Why we hate successful artists and what we can do about it

I used to be a very narcissistic kid. It’s not even funny. I had no serious competition, and others kept telling me how awesome I was at drawing. I’ve always been known as “Andrea, the girl who draws well“, got accused by older kids for tracing my own drawings, and teachers favored me. In elementary school the principal even officially announced me as “The best artist during his entire carreer“. So flattering but ghah, the cringes. Damn, you can’t imagine what all this did to my ego. 

Oh, and it got worse.

I felt unstoppable when growing up. I’m gonna get rich and famous, I won’t even have to work for it, cause I was born perfect! I’m gonna rule the world MUHAHAHAHAH!!

Then I discovered internet. And the early art communities. Crash and burn, baby. Many awesome artists there were extremely skilled, and many were even younger than me. This messed with my head, because believe it or not, I honestly thought for so long that I was a prodigy. World peace will be because of me and Oprah was gonna call me any day.

…..

I don’t even know what to say about that. Oh god I wanna go hide somewhere.. Well, reality proved me wrong of course. Luckily…

Compared to those who never drew, I was way ahead. Technically. Since I “had no life” and drew every day, haha. But seeing other serious artists and their technical skills, I was barely average. Suddenly I felt small, and for the first time I felt defeated. I’ve never really felt that way before about my art. I started to shift. Developed a huge complex, and along came…

Envy.
Competitive mindset.
Constantly comparing myself to others.
Paralyzation.
Creative constipation.

Since the age of 13, I’ve suffered heavily because of my faulty elitist mindset when it came to art. I would never feel the same joy for drawing again.

Maybe you can relate to my story, maybe you’ve even had the same experience like me? Either way, I’m pretty sure that all of us will experience this at some time. Feeling intimidated and discouraged.

What a destructive way of thinking! Sure, a bit of competition may be helpful sometimes, but it’s very easy to tip over into that downwards spiral. I envied the ones who were younger, more experienced, skilled and seemed more successful than me. I hated them, and I hated myself because of it.

Tiger sketch by Noukah

Can we change this?

Not until these past years have I somehow begun to overcome this. And you can too! I know you may not feel like that right now, but here’s the thing: It’s such a cliché but a way to change this is to realize that you are unique. Your stories are unique, and there’s only one of YOU in the entire world. Nobody can replace you, and you can’t replace someone else. There’s plenty of room for everyone. It is possible to find that healthy balance that instead of holding us back, actually motivates us.

Checklist to practice a healthier mindset about your own and others art

  1. Dare to praise those awesome artists
    We need to keep getting something into our twisted heads: we won’t look bad just because we praise or mention those successful artists. It’s a myth! Others success is not your setback. I’m using this as my mantra nowadays to remind me of that simple fact.
  2. See others art as inspiration rather than competition
    Oh, this is a tough one. We get bombarded by tons of awesome art as soon as we browse online. We need to remember that those pieces are most often their best work, and we don’t get to see the “failed” ones. Some days you just want to quit all together, because it’s so discouraging… How can we avoid this?  Instead, view others art as inspiration and guidelines. You may actually have found a shortcut, right there. They already invented the wheel, and that’s to your advantage. If they could do it, then you can too! Try to figure out their approach.
  3. Learn to know the person behind the art
    Yes. even successful artists eat, sleep and poop like everyone else. Having their own background, personal stories and struggles. I’ve learned that somehow, back when I barely knew any other artist in person. Only looking at others awesome art, I took for granted that they all live this perfect life. Everything comes easy for them, and they are probably all cocky and self-centered and.. Yeah your mind wanders off very easily, doesn’t it. Snap yourslelf out of it! Nobody is perfect, and behind that awesome art there’s an actual person with interesting thoughts and concerns. Focus on that first. Who are they, really? If you meet them, try to talk about other things as well than just their art. Not only will you see an actual person, but your main focus will slowly shift as well. Empathy might eventually silence that competitive mindset for good.

Hope this helped a bit for you likeminded out there!
How do you deal with envy?

