If the answer is no, skip this and go merrily on to your opening at MOMA. If you answered yes, stay with me. I'm going to tell you how to gag the nasty little critic living in your head who just loves to make you believe everybody's else's art is better than yours.
When you slide into this destructive, negative mindset, here's what to do: drag your very first painting out from under the bed or the back of the closet. (Didn't save your very first painting? No problem. Bring out the earliest piece you have on hand.) Ok, now lean it up against the wall.
Next, place a more recent piece you've done right next to it. Step back and look at the two pieces very carefully and with a critical eye. Unless you just started painting last week, you'll see quite a difference between the two. Let me humble myself by showing you my first painting, followed by a later piece, to illustrate my point:
|My very first painting, done in 2003|
Pretty awful, right? The horizon line is dead center in the middle of the canvas. All the boats are the same glaring shade of pure white. Their reflections are much too large and much too dominant. The distant line where water meets land is anything but level. The land mass is a dead, flat black. The water itself looks more like dark blue corduroy than water. (It actually looks even worse in person than it does here.) I could go on, but you get the point. This painting is a poster child for every mistake in the book.
Now, here's a landscape painted just four years later, in 2007:
|"The Pond in Autumn," acrylic on canvas ©2016 Lynn Edwards|
See the difference? I'm not claiming this painting is perfect, or that Christie's sold it at auction for a king's ransom, but without question it's a marked improvement over the sailboats. As you can see, by 2007 my abilities were more refined. The water looks like water, there's a suitable range of values, the grasses and trees are believable, and overall the painting reads well. It was accepted into several juried exhibitions and was sold shortly afterwards. I tell you this not to brag, but to encourage you to find positive benchmarks of a similar nature in assessing your own work.
My message here is this: comparing your work to that of others is of little use. Every artist is on his or her own unique journey. Their art is a reflection of their experiences, feelings, memories and beliefs, and where they are in their journey at any given time. They are not you.
Compare your work only to your own work. Remember, you are not in competition with other artists; your only competitor is yourself. Are you a better artist now than you were last year? Three years ago? Ten? Do you find techniques that formerly were difficult to accomplish second nature now? Have you expanded your subject matter, found new ways to present it, or widened your choice of media?
Take this exercise one step further. In chronological order, line up all the paintings you've done that are still in your possession, starting with your earliest piece. Again, step back and take a long, careful look. You'll see a clear progression of improvement in such things as composition, perspective, color mixing....all the elements that go into the creation of art.
If you've been painting for any length of time, this exercise can be a real eye-opener, providing a visual history of your artistic abilities. It can reveal your strengths, your unique style, recurring themes and personal symbols, and where improvements are needed. The discoveries you can make can be startling as well as helpful. (For instance, I noticed that birds seemed to appear in many of my pieces, even though I didn't consciously include them.)
Comparing your current work to earlier work has another benefit too. It allows you to see that you have something to say and something to offer. And that your contribution is being presented to the world in an ever-evolving way. We all have a gift to share that's unique to us alone. This simple exercise lets you see where you are on your own artistic journey -- where you've been, where you are now, and the exciting directions and places where your imagination might take you.
Text and images ©2016 Lynn Edwards