with depression and self-doubt. Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock to name a few. However, these people dealt with their own inadequacies as designers and kept working at being the best that they could be, and this is why they are some of the most recognized designers of all time.
The trap of ‘Motivation/Inspiration’
What you shouldn’t do is give up when things get tough. We all feel insufficient and insecure about our work. The real aim is allowing our insecurities to help us develop as designers and push the limits of our creativity.
One way people say is a sure-fire way of dealing with negativity is finding ‘inspiration’. Waiting for inspiration is a trap so many of us fall into. Inspiration has quite rapidly become one of my most hated words because I believe its a vehicle for depression in artists.
‘Inspiration leads to motivation?’
In my experience, it mostly leads to no work getting done. We can be so immersed in someone else’s work, that our work will never compare. This is the same as the perfectionism trap, as we believe we can never live up to our idols.
What I Do Break Out Of My Artistic Rut?
- Just take a break. If designing feels like a race to you, you’re doing it all wrong. You have all the time in the world to improve your work, so taking a break by having a walk, doing your favorite sport, or my favorite taking pictures! It really does wonders!
- Try a new technique. Play around with not only computer software, but actual paints and pens! I’m a 3D artist, and some of my favorite work has been doing using pouring acrylic!
- Go to a gallery or show. You don’t get that sort of vibrancy from staring at Instagram, as you do from places like Tate Modern. Surround yourself with magazines, museums, books. Just don’t use your phone as your first option for inspiration.
“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.”
“Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on “what” they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”
Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year
Change is hard. You’ve probably noticed that. We all want to become better people — stronger and healthier, more…
I love this extract from James Clear. It really says it how it is. If you’re looking to make a change, stop worrying about the results and start worrying about how it will affect you as a person. Try and become the type of person who can achieve the things you want to.
Regardless of what sort of mental state you are going through, there’s no reason to be ashamed or feel helpless in your artistic journey. This is what makes us human, this is what makes us different.
Thanks for reading this!
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