Artist’s Statement ….Part Two

The Pale Rook

So remember that thing I applied for?

My application was successful.  I was selected to take part in a project at Scotland’s Craft Town,  the wonderful West Kilbride.   I’ve been a massive fan of the Craft Town since I first found out about it a few years ago, so I’m massively chuffed to be a part of it.  The project I’m involved in takes selected craft makers based in Scotland, at various stages of their careers and gives them specialist business mentoring and studio space for six months.   For the first time in over a decade I am being mentored rather than mentoring others, which has been quite a shock to the system.

The first meeting of the participants, organisers and business mentors involved an exercise where we had to think of things that limited our business or things that we were worried about and then we had to decide whether these things were Financial, Operational, Creative, or Emotional. I do these kind of exercises with my students, so I wasn’t too surprised when most of the participants put a whole lot of their worries, fears and anxieties about their work in the Emotional category. I didn’t because as far as I was concerned I’m not caught up in my emotional issues, not me, nuh uh. I am wiser than that.

Or not.

Later that day I had a one to one meeting with my business mentor, a fabulously astute and direct woman who called me on my bullshit within about twenty minutes.

My mentor asked me to decide how much I hoped to earn in terms of my salary, and to price my work accordingly. I did it the other way around. I worked out how much I wanted to earn from each individual piece (and other stuff that I can’t tell you about yet), then I added up how much I would likely earn over the course of a year and then once I saw the total I decided that it was way too much, that I didn’t need that much and that I didn’t deserve that much, so I’d just have to earn less.

Seriously.

And the worst part was that I didn’t see anything wrong with this. In fact, I thought that earning a good salary for my work was somehow unfair to the rest of the world. So I reduced the price of the thing I can’t tell you about yet and went into my meeting with a nice clear idea of how to avoid earning more than I felt I deserved.

I’m not even joking.

So there we were in our meeting and my mentor patiently listened to my stream of ideas and plans and hopes and fears about where I want to take my work and how I want to develop the business side of things.

Once I’d stopped for breath, my mentor told me that she thought my pricing was too low. I explained that I didn’t think it was. She told me again, that it was indeed way to low, and I explained that pricing it higher wouldn’t be fair to people who wanted to buy it. Then she said something that made absolutely no sense to me. She asked if my feelings about pricing were somehow connected to something within me, or more specifically if my feelings towards the people who buy my work were fulfilling some need within me.

I had absolutely no idea what the hell she was on about. Remember, I teach this stuff. I am a master at pointing out the root of my students’ issues and creative barriers and I could sort of see what she might be getting at and why what she said might have meant something to someone else, but I really had no idea what relevance it had to me.

Until the train ride home.

Here’s what I realised about myself.

I feel bad about people paying for my work because I think that the people who buy and even those who appreciate my work are somehow being duped. I keep feeling that at some point I am going to be found out to be an imposter.  I feel bad when my work is considered valuable.

There.

Issue number one; I do not trust or value my talent.

And there’s more.

I worry that I am somehow going to get into trouble for showing off.  I feel that if I openly value my work then people might not like me.

I know.

Issue number two; please like me, please like me, please, please like me.

OK, so this is all deep down, little girl fear and anxiety stuff, it’s not up there on the day to day surface of things, but it’s still there, and in my experience the deep down stuff has a way of making itself heard in one insidious way or another.

I see it constantly in my female students. I’m sure men and boys experience it too, I know they do, but in my personal experience it’s women who consistently undervalue their work, their time and their talent and it’s women who desperately seek approval by making themselves small.

I have sat through literally hundreds of student presentations, from high school to post-graduate level and women consistently and persistently do one thing when they present their work, regardless of how good it is or how hard they have worked on it or how good they believe it to be – they apologise for it.

Over and over, throughout my career I have heard women and girls tell me all of the things they should have done differently and all of the ways they could have made their work better and all before they’ve even opened their portfolios or begun their presentation. Even when given positive feedback, they tell you how it should have been better and how it would have been better if only they had done something differently. They deliberately make it less than it is.

So about six years ago, I banned my students from saying the word sorry, and we did a little experiment. They had to present their work without saying a single negative word about it, and throughout the exercise they would have absolutely no encouragement or feedback from me whatsoever. So no negativity from them and no approval from me.

What happened shocked me. Some students weren’t even able to begin speaking. They looked at the floor, they took deep breaths, they took several minutes just to find words to begin with that wouldn’t include any sort of apology. Some were even brought to tears by the sheer frustration of not being able to criticise themselves.

Let me be as clear as possible; speaking about themselves without negativity reduced several women and girls to tears and silence.

And I hadn’t asked them to glow with self congratulation, false pride or confidence, all I had asked them to do was not criticise or apologise for their work.

I ask my students why they feel it’s so difficult to not devalue themselves. Their answers are always, always the same. They tell me that they don’t want other people to think they are arrogant. They worry that if they say their work is good, other people will point out that it’s not. They worry that if they appear to think they are better than others, then those others won’t like them.

Which brings us right back to me on the train.

