“I Wish I had Made That”

“I wish I had taken that picture,” “I wish I had made that,” “How does he do that?” Sometimes those are expressions of appreciation or admiration for the work others. Too often, though, those sorts of statements, along with statements like “Her work is no better than mine, but hers sells,” “I wish I could paint [sculpt, act, dance] like him,” “I want my stuff to look like that,” “Oh, my pictures are way better than hers,” represent something else entirely.

Comparison. We almost can’t help but do it. In the US, it’s part of our culture. According to Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, we are “told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.” Given that sort of push, it’s almost impossible for us to not compare ourselves with others. We must constantly look around and see where we are in relation to everybody else. How else are we to know when we’ve succeeded unless we are better than, if not someone else, then who we used to be?

The problem for artists is that comparing ourselves to others is contrary to who and what we profess to be. Oh, we may be competitive, or envious, or greedy, or any number of other things, but more often than not the reason we became artists in the first place is because we have something inside that has to come out. And that something and the way that we express it are unique to us; they are, in fact, what makes our art our art. And every time we compare our work or ourselves to another, it is a denial of our individuality. How could we possibly produce art like someone else without having lived his/her life and without having had his/her experiences?

And yet we continue to look at the work of other artists and decide how that work measures up to ours, or vice versa.  It is not a useful way to think, either as an artist or a person. We need to understand that we can’t do that. We are not that artist. And if we were to spend that comparison time doing our own work, we could make it that much better—not in relation to someone else’s but as an improved expression of our own vision.

And we need to remember that just as we cannot produce the art of others, nobody can produce our art but us. Sometimes, each of us needs to be reminded:

Nobody else walks in your shoes.  Nobody else lives your life, has your story, or knows what you know.  Nobody else has your combined talents, history, skills and expertise.  Nobody else has your particular shine.  Don’t be excellent if it means trying to fit yourself into someone else’s definition of the term.

So instead of spending our time comparing ourselves to others (and coming up short much of the time), we need to remind ourselves that we are each one-of-a-kind and that we produce unique work, a projection of our own individual aesthetic and distinct view of the world, made the best that we can make it on that particular day. It’s a better way to live, and a better way to approach our art.

Date: Sunday, 14. July 2013 23:09
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