6

17 Comments

  1. Luxxie 6 December, 2016 at 15:38

    I relate so much to this, always being praised as a kid. And then I grew up, met other people who were as good or better, and then as you say, the internet. I have spent so much time being jealous and intimidated, and to make things worse I went to an art school which I both loved and hated. Because of the other students, who all were better than me (in my opinion, I have no idea what the truth is). I stopped drawing for several years, which of course didn’t help. I have only just now started walking down the road you describe here, I’ve always felt guilty for all these ugly feelings, but now I feel I can work on them. Realize that others success doesn’t take something from me, that I don’t have to be the best, I can be good enough and I can admire others art and it’s fine :)

    Reply
    1. Andrea 8 December, 2016 at 19:28

      So sad to hear you stopped drawing! Maybe you’ll find the urge again soon? :) Yeah, it’s pretty hard to determent which artist is the best, there are no right or wrongs after all. I’m glad that you’re making friends with yourself, after all, we are our worst critics :P For good and for worse.

      Reply
  2. Sara Berntsson 6 December, 2016 at 21:30

    Thank you so much for writing this. Not only is this very relatable for me as well, but I really appreciate other artists talking about these less flattering sides in an honest way.
    While reading artists blogs and listening to podcasts and stuff can be very encouraging, I sometime feel like it can become a sort of pep talk bubble, and so when having these intense feelings of self-doubt, envy and eventually just apathy, you begin to feel worse about having those feelings in the first place.
    There’s nothing wrong with keeping a positive attitude, but I think it’s important to not sugar coat how bad some of these sides can get. It actually makes it easier to deal with to know that you’re not alone, that even people you admire go through this.
    It’s hard to keep making art and not letting your ego ruin things for you.
    For the last couple of years I’ve been struggling with the creeping realization that the only motivation I’ve been having for creating is validation from others, especially from work. No wonder drawing hasn’t been fun anymore, if it’s become dependant on money or likes. That’s why my new years resolution is to not take on any new offers, maybe make some art I won’t post online, and focus on finding why I started drawing, before I started getting praised for it.

    Reply
    1. Andrea 8 December, 2016 at 19:31

      Thanks, so glad you appreciated this post! I agree, it’s important to talk about the struggles too, even the “ugly” ones, and to admit that it’s OK to feel like this from time to time.

      I relate so much to that latter part, where you mention that you’ve been creating for the validation of others. That really hit home, I’m actually composing a blog post about that as well. I have similar resolutions actually, and try to do everything to find a way back to that playfulness and love for art we once had as children.

      Reply
  3. palecoral 6 December, 2016 at 21:45

    Thank you for writing this post in such an open and honest way! I’m feeling this so much…
    For years I was eaten by envy which made it basically impossible
    to connect with other artists…. which cost me some friendships with artists I admired because I couldn’t put my baggage aside.
    It is so much more healthy to leave this super competitive mindset, that a lot of us think we are supposed to have, behind and support each other <3

    much love, Tina

    Reply
    1. Andrea 8 December, 2016 at 19:37

      Thanks Tina!
      Ah yes, we tend to miss out on so many potential friends because of the rivalry. I think about that too sometimes. Especially now that I slowly realize the fact that letting those people in actually may result in something awesome!

      Reply
  4. Thomas 7 December, 2016 at 00:55

    Maybe you feel better if I tell that for some people YOU are this person who cause envy and self-doubts. I see your animal drawings and think: “I wished to be this good”.

    Reply
    1. Andrea 8 December, 2016 at 19:32

      Hah, thank you! It’s not my intention be envied though, I hope that I can show others that no matter where you are artistically, you’ll always have your struggles :)

      Reply
  5. Audre 7 December, 2016 at 03:12

    I know these feelings well. I got a late start in any sort of real art training in college, and seeing all these people 5-6 years younger than me already far past anything I could manage was daunting. Luckily I became friends with most of them and discovered that even I had some skills they envied. But I will say that getting to know those you look up to personally opens up a whole new floodgate of self-loathing; that of seeing your mutual group of friends being more supportive of the ‘advanced’ artist. I’m still having problems coping with the soul-crushing feeling of in-adequateness that that brings up.

