This is an article I was asked to write for the PACT website (http://artpact.com/) about my journey and the hurdles I’ve been facing as an artist. I think it’s an important read for young artists and I hope it helps someone out there!
"What are some things that frustrate you as a young artist?"
My answer to this question has changed over the past year. When I was a student and recent graduate, I thought it was all about specifics: Where do I find the art directors’ emails? How do I make mailers, what competitions should I enter, and on and on. Yet all the information I wanted was already out there, and every question I asked as a young artist had already been answered a dozen times over by professionals in the industry. I had a rudimentary portfolio and I knew what areas I had to work on. Yet I was stopping myself from implementing all the freely available answers, and I realized I wouldn’t get anywhere until I tackled my fear. Fear had governed every one of my choices to that point, and every one of my excuses.
My first hurdle: finding the art directors contact info. I thought, “They’re making it so hard. I can’t find it. Why isn’t their email just out in plain sight?” Then I took a hard look at reality, and admitted to myself that it wasn’t true. Plenty of art directors had their emails out in plain sight – but was I using that tool? No one was deliberately making it harder on me, it was just work. Uncomfortable, scary, tiny steps that I had always avoided out of fear of potential rejection. I would now force myself to go to industry events, talk to them, ask for a card, email friends, and follow up.
My second hurdle were my many excuses. I wouldn’t sign up for a portfolio review/send out a mailer/email my dream client. What, I said, was the use? “My portfolio doesn’t have enough pieces. They’re not good enough. The art director won’t want to see this. I’ll send an email after my next finished piece.” I could never fully meet my expectations, this was just an easy way to put off having my work be judged. I was deeply afraid of the art director laughing in my face and calling them the worst pieces of art they’d ever seen. If I never took the opportunities, I’d never be disappointed.
"This piece isn’t working out like I wanted it to, I’ll just scrap it and work on a new, much more brilliant idea I have. This new one will be amazing." Every time I push my boundaries, these thoughts sneak in to give me an easy way out. I don’t think I will ever be able to get rid of them – only accept the fear and push them away. When they controlled me, they neatly allowed me to have excuses for other counterproductive behaviours: not entering contests; not showing portfolios; not making business cards; not updating my website. If I finished the piece to the best of my current abilities and it didn’t turn out to be my greatest work, I’d feel like a failure.
My last hurdle: comparing myself to others. “Well,” I thought, “How did that guy get so successful overnight? What does he have that I don’t?” Of course they were successful! They’d been putting themselves and their artwork out there consistently for years, doing the hard work I was afraid to do. They’d been talking to people I was afraid to talk to, asking for things I didn’t think I was good enough to ask for. I’d never taken a good look at what they were doing and more importantly, the things I wasn’t doing, that contributed to their rise. They created artwork that filled a need, and they put it out there to be judged.
There was an art show/convention/meeting coming up, and I didn’t have business cards. Excuses: I have nothing good enough to put on a business card, so why bother. I don’t have enough time to create a piece to enter into the contest. Again I was blinded by fear. Fear of promising myself that I would create my best piece and failing at it, fear of being rejected, and fear of showing my imperfect work to other people. If I didn’t have a card, if I didn’t enter the contest, if I didn’t show up to the event, I would have an excuse for my failures. I decided to become the type of person who did not allow fear to control my life, and the excuses I used no longer had power over me.
Almost every day for the past year I’ve been faced with new challenges, things that used to make me run in the other direction and give up. Talking to professionals at IlluXcon, some who’d been doing it full time for decades, I realized those feelings will never go away. And that’s OK. I thought success meant no longer being afraid, that I would no longer have crippling self doubt about my art, but I learned that it was the opposite. The most successful artists in our community can see those crashes coming, weather them, and come out the other side with a finished piece of work. Failure was not something I needed to fear, it was something I needed to accept and embrace and anticipate. The ironic thing is, the more I prepare and look for failure, the less of it seems to come my way.
So, the answer, if there is one, to the question I was posed, “What are some things that frustrate you as a young artist?” is that I am the most frustrating obstacle I have to overcome. I suspect that so many of my peers are in the same boat as me, and while I have no solutions for them, I hope that at least they can turn fear into their ally and not their downfall.
by Rebecca Yanovskaya (c) 2013