Comparatively Speaking

Never compare yourself as an artist to anyone else.

Have you heard that advice before? Sure, you have, and sure enough, you’ve probably gone right ahead and drawn comparisons between your art and someone else’s. I don’t know why it is, but comparing ourselves to others seems to be a natural tendency in anything we do.

During those bleak times when we’re hit by the art funk monster, it’s especially easy to start looking at what other artists are doing, measuring our own work by someone else’s standards, and feeling that we’re never going to be good enough.

Of course, it’s all relative, and what’s good enough for me would likely be far below your standards. Even so, that doesn’t mean there isn’t merit in my art. I’m learning. I’m growing as an artist. I’m getting better day by day, even if, on some days, it doesn’t feel that way.

As I’m emerging now from the most recent rendition of the “I’m-such-an-awful-artist” blues, I’m gaining a greater understanding of who I am. I’m definitely not a great artist, but one thing is certain: I’m a much better artist today than I was in the past.

I was puttering around in the studio this morning, doing a little prep work for future paintings, and I glanced over and saw this landscape:

No masterpiece, but it’s not awful. That’s my standard of measurement these days, you know. As long as my paintings qualify as “not awful” I feel I’m making progress.

Why? Because in the past, most of my paintings were awful, even if I didn’t want to admit it.

Now, for comparison, let’s look back at an old landscape I painted. This one, titled “Evening at the River” was completed three years ago.

I don’t know about you, but I can sure see improvement from then to now! At the time I painted this river scene — one of the first “nocturne” paintings I’d attempted — this was really the best I could do. Some things were good in this painting. Look at the sky. It’s nice. At least, I think it’s nice.

This nocturne looks a bit sad compared to the paintings I’m making now. But, look! Comparitively speaking, my river painting was leaps and bounds ahead of my earliest oil painting attempts. Here is “Winter Scene”, my very first landscape oil. Oh, I was so proud of this, and so pleased with myself!

I still have this painting, by the way. No matter how many “old canvases” I toss out or re-use, I’m always saving this one. This was where I began as a landscape oil painter.

And this leads us to the point of this post.

The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday.

Although comparing ourselves to others is tempting and disheartening as often as not, comparing ourselves to ourselves can be reassuring. Looking back at where we’ve been truly helps us see how far we’ve come.

I have a long way to go before I’ll become the real artist I hope to be someday. But I am definitely on my way, definitely making progress, and definitely headed in the right direction.

16 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, yes! Excellent advice! We’re our own selves. Comparisons rarely end well.
    Btw, I like your earlier paintings, too. Tbh I have a few that are very much like them in their “early-ness.” I thought they were masterpieces when I made them. Then, for a long time they embarrassed me with their lack of skill. But I’ve finally come to see them as good efforts toward whatever I do, today. They may be rough and unpainterly (?) but they provide interesting clues to what’s possible. They don’t embarrass me anymore.
    Great post!!
    👏♥️👏

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks. I’ve always enjoyed looking back at my old sketchbooks. I can remember how I felt with each page. I was mostly embarrassed at a lot of my first, simple drawings, but now I can look at them and smile. I can see the possibilities they represented; I can see now how they were part of an on-going process. It’s much the same with some of my early paintings. I can pull them out and know that even if they weren’t all that great (although I might have thought so at the time), they showed promise. They represented progress, and it’s nice to see the improvement I’ve made. I feel like I’m continuing to improve, especially now as I’m learning about light and shadows, and about how to create more mood and atmosphere. At least I hope I’m getting better!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for posting this. Helps a lot time to time to remember that art is art and we are all different. I painted something one day and I said to myself.. this is just s… and one day someone said.. wow I really love this… so, art speaks to all of us differently. You never know.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Exactly. I’ve had little things sitting around the studio that I don’t particularly care for, and then someone sees it and says, “Oh, I have to have that!” Art speaks to each of us differently, just as you’ve said. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s true that it’s important to be able to look back at older works and be able to say, “I have improved so much”, rather than, “How could I have possibly made that?” I believe it’s all a matter of experience at any point in time. The process of learning continues throughout life, we should try to make the most of it, and be able to see the difference between our works alone. Others’ works don’t provide the standard for comparison. Though… have you thought about art competitions? Aren’t we essentially comparing our work to that of others? It tends to demotivate, too, sometimes, if we don’t win.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, even though we often say “It’s not a competition”… well, sometimes it is, more or less. I’ve taken part in local and regional art shows, and I’m happy that I’ve won ribbons, awards, and cash. What I want to think is that it’s not really “whose art is better” but more “what appeals to the judges today?” Yes, it is nice to get “1st place” in a category, yet I know that doesn’t mean I’m a better artist than the others who entered. It just means that for some reason my painting spoke to her. In my very first art show, I came away empty-handed, which is what I’d expected. All the same, yeah, it made me a bit wistful, especially when I saw others getting “Judge Merit” awards. Even with that, though, I looked at it mostly as a positive experience, because I saw for myself that my paintings looked good on display. My art looked as good as anyone else’s, and I was proud of that. I also paid attention to what judges were saying and I think I worked a little harder to improve my paintings, and I started getting awards. I do love showing my work. I love seeing that it looks good. And of course I love the prizes when I receive one. Yet I never want to think of it purely as “competition” — I always want to see it as an opportunity to display my work, meet new judges, and enjoy being part of the art community, even if I don’t take home any ribbons or awards.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just yesterday i was walking in the pollen after waking up at 5 am and asking myself, why do I do this? Nobody cares and there are many much better wildflower pictures than any I will ever be able to produce. Harsh competition these days and it seems as though nothing is new in the horizon. Just walking, shooting, and beating myself up. Not sure why punish myself so much but this is what I did yesterday 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We do it because we love being creative. Photography is a way for you to express yourself, sniffles, sneezes, and all. I’ve learned to think of art as expression and exhibition rather than as competition. I’ve come to see that my art is “good enough” to display, and for me, that’s what it’s all about… creating things that I can share with others. This is why we do this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is not uncommon when we look into the history of the arts, to come across the story of artists who died very poor and whose art was only recognized of having value after they died. Just yesterday I was watching a short documentary about Miroslav Tichý, who made his own cameras and produced hundreds of prints that were damaged, imperfect to begin with and that is the charm of his photography. Very little recognition did he get during life. Now he has a little more. Anyway, it is not possible to compete in the arts because it is hard to compare. But of curse getting ribbons is good for the ego. It means you’ve been a good girl and know the rules, plus produced something that touched the heart of the judges, like you said.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes… or maybe it just means that I somehow “got lucky”. I sometimes think that it can only be because the art stars have aligned somehow. I cherish the awards I have, largely because they were so unexpected. Not once have I ever gone into an art show thinking “I’ll probably get a ribbon.” So finding them hanging on my paintings is a delightful experience!

        Liked by 1 person

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