    Reply
    1. Andrea 8 December, 2016 at 19:45

      Oh yes sometime those feelings strike me as well. I’m self taught, so sometimes I tend to feel a bit defeated when seeing all those young art students cranking out those epic pieces. Sorry to hear that your friends favor those who are more advanced, I remember that I used to fear that something like that would happen to me. That my friends will abandon me when they discover how mediocre I am. But then I think about that for a while and come to a conclusion that if they actually do that, then they weren’t real friends anyway :p My closest friends like me for who I am, and are barely even interested in my art, haha. So I try not to take those situations too seriously.

      Reply
  6. ozan yuksel 7 December, 2016 at 12:40

    The thing I wish to contribute is about the moment I felt that I shrugged off the paralyzation feeling that comes with seeing better artists. It happened when I come across to a very very good large sized painting in person and thinking that; “I am never gonna be this good. No matter how good I get, I can not paint-draw this piece ever.” This somehow set me free. Knowing my hard limits kicked the boulder away and I started drawing again.

    Btw huge fan^^

    Reply
    1. Andrea 8 December, 2016 at 19:51

      Oh interesting! So you just accept those feelings?

      And thank you! :)

      Reply
  7. Didier DUROC 7 December, 2016 at 13:17

    “Creative constipation” what a nice expression ! I also pass throught it when i discovered Deviant art website. :D
    For me drawing was a way to evacuate my feelings, and it still be in a mature way today. As a kid, my drawings made me visible and special and let me overpass my shyness, it was like being a puppeter who talk throught his puppet. I never felt that my drawings was good enought, but i was proud when people said so. I have explored many technics, I pushed myself forward because I knew that if someone can do it well then I could do it too, Of course, there is so many styles and technics to explore, that one day I felt lost, corrupted by style of the others. It took me time but i finally “let it go”. And accept that i need to trust myself, and start to produce again for me and to share my feelings and ideas.
    Today, i like to help young artists, I want to help them to go higher and faster. Looking at there mistakes (who was also mine in the past), show me what I have accomplished.
    I would like to be able to draw animals like you, but it would always be a bad copy. It’s better to draw animals in my way, and spice them with some of your technics ;D
    Your drawings inspired me, push me to draw with the feelings they gave me. Looking at others drawings is a re-fuel moment, so i thank you for that !

    Reply
    1. Andrea 8 December, 2016 at 19:50

      Oh god yes, Deviantart used to scare the crap out of me! Haha!

      I could’ve been me saying this, I was sort of a puppeter too. And shy! I used to sit and sketch in an open space, to attract people :p I loved when they praised me.

      You seem to be at a rather peaceful place in your artistic journey, that’s so awesome! :) And thanks so much for your kind words!

      Reply
  8. Ian Grace 8 April, 2018 at 11:02

    I’m not getting anything for my work. Yeah the last while I’ve lost out on paid work due to wacom. But that’s a different story. I would have to say that alot of people would feel the very same way. I’ve even felt like how am I going to compete with them.
    It is never about competition, just more like completion. You don’t have to have perfect art. There are many ways to art. All you have to do is the reason why you did it that way. I know a artist who went from realisms painting to vector illustration work. He seen that there was work in this area and pounced on it. I was born to animate make cartoons. If I don’t make money from it I don’t care. Remember it is never about making money. It always about what you love and what you can do.
    Your amazing at what you do.

    Reply
  9. Pingback: My Advice on art block, tiredness, jealousy and worthlessness – Adam Zaim

  10. Marissa 10 May, 2018 at 22:22

    So true, you’re not alone. The internet can be so intimidating and overwhelming, bombarding us with extremes that make us feel so small. One thing that I’ve noticed that helps to remind myself, as an artist, I get used to seeing time-consuming pieces and tend to focus on what I don’t like about it. I get bored by it, frustrated with it, even after I consider it complete. Then others see it for the first time and seem so impressed, say it’s unique, etc. And I realize they have the upper hand in judging the piece because of its unfamiliarity and newness in their eyes. Keeping this viewer’s perspective in my mind helps accept my own art. After all, it’s how it inspires and moves the viewer that drives me to create in the first place. Keep putting it out there!

    Reply

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