Hiding in Plain Sight: Creative confidence
Imposter syndrome; a term we hear all the time that so many of us can relate to, and to others, it is quite unclear. Technically, it is a psychological phenomenon causing people to feel that their accomplishments are somewhat invalid, often due to an unconventional or less than optimum background. It includes a fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’; being outed as unworthy of the success you have obtained from your own work. But why does it occur, why do so many of us feel a little relief at finding a name for this overwhelming feeling?
Often, it is associated with perfectionism; a strive to reach a level of achievement that is quite frankly unattainable. But, this end goal can seem more clear in some areas than in others. Within scientific fields, perfection seems to be much more within reach, as there are right and wrong answers. Even at the peaks of scientific research, the search for a unified theory is seen as truly possible by many scientists, meaning they have something specific to reach for.
But among creative fields, success is much more subjective; creative perfection is different to different people, and so, the success of a creative can even be dependent on the questionable validity of their audience. For example, the official institutions which ‘validate’ artists are often questioned on the criteria by which they judge; are the Oscars just a money making scheme which supports rich white males? Does the CFDA fail to support unconventional, new age fashion? Why does certain art sell for so much when it appears to be a simple creation? Is chart music successful only because it fits a certain formula that our brains are trained to like?
Therefore, we creatives can often find ourselves overwhelmed with imposter syndrome, due to the criteria of a true ‘well done’ being totally ambiguous and individual. So what is it that makes a creative feel accomplished and validated, if not the approval of society? With this in mind, I want to talk to the creatives I know and look up to. Through 4 carefully selected questions, I aimed to support them and make them feel comfortable and appreciated enough to share their opinions and knowledge. Validation may be hard to find in the creative community, but by opening up conversations with creatives we know and love around us, we can tease the genius out of them, educating ourselves, and encouraging them to produce more fantastic work.
I kicked the interviews off by asking, “What piece of work are you most proud of, and, truly, why?”. I wanted these amazing artists to dive into the conversation acknowledging their own brilliance, and being proud to talk about it. One interesting response I received was from music producer and sound system engineer, Laurence Veitch, who recalled a piece of university coursework when asked this question.
“It’s a 500-word essay I wrote on ‘value’ when I was studying design. I wrote it on my lunch break on the day of the hand-in. I just typed for half an hour, printed what I had then walked upstairs to my class’s studio and handed it in. A few weeks later, my tutor gave us feedback for the entire project. “A1. Perfect.” was the only feedback written, with a verbal ‘Laurie, did you plagiarise this?’”
Again, we hear this word ‘perfect’, but it seems out of place. Laurie goes on to tell me that this was not what made him proud of this project, but instead;
“that my own thoughts could actually create something meaningful entirely by itself. It also taught me that ‘winging it’, as opposed to well thought out and prepared ideas, can very often yield more interesting and genuine responses – an approach I now use often. If I could make more of my ideas as understandable as that essay, I’d be very happy.”
Glasgow based artist, Gary Doherty, showed a similar feeling towards the piece of work he is proudest of; a really beautiful piece called “Hiding in Plain Sight”.
“It’s not my most popular piece, or the most emotive, or even the most complex but it marked a significant point in my creative development and, in a way, led me into an entirely new creative field… The painting as a whole developed in stages, over several days (and glasses of wine), with only the loosest concept of how I wanted it to look: I let it develop with no defined end goal.
It reignited my creative spark and introduced me to a new style of painting – without a brush, or defined outcome, or structure. It stands for something, and it provokes a response from everyone that’s seen it.”
Both artists, from totally different fields, found a clear commonality to what made them feel accomplished; producing something great from their own mind alone. They were both able to clear any expectations of their work before it was done, and allow their minds to focus on expressing their thoughts and feelings as authentically as possible, producing a unique and true piece of art. Both learned to trust their creative instincts from these processes and built confidence to produce just as authentically in the rest of their work. Because confidence is a positive thing; it’s not just vain.
I then asked my beautiful people to explain concepts that they felt they understood more than most people, and to express values they felt their craft had taught them that others were missing out on. These answers exploded with the discipline and speciality of each art form, and really made me appreciate the need for every creative avenue we as humans can possibly explore. While these answers were very interesting and educational, I realised they didn’t pull the passion out of them like the next question…
“Tell me one universal truth you have learned to live by – or at least tried to?” From this, I ended up collecting some of the greatest advice for creatives out there, from work ethic to general attitude. Composer Bethany Anderson spoke about her career attitude;
“I always try to stay focused on my own journey and not compare myself too critically to other artists… Negative comparison can drive an artist to a very empty place.”
I honestly think this is so crucial to avoiding imposter syndrome in creatives. We have to keep in mind that we, unlike others, have no right or wrong path to reach our end goals, and that the beauty of the creative community is that everyone is different, and will and should do everything differently. By acknowledging our individuality, we free ourselves from the pressure of a crowd.
Book Art Designer, Sophie Harris, chatted about a work ethic that pulls her through all her creative ruts, and keeps her motivated and inspired enough to produce the beautiful work that she does;
“Every day is useful. Some days I create things I feel proud of. Some days I create work that I think is rubbish, or spend ages thinking of an idea and then scrapping it. I try to remember that everything I do is a necessary part of the process, and some journeys just take longer than others.”
This mindset is so damn important. Some projects require 3 days of reading in order for you to find that piece that inspires the thought that pulls you through to the end of a project. We have a whole world of work to explore and it will take time; some will be more useful than others and that’s okay! Art is a process, not an equation. Laurie had a similar attitude, and one that can keep us smiling throughout the working day;
“Laugh when things go tits up. You can get back to fixing this situation in a minute, but first take a moment to laugh at yourself as a character in this comedy.”
And to round it all off, Gary reminded me of the beauty of our creative community;
“People are different, oh so very, very different, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. We’re not all going to agree with each other all the time… or ever. But that’s ok. You can respect opinions without accepting them. It makes the world a richer place for us all.”
Because we are all so unique and that’s what is amazing about being a creative! You can never be out of place, because no two people are ever in the same place. And we can all stand in our own space and appreciate all the spaces around us. The world is a gallery of humans, and we should spend time learning from as many of them as we can.