Kurt Cobain, lead vocalist of the 90’s grunge band Nirvana, famously gave us this gem: “Thank you for the Trauma. I needed it for my art.” The long-term effects of creatively living in a traumatic world can linger and appear as scars on the body, mind, soul, and canvas. Many artists have struggled with early life trauma. Often, through coping and healing with their trauma, they will ultimately follow a path that leads to expression through artistic practice in professional careers.
For adult creatives, the long-term effects of constant path finding through restrictive professional environments while also swimming inconsistent rejection and criticism whirlpools will likely, over time, produce good art.
I can say that the residuals of past trauma, heartbreaks and break-apart have led to some of my best work.
But, can the effects of early traumas coupled with this long and challenging professional journey as adults be painted away by the stroke of a brush?
The answer is no.
Trauma response is a compounded concept further illustrated by a disorder called C-PTSD.
Although there are copious syndromes and conditions to mention about the subject of trauma and artists, I’d like to focus on the artist’s experience with one in particular:
This is a condition where a person feels that they could be exposed as a fraud at any moment.
This shadowing figure has been a familiar culprit over the years, often keeping me from showing my artwork and applying for opportunities.
Imposter Syndrome is common in many professions but is exceptionally pervasive in creative careers where professional success and peer approval or acceptance are derived from subjectivity.
This syndrome manifests itself as social anxiety, as believing you’re going to fail no matter what you produce and devaluing your worth in comparison to how talented you think you should be.
All of these comparisons, along with underestimating your expertise and experience, are often an irrational fear, keeping you from taking the necessary steps to further your career.
One of the largest of these irrational fears includes believing that you will be pointed out for fraud by a professional in the industry. Not only does this syndrome seriously affect your self-confidence, but it can be connected to a bevy of other mental health and social problems.
Let’s Make it Personal
At 28, it took me two and a half years to show my art to the intimate people in my life.
After my first public exhibition, I hid all my work away for a year. The casual criticisms from the fine artists in attendance sent me home in tears and overshadowed my success in selling three paintings at my first go as a professional artist.
Years later, when I did the show again, it was a slow and hesitant unveiling and only included people with whom I had built a rapport.
While working as a project coordinator for an elder abuse prevention initiative, I had shown my work to two creatives who were in the beginning years of creating a local arts festival. They encouraged me to show my art more. At that time, I had said:
‘No…I feel like a fraud.’
Even with my professional creativity being encouraged by the right people, I still suffered from a syndrome I hadn’t heard of.
Now, with more experience and tougher skin, I still struggle with these imposter thoughts.
When it comes to openly selling my work, having studied journalism and social work instead of art, pretentious labels with jargon and classic art fair styles have kept me with one foot in and one foot out of the pond.
I vibe with a more contemporary and supportive style of exhibition.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Here are some ideas to help make sure imposter syndrome doesn’t diminish your sparkle:
The Art World Needs You Too:
🌟 Although you may never get used to rejection and criticism, get used to showing your work!
Each time you do offer something, it will become more accessible, and your confidence with growing.
TIP: Establish a self-care routine after each show. Practice breath techniques and keep a gratitude journal.🌜It’s easy to walk around a room and start comparing yourself to others. DON’T. Different art is needed to create conversation and intrigue. The variety is good. You add an element to this exhibition that was previously missing.
🌟NO, you didn’t just get that grant or opportunity because of cosmic star alignment! You were chosen because they saw something in YOUR application and portfolio that intrigued them. You know there were a ton of other applicants, don’t you?
🌞 So you didn’t get that gig you were praying on… and then they passed you over for the second, third, and fourth time… This says more about their tunnel vision than about your abilities. These are NOT your peeps. TIP: Find your tribe elsewhere!
🌝 Recognize that you may not be able to trust yourself. Surround yourself with loved ones leading up to or during exhibits and projects whenever possible. Put your trust in other people’s opinions for the duration.
🌤 Keep the communication open and honest. Find a mentor and find an artist to be a mentor to. Share your experiences in failure and success. Pop into coffee shop conversation groups for business enterprise, join a particular interest club and find other creatives to chat business with.
Above all, remember you are not alone!