I have recently been reflecting on why it is that most artists I know belittle their own achievements, and worry they are not good enough. I have lost track of the number of conversations I have had about this with other makers who feel that they are not achieving enough, or worry they will be told they are charging too much money for something even if they know their work is well made and interesting.
The fear of being “found out” by someone who twigs that you are in the wrong place is incredibly common, and there has been a lot of research into it since the term was coined in the 70’s. It often occurs in spaces where people feel like an outsider, but can happen to anyone and leads people to believe they must have been “lucky” to have achieved what they have. Sometimes experiences reinforce this feeling – I remember about six years ago being told by another maker exactly what he thought was wrong with my work, how I should change my pricing and how I could be more like him. I had only been working on my own for three or four years, and my confidence was shaken to the point that I didn’t do another craft market for four years.
Impostor syndrome often leads to a negative feedback loop, where a project’s success is attributed to luck, or incredibly hard work, instead of any form of ability. Added to that, with me, is a feeling that no one else can see the flaws that seem so evident to me. This negative feedback loop is destructive and sometimes prevents me from applying to projects in case someone laughs at my proposal. As a result, I am trying to stop myself replying to compliments about my work with “oh it’s nothing, why did they ask me?” or “I really hope they don’t notice that little thing there…” When I finish and deliver a commission I have so much worry about it. However, I have yet to have complaints about the quality of my work.
We tend to be, as makers, so caught up in our work, linking it so closely to our self-worth and ideas of who we are. Perhaps we need to learn from someone I know who started her career in marketing, and uses those skills in her art practice. She believes in her work, in her ideas, and can push those without worrying as they are an idea that is separate to her inner self.