Thursday, May 3, 2012

On ego; or, how the hell do I even do this?

It's... difficult for me to put my relationship with my ego into words (as is evidenced by the fact that I have been trying to write this post for two three months).

Being no fool, I'm not going to act like I'm the special-est snowflake of an artist ever to swing between arrogance, truly ruthless self-critique, and new and exciting mixes of the two. I think it's safe to say that every creative person has had periods of thinking themselves pretty hot shit when they just aren't that good, just as they've probably also had instances where they completely flogged themselves over output that was actually good.

So: I'm not special in my angst. That's comforting, actually, and helpful - because if others have done it before, there are people to learn from. It's still difficult to process for yourself, though, because it's a personal journey no matter how many times it's been done by others.

I've spent a lot of time treating any admission that I might be a good artist as the rankest and most punishable display of hubris imaginable. Until very recently, I wasn't really that good, and I have trouble shaking the memory of all time times I thought to myself - or, god help me, said to others - that I was pretty good at x, or better at y than that classmate over there. Again, I think that it's a natural part of the artistic journey to be immature and arrogant... but it still makes the here-and-now view of my own artistic worth a bit skewed.

This first presented itself to me as something to try and think through a few months ago, when I was invited to hang out with a handful of freshmen illustration majors. The girl who'd invited me had contacted me earlier in the year to hang out because she thought I was a "pretty skilled artist gal" (which made me go ??!?! in and of itself) and we'd wound up talking for hours, so I took her up on this invitation eagerly.

There were a lot of great people (I want to say 'kids' but man I'm only three/four years older than them) and I really enjoyed looking through sketchbooks and giving advice and telling stories and laughing over silly things. But one stood out, and she stood out because one of the first things she told me was that she was a fangirl.

Sketchbook clutched to her chest, she said she loved my art, and followed my Tumblr, and was so excited to meet me - and all I could really do was stare. I had absolutely no precedent to fall back on, no idea how to deal with the fact that before me stood an actual person who actually loved my art and was almost vibrating because she was sitting next to me and was getting to look through my sketchbook. I have been that girl (and how), but never, ever before had I been on the receiving end. I was bewildered, to put it simply.

If I actually achieve the level of success I dream about, this existence of fans is something I'm going to have to figure out how to deal with - but the existence of people who like my art is something I have to figure out how to deal with now. It would be disingenuous to say that I have no business having fans, but considering that I have trouble knowing how to act when receiving even standard compliments, it's something I'm going to have to work on. For one very sweet girl to be able to throw me completely for a loop is... eye-opening, to say the least.

I like my art. These days, I think the paintings I'm making are good - and some might even be very good. But then my class' Open Studios reception happened, and I wound up talking to absolute strangers and professors who perhaps never really gave me the approval I craved, who took the time to tell me that my work is beautiful/lovely/very good/impressive. Again, I was a bit bewildered: all I could think of doing in reply was saying, "Thank you, thank you so much!" over and over, probably with blushing and I think with some covering-of-cheeks and swaying.

The kind of feedback I'm used to is critique. Even when it's interwoven with compliments, or when the preamble is of the 'this is the best thing you've ever done' family, the main purpose of the conversation is constructive.

This is a different animal entirely. I can look at professionals I know and see how it should be done: while there's a spectrum in the reactions I've observed (with each individual bringing different amounts and kinds of grace and gratitude and acceptance and bashfulness and good humor) there's a consistent level of taking-it-in-stride.

The voice in the back of my head that calls anything good I say about my own art hubris is making this a little difficult to process. Even the action of writing all of this with the intention of others reading it makes a part of me flinch - what business do I have, talking about having a fan, or the expectation of multiple fans in the future, or the compliments and praise I'm expecting? But that voice is different from the self-critique that drives me, because where the latter lifts my art to new heights, the former does nothing but make me hesitant to put myself out there.

Freelancing is a career that is based on self-promotion as much as it's based on artistic skill (though the actual percentages can be argued), and self-promotion is the art and science of convincing as many people as possible that you are not just a good artist, but the artist they want to pay money. I'm pretty okay at networking - but I cannot promote myself effectively if I'm flinching at every compliment and agonizing over the chutzpah of calling myself anything more than competent. A real part of me does believe I can make it, that if I'm not good enough right now I will be, that I deserve it if and when people tell me they love my art.

I just need to make sure that part of me wins out without becoming the monster I seem so terrified of letting out.

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