According to research done by Psychology Today, around 70% of the adult population has experienced impostorism at least once in their life. Impostorism is probably better known as impostor syndrome, and it is characterized by feelings of doubt over skills, talents, and accomplishments. Individuals with impostor syndrome are often fearful of being “found out” or “exposed”.
I have a feeling that artists account for a lot of that 70% figure. I know I’ve certainly felt like an impostor when it comes to art. That feeling of “pretense” hit me especially hard when I first joined an art club. Even though I’d begun calling myself “an artist”, I still felt like a phony — a mere “wannabe” — when confronted with “real” artists, those talented individuals who had a natural gift for drawing and painting. Attending meetings was nerve-wracking. Oh, I was fine at the start, sitting there with a sketchbook and pencil. But once we opened our sketchbooks and began the meeting’s scheduled project — a still life, a bit of life drawing, a nocturne — I froze up. How could I sit there and make any attempt at creating art? All of those “real artists” would look at my sketchbook and know at once that I was just a poser, just someone pretending to know something about art. My “art anxiety” as I termed it became so severe that more than once I skipped a club meeting simply because I was too afraid to try a project and have my lack of artistic talent discovered.
While I do still have misgivings about art and my right to call myself an artist, I’ve mostly overcome the “impostor syndrome.” I’m much more comfortable now at meetings and workshops, no longer quite so embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful of sharing my attempts at art with others. How did I get past those anxious feelings?
I learned that art isn’t about perfection.
Natural artists know this, I think. Those of us who have to work hard at it find it a difficult lesson to learn. As we study and hope to improve, we aspire to perfection, trying to accurately copy illustrations or duplicate a teacher’s results. Isn’t this what we’re expected to do? If our art doesn’t look exactly like the reference, we think we’ve failed, and that’s when the symptoms of imposterism begin. It’s important for us to understand that art is personal, that each of us has our own style, and that it’s all right to draw or paint a scene that’s not an exact copy. Doing so, in fact, actually shows our creativity and makes us more, not less artistic.
I realized that I could learn a lot from other club members.
At first, I was so intimidated by other artists, I rarely spoke up at meetings. Gradually, though, I got to know other club members. I was then able to chat more openly with them about my own art experiences. I felt more comfortable in asking questions or seeking advice. As I realized I was around men and women with years of experience, many of whom are or have been art teachers, I realized how much I could learn from them. Instead of seeing them as frightening spectres of all I would never be, I saw them as friendly artists who loved to share their knowledge and experience.
I took advantage of opportunities offered by the club.
Most art clubs do offer a lot of workshops, open studios, field trips, and other educational programs. At first, I viewed these as “one more chance of being exposed”, so I shied away from them. That’s not the purpose of such workshops and events. No one is out to get anyone. Instructors and club leaders are not waiting to pounce on those they deem “less talented.” Instead, they’re there to reach out, to offer assistance, to help artists improve. So I began attending open studios. I signed up for workshops. I volunteered to assist with art shows. In this way, I got to know members better, learned about their experiences with art, and found out that — guess what — they sometimes have doubts, too. They’re sometimes disappointed in their work, but they shrug it off and make more art.
I allowed myself to be vulnerable.
This was a huge step. The best way to beat imposter syndrome, I realized, was to stop pretending. Now, I no longer cast surreptitious glances at what other club members are doing, fretting that my art is so awful in comparison. Instead, I do the best I can, ask for advice when I need it, and proudly share my work.
I broadened my understanding of “art”.
My recent experience making marks with twigs and leaves taught me a very valuable lesson. We’re each individuals and that’s how we must express ourselves. The twig I used made “twig marks”. The leaf made “leaf marks”. I couldn’t ask the twig to be anything other than a twig. Same for the dandelion bloom, the piece of bark or the leaves I used. Although each tool created a different mark, all were art.
In the same way, what I create — flawed though it may be — is my art. It will be different from anyone else’s art, because I am different from anyone else. I think this is one of the most important things I’ve learned about art as I’ve worked to improve my drawing and painting abilities. As a beginner, I had specific illustrations or “assignments”. My abilities were measured by how accurately I could depict that particular thing. But art, I know now, isn’t about creating exact replicas. It’s about exploring ideas, experimenting with colors, making different marks, and expressing our feelings. Through this I’ve learned that whatever art I create is meaningful and can’t be measured or compared to anyone else’s.
I realized how much I love art.
Over the years, I’ve met with discouragement. I’ve done bad drawings and a lot of bad paintings. I’ve had my work criticized harshly, been told by a blog reader that I “want to be an artist without the necessary skills.” I’ve had bouts of doubts and I’ve shed a few tears now and then.
Sometimes those bad feelings have taken me away from art — but they haven’t kept me away. In fact, whenever I do step away for a time, I realize how much I want to be back at my easel. I want to keep painting. I want to do more drawing. I want to develop any “necessary skills” I may be lacking.
Art is a fascinating world, and there’s a place for each of us. As I browse posts each day, I’m thrilled by all the art I see, and amazed at how many different styles are represented. I see simple line drawings, elaborate ink illustrations, gorgeous watercolors, incredible acrylic pourings and an array of mind-boggling mixed media art. I see landscapes, portraits, abstracts. I see quick sketches and gesture drawings.
Art encompasses so many things! And it’s become part of my life, part of who I am. Six years ago I would never have thought it possible that one day I would say “I am an artist.” Yet here I am. I don’t have to feel like an impostor now, because no matter how good or bad my art might be, it’s still art. Even better, it’s my art.