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 the process of coping and healing with their trauma, they will ultimately follow a path which 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 in consistent rejection and criticism whirlpools will likely, overtime, produce good art.I can speak to the fact that the residuals of heartbreaks and break-aparts have produced my best work.But, can the effects of early traumas coupled with this long and traumatic professional journey as adults be painted away by the stroke of a brush?The answer is no. It’s a compounded concept further illustrated by a disorder called C-PTSD.Although there are copious syndromes and conditions to mention in relation to 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 art work and applying for opportunities.Imposter Syndrome is common in many professions, but is exceptionally pervasive in creative careers where professional success and peer approval/acceptance is derived from subjectivity.This syndrome manifests itself as social anxiety, as believing you’re going to fail no matter what you produce, and as devaluing your worth in comparison to how talented you believe 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 include believing that you will be pointed out for being a 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.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. The casual criticisms from the fine artists in attendance sent me home in tears and over shadowed my success in selling three paintings at my first go at professional artist.Years later, when I did 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 literally 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 even 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 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 show something it will become easier and your confidence with grow. TIP: Establish a self-care routine for 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. 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 where 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 forth time… This says more about their tunnel vision than about your abilities. These are NOT your peeps. TIP: Go 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 special interest club and find other creatives to chat business with.