Self-Loathing and the Making of Art

Life is short, art long, opportunities fleeting,
experience treacherous, judgement difficult.
~Hippocrates (460-400 B.C)

While reading one of the blogs I follow**, I learned about a book called Art & Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING by David Bayles & Ted Orland, which contains the quote by Hippocrates at the beginning of chapter 1. Since fear has long interfered with my ability to follow my artistic dreams, I ordered myself a copy and began to read yesterday. The book’s main topic is why art does not get done.

As I read through, I saw myself in each chapter. Reasons I have told myself why I couldn’t do art:

  • I have no imagination/ideas/creativity.
  • Other people are better than me at art.
  • Art is an all-or-nothing gift and I was left out of the party.
  • Whatever I do, it won’t be good enough.
  • I’ll never make money making art.
  • It’s not practical and, therefore, it is indefensible.
  • I feel stupid saying I am an artist when my stuff isn’t any good.
  • It’s easier for others/impossible for me.
  • It’s too hard.
  • I can’t get good enough fast enough to justify doing it.
  • I must justify my art/my own personal pleasure isn’t a good enough reason.

According to Bayles & Orland, I am not alone. All artists go through periods of self-doubt when moving forward seems impossible. The difference between those who do and those who don’t is the difference between those who stop and those who quitI don’t think I have been a stopper; I have been a quitter. The longest sustained art making that I have done is with my jewelry making, although I have taken a bit of a hiatus since I stopped working at a bead store. (I think I need to find a new place where I can go and make art so I can get out of my house).

In recent days, I have begun to outline a novel I wrote so that I can evaluate the storyline and make organizational changes. The more I have reviewed my writing, the more stupid I felt. I began to hear my voice in my head: This story is unsalvageable. The dialog unimportant. The characters’ actions ridiculous. When I imagined sharing my writing, I felt a sense of inadequacy and shame. How will I be able to face people when I show them this tripe? The sense of hopelessness I felt was increasing.

And then this morning, as I was drying off after a shower, I realized that my problem was not fear. I remember as a child trying to play Barbies with my best friend. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to make them do? It was difficult, and I felt stupid. The more I felt stupid, the more I hated myself for it. One can only take self-loathing for so long, even when the activity brings you joy. For years, I have thought fear was my problem. But I was wrong.

I am glad I realized that feelings of self-loathing have interfered with my art making. Now I can address the real feelings, which means I might be able to process them and let go. Because, this time around, I’m going to be damned if I quit this writing thing. I am going to devote my time to improving my writing craft.

I will ask for help. Read books and articles. Take workshops. There is a year-long NaNoWriMo group in NYC dedicated to helping members write their drafts and give each other feedback. I will attend an information session in 10 days. If that does not pan out, I will search for and join another writing group to get writing feedback. Whatever I will go through, I do not want to go through it alone any more.

[**Unfortunately, I cannot find the original post so that I can link back to the blogger who got me thinking. If it’s you, let me know so that I can update this post and link back to you.]

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