Up until that point I had subconsciously believed that valuing myself meant devaluing others which would make them feel bad which would make them not like me. I had kept myself in a nice little box that would be no obvious threat to anyone and this deliberate devaluing of myself was making it’s way into my life in my reluctance to make a reasonable amount of money for my work.

The sad thing, the thing that made me furious on the train when all of this hit me, was that I knew, I KNOW that valuing yourself and your talent and your work, truly valuing your best qualities does not bring trouble, criticism and rejection; quite the opposite.

About half way through some of the student presentations something else would happen. After a few minutes of speaking hesitantly, through deep breaths and almost uttered “sorries”, something would shift.

There would come a moment when the student’s voice would even out.

Because I wasn’t giving them any feedback, encouragement or prompting, because they were getting absolutely nothing back from me, they would begin to say what they wanted to say. Not what they thought I wanted to hear, not what they thought was expected, not what they thought would make them likeable, but what they truly felt and thought.

There would be a change in tone and volume that was so moving, so utterly inspiring that I can’t even describe it to you. They would speak without apology, explanation or expectation, about what they loved about their own talent. Then they would realise that no one was laughing at them, no one was horrified, no one had stopped liking them, and that they weren’t in trouble, then their voice would get stronger and clearer and calmer.  And when they shone, something would happen to the other students in the room, and to me;  we’d feel just a little bit closer to our own value because we could see someone else connecting with theirs.

It’s worth pointing out that I have done this same exercise all over the place, with different age groups, different academic levels, different nationalities and the results are pretty consistent. About twenty percent break down in tears, around sixty per cent struggle to speak, about eighty per cent reach a moment when they begin to shine.

I would also like to point out that I would never and could never force anyone to do anything in my class. Everyone who participates does so openly and willingly and the ones who cry are the ones who hammer on through with the greatest determination because they are usually the ones who have the most buried within themselves. Just thought I’d point that out in case you had some sort of image in your head of me inflicting emotional and psychological torture on unsuspecting art students.

I could write forever about why we have all of these layers of apology within ourselves, why we feel we need to be small, to be liked, why we need to undercut our own value to feel comfortable. I won’t though because I’ve got way too much to be getting on with and I’m sure you have your own story to tell about all of the times you insisted on less than you deserved.

So go try this.

Talk to yourself about yourself, your work, your talent, your virtues, whatever you like but do it without apology and do it out loud.

It’s harder than you think.  I struggle with it.

I’ve always imagined that as an artist, I should devalue my work, that it’s up to others to see and judge it’s worth and that if I ask for just a little I won’t be disappointed when I get just a little.  After my meeting with my business mentor though, I realise that I have been seeing myself and my worth in exactly the same self depreciating way my students do.   My ideas about being a struggling artist are really just a reason to keep myself small, unthreatening and likeable.

I’m not going to suddenly increase my prices or change the way I sell my work, but I’m no longer going to limit myself in terms of what I achieve through my work.  I’m not going to prevent myself from earning more than I think I deserve.

From now on, I refuse to reduce my own value.

I’ve never been a materialistic person and I’ve never seen financial success as a goal in itself, but what I’ve realised is that until now I have seen financial success as something that I should avoid, something that I don’t deserve, something that might make people not like me, and that has limited me creatively.

So I’m not going to make myself small any more.  I’m not going to keep myself in a little box and whatever comes out of me next will come without any apology or fear of what it might achieve.

And there’s that thing that I’m planning that I can’t tell you about yet.  I’m not afraid of that thing being a success anymore.  I’ll tell you about it next time.

The Pale Rook

 

422 thoughts on “Artist’s Statement ….Part Two

  1. Thank you thank you thank you. I needed to read this.
    Now, I just need you to please come and sit in front of me and ask me to present my work so that I can go through all those uncomfortable feelings and maybe feel that shift 😉 lol
    xWendy

  2. Reblogged this on Mona Karel Author and commented:
    I’m setting aside tales of the trip, random thought about my Fitbit and sunset pictures to share a profoundly important blog post from someone I just discovered. As I read it I found myself nodding and then ducking my head in shame. These thoughts encompass every page in my life. You’ll see what I mean.

  3. An amazing read! It’s brought lots of emotions and almost a tear! It moved me from my soul and is so true for me, making me a little sad inside too.
    The worst part is I’m aware I do this…but only afterwards when I kick myself.
    Very thought provoking

    1. I have to admit that after having that realisation I was a mix of relief and fury for a while. Now it’s mainly relief and determination, but there’s still the odd moment of “damn it!”. So glad you liked it 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  4. I know I have some severe issues with my own self-worth due to reasons, but wow…I didn’t realize that maybe my valuing of my writing could be related to what you said, its own separate issue too, that I was afraid of somehow saying “I’m better than you” because I was saying “I’m really good at writing”.

    Reblogged on my own blog – an artist of any medium should hear this message.

  5. You wrote precisely about the one issue that has been my deep seated problem for YEARS: (I am not exaggerating). I’d never seen your blog before so I think this is not a chance encounter. THANKS for writing about the “slef worth&value&money” issue. Now I’m off to look at more of your artwork because what I see here is incredibly beautiful!

