Myth #2: You not only have to be good, you have to be the best.
Fact: You just have to be “good enough.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Mostly because the single biggest block owned by many artists–visual, musical, performance–is they feel if they don’t “make it”, it’s because they aren’t “good enough.”
I love to quote my friend Lori W. Simons on this one. Lori is not only a talented artist, she is also a writer. I was curious if the 2-D art world sorts itself out so neatly. Do the best artists become the most successful artists? She hesitated and then said quietly, “Being good HELPS.”
What does that mean? It means that you can be successful at whatever you throw your heart into, and it isn’t directly related to how good you are. Or whether you’re “the best”. Or even whether you’re one of the top 10.
It’s about how badly you want it, and how hard you’re willing to work at it. How smart you are about maximizing your opportunities, and how savvy you are with managing the business side of your art.
No one ran harder or farther from their art than I did. But it just wouldn’t go away. I finally gave up. My turning point was when I realized that if I did not pay attention to this, I would be destroying a part of myself that was too important to my very life. I had hit bottom, too. My exact words to my husband were these:
“I have to be an artist, or I’m going to die. I don’t even care anymore if I’m a GOOD artist. I just have to do it.”
Period. Nuff said. I had to swallow my pride, give up making judgments about how good I would/could or wouldn’t/couldn’t be, and just do it.
And you know what? Once I gave up basing my entire act on caring what others thought, that’s when my art began to hit its stride. Once I was making art I cared about, deeply, and once it came straight from my heart, that’s when I began to achieve some success with it.
That, and a lot of hard work, too. Ya gotta wanna, but ya also just gotta DO it.
This doesn’t mean the road was easy after that. There were still a lot of twists and turns. There were adjustments, suggestions, modifications along the way. But the core vision was always there. I had a story to tell, and a story to get out into the world.
Which brings us to this corollary to our #2 myth about artists. “Only the best artists are successful artists.”
Once more, with feeling. It helps if you’re good. You’ll get a little further a little faster. But just being good won’t ensure your success. And conversely, you can be highly successful even if you’re not the BEST.
Need proof? Look at Olympic-quality athletes. Sometimes they lose by 1/100 of a second, or 1/100 of a point. When we get into subjective judgment about who is “the best”, and that is determined by what the temperature was that day, or whether those new athletic shoes were rubbing the wrong way, or whether a competitor turned an inch too far back, we are talking about, “Who was the best, in the minds of those particular jurors, at that particular moment on that specific day.” Are we saying those other competitors were not sucessful, too? Nah… It may not have been their day, but they are still amazing athletes.
Now…would you rather run a 24-mile marathon, or get started on a new piece today?
Get in that studio! Don’t worry about how good you are. Just do it good.
8 thoughts on “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #2: You’re Not Good Enough”
it’s good to read what you say :), that thing about being the best or being no artist at all is one of my more troublesome blocks too… it’s not about failing or succeeding under pressure to perform, it’s just about BEING an artist…
Yes, to be an artist is to express yourself. ‘Not good enough’ just means you don’t reach that type of person or audience. Some people will love it, some won’t. Art is as different as each one who creates it.
I see some art and it makes me go ‘meh’. Doesn’t mean it isn’t good, it just means it doesn’t speak to me, and vice versa. I saw the most adorable painting done by a 7 year old girl, kind of a typical child painting, but it was done with so much thought and she was almost sweating during the time she was painting, she was so focused.
Art…ugh, I could go on and on.
Yes, good blog!
This is a great post Luann! A lot of times people think that succeeding has only to do with talent or luck. I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Thelma and Louise, “Brains (or in this case, talent) only gets you so far and luck always runs out.” You can’t directly control how much “talent” you’re born with, nor your luck. What you can control is how hard you work and how smart you are about it….and whether you get your butt into the studio and make art.
I am enjoying this series very much, it resonates with me. I’ve often said many of these things to people who say they are not creative, or that they can’t draw a straight line. I don’t know where the idea comes from that talent is a gift and there is no learning curve, no development and no research involved. You have a way of expressing the inaccuracy of these notions that is refreshing. Thanks for re-issuing the series, I’m loving every bit.
I’m glad to hear some circuits are being rewired. :^) Sometimes these beliefs we carry about ourselves, especially the “bad” ones, don’t stand up well in the bright light of day.
We also tend to compare ourselves to the VERY talented artists (Mozart!) and never think about the hundreds of thousands of “good enough” artists who have brought beautiful work into the world.
Nicolette, your remark about getting into the studio reminds me of the saddest story of all–a young woman I knew years ago, with an incredibly beautiful voice, who took a lovely poem, set it to music, sang it and accompanied herself on guitar, but never let anyone else listen to it (she let me hear it ONCE) or recorded it. It was “too private”. It was also hauntingly lovely, but I fear it is lost to the world forever. I still grieve.
Thank you, Lynn, hope you find the rest of the series just as refreshing!
I just discovered you, so I’m catching up past blogs. Reading Myth #2 I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes — one I’ve claimed since I found it: If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly (G.K. Chesterton).
Thanks for sharing your (hard won) wisdom.
Welll it’s been some time since you wrote this, but I found it very interesting. I for myself am an aspiring artist and recently have come to the point where I am constantly asking myself “if I am good enough” to ever make a living from what I do. It makes me depressed and I start thinking in neverending circles, so I looked if there are other artists thinking like this and I found your article.
You wrote something that it seems like I have forgotten a long time ago. But now I will try to do what I like, without the constant doubt that I need to be good to be successful.
Thanks again, you helped me a lot there.