  6. Definitely sharing this, I am my own worst critic. I end up picking my artwork apart and feel exactly the same way when I go to sell something. I feel like I would be cheating someone if I price my work to high. I always belittle myself and then it feels like I cannot get out of a this hole I have dug. Then end up digging deeper and deeper. Thank you for all of your inspirational words, and yes us men have the same feelings all of the time. I don’t really feel like I am worthy of making good money for my work. I constantly put myself down, and I always apologize to people I do commission work for when I feel that I did not reach a certain standard that I have for myself.

    1. It’s amazing how much giving up apologising changes things, even if you have to force back the sorries for a wee while until you start believing you don’t need them. I think that if you are a bit kinder to yourself then you’ll reach the standards you have for yourself a lot sooner than if you beat yourself up, but that’s only my personal experience.

  7. wow!!! What an eye opener! You are so inspiring to me and to the other artists I will share this with! As an artist, instructor, woman, I have felt this, in my own art and for my past students! Never too late to “put it out there”! Kudos! Thank you for peeling back your “skin” to reveal and help others.

  8. Oh my… I shed a tear… I’m on the good path to self consciousness… But it’s slow. Feeling a lot better about my work… Putting better prices… Not feeling impostor! I got a little theory about this (maybe wrong)… It’s all the school years that changes and undervaluates us… Just doing things to please others and not ourselves… I can see the self confidence of my little girl (unschooled) to be quite certain of it…

    1. Yep, I think we start to devalue ourselves from a very young age, it’s sad but good that you’re feeling better about your work now. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  9. I can not express what your post has done for me. Let me just say thank you from the heart for giving me the tools to help me get out if my own way.

  10. Personal rant or dissertation regarding release of the real you? Actually to all who know you well, you are perfect just the way you are! Love you…

  11. So grateful for your clarity and openness. This is not only about art, but our whole lives – in so many dimensions we limit our creativity, our exuberance, what we offer. It’s our souls we’re putting in that small box. How good it feels to inspire each other to let ourselves out! Looking forward to reading the next installment. Sharing this with a bunch of friends in the meantime. May your work flourish!

  12. … You’ve given me some food for thought here. Thank you. (Granted, my area of making and creation is a different one, but the same basic concepts apply.)

  13. Fantastic post. I’ve had a recent lesson in this. On the first time I visited my friend’s English class, I began with an apology for not being prepared. After the readings, the students did write ups about the performance and I learned that one of the students felt I had made myself seem weak because of the apologetic beginning.

    The next time I returned to the class, I just launched right in to the poems and let it go from there. I felt so much more confident and had a better connection with the students.

    I still need to remind myself of this all the time and it’s a lesson I’m constantly learning as I approach my writing.

    1. I’ve done exactly the same thing in the classroom and it always undermines my authority for the rest of the session. It’s amazing how quickly others assign “weakness” to you when you set yourself up for it. I’m now going to go have a look around your website……

  14. Beautiful, honest post! And so true that females are more likely to be apologetic about their greatness. Think it’s really important to be both self-aware about this, as well as to teach the younger generations a different way of perceiving themselves and their value. Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. Hey there! I just joined this blogspot, and I feel priviledged to have read this brutally honest blog. I, too struggle with negative feelings about my talents. I have allowed others to dictate how I do things, how I dress, etc. Through delegating MY power to these people, I have become an emotional mess. I am a walking contradiction! Reading your work has inspired me to take back my power! Self-worth is an important thing to have, cherish, and show to the world! Thanks, again!

  16. A brilliantly beautiful self-evaluation. It resonated powerfully with my own issues with undercutting my own value. Thank you for sharing this insight.

  17. Wow, these words sure resonated with me. On the one hand, it is comforting to know that others go through this kind of thing, too, but it is also discouraging at the same time! It’s hard being an artist, thinking outside of the proverbial box, trying to stay authentic to our crafts, and somehow “fit” into the “real” world (whatever that means) all at the same time. Thanks for your sage words. I will reread several times, to be sure.

    1. You know what? It was only when I stopped trying to fit in and make sense of things that my work really started to resonate with people. I’m really glad you liked the post 🙂

  18. Interesting. I was always told, “you must be arrogant, and never show weakness, never apologize, charge as high a price as you think you can get away with (what the market will bear)”. Being a Rogue was a good thing if it sells. And if they were willing to buy a less than perfect product, that was a good thing. Keep it secret…. Anyway, that advice never worked for me. I’m not good at being a Rogue. I’ve thought about hiring a stunt-double to do all the bragging. He could be me for presentations. In the meantime I might have more time to edit. I have to sell some adequate work in order to have enough confidence to write great things. Writing with pain doesn’t really work that well. But as they say, never show weakness and keep it to yourself. And they say, whatever you have at the moment, brag about it shamelessly and let the fools buy it and you’ll do better next time if there’s still enough time for redemption before that deal with the Devil comes due. So I suppose it’s sell first at an unreasonable price, let the fools buy, fall in love, redeem with good works and save the world and oneself, lower the price due to bulk sales and kiss a baby. Seems easy enough.

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