Impostor Syndrome

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.

37 Comments

    1. 🙂 I’m glad it’s meaningful for you. Learning to feel like a “real” artist — in any sense — has been a challenge for me at times. I’m getting past those doubts now, realizing that being an artist doesn’t mean measuring up to any pre-set standards. It means being who I am, creating art, and enjoying the process.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. And what for you is a real artist? When I am visiting museums or galleries, I often ask myself: Why is this piece of art displayed here? And which ones are not visible because they are in the attic or the cellars? I do not find it difficult to explain what I like or do not like or prefer …however, I am one of thousands if not millions of visitors, and my views are relevant only for me. But I wonder, do not many people have the same ideas, at least from time to time?

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    1. For me, a “real artist” (in my mind) has always been someone with a natural talent for drawing. Many of my friends growing up were artists even at a young age. By contrast, I’ve had to work very very hard to learn to draw — at a very basic level. Drawing doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’ve never felt like a “real” artist. Over the last six years since I began learning to draw, I’ve come to understand that art is much more than whether or not we can draw. Yet even there, I’ve always felt that there are some individuals who have a “natural” ability to see how to use colors, to understand how to show lights and shadows, to be “artistic” in ways that I might never be. Over the last few months, though, I’ve learned to be a lot freer with my art, to experiment more, to express what I’m seeing and feeling — in the best way I can. Will I ever be a “real, true artist”? It will never come easily for me, but at least I feel that I am an artist now, and I understand that I don’t need to always be comparing myself to others.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I found it very interesting to learn more about photography and fine art. The early history of photography fascinates me. I was hoping you’d share a thought or two on the topic. 🙂 Thanks for commenting. I will look up Salgado.

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  2. I met a guy who was an excellent woodworker making fantastically imaginative and funny carved sculptures and I was amazed at his talent. And that guy told me he’s not an artist. It’s something I don’t understand about a lot of artists who don’t claim to be artists. Maybe with the guy it was a case of him knowing artists and not liking them. I can only guess. But that person who told you that you don’t have the skills to be an artist was living under a rock or something to think you can’t be an artist until you get the skills he thinks are necessary. Look at the “artist” who sold a banana taped to the wall and all the publicity that got for, what? Skill? nope. The whole art world is FUBAR! I know I say that all the time but you have to listen to your gut feelings on it an no one else can make the call for you.

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    1. Oh, yes, when my blog troll made that comment, it didn’t bother me. He also remarked that I knew nothing about writing or music. I think he was quite disappointed that he couldn’t hurt my feelings. I do think a lot of people think the way I once did — that being an artist essentially means being able to draw, so if you’re doing woodworking, as in the example you gave, you’re not “an artist” in that sense of the word. If you’re using a camera, to look back at another example, you’re not “an artist” because you’re not drawing the scene. For a very long time I really felt that it was that one single ability — drawing — that made one an artist. Thus, when I bought those Prismacolor Premier pencils and thought “these are artists’ pencils” I had to justify owning them by “learning to draw” because that was my personal understanding of what it meant to be an artist.

      My “art world” and my understanding of it have broadened considerably now, and I can see art through various disciplines. Even there, we find discussion and dissension. Is fabric art really art? Is gourd-carving an art? Where do we draw the lines between “fine art” and “crafts”? That’s a real stickler with some of the members in our art clubs.

      And there’s fluid art. Is an acrylic pouring really art? Is abstract art — such as my splatters of paint I posted about — really deserving to be called art?

      We can go on and on about this… which is one of the reasons why I love art more and more. It’s anything. It can be everything. But then again, we have our personal opinions, and I will not call that banana taped to the wall “art”. But others do.

      I know that today I am an artist. Yes I can draw — a bit. I’ll never be great at it, and it will never come easily, but I do have basic skills. I also have knowledge and experience in using other media, in knowing different techniques, in understanding design elements and principles of light, shadow, and color temperature. If only by virtue of the many hours I’ve devoted to my studies, I think I’ve earned the right to call myself an artist. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Where to draw the line. I don’t draw that line to make art and craft different things. To me they’re the same. When I sew it’s the same brain waves as when I paint. I think you have earned the right to call yourself an artist too. But it’s a right you don’t really have to earn. When I was young they told us the difference between an artist and a great artist is drawing. That was an old fashioned art school. Maybe that troll was trying to yank your chain and if you don’t let it bug you then you win.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Yes, he was quite upset that his hateful comments didn’t bother me. He also predicted that this blog would be gone in a short time. Wrong, again.

        I like your comments about brain waves and creativity. Crafts may sometimes be more creative than fine art, don’t you think?

        Liked by 2 people

      3. The troll is wrong on so many levels!
        Yeah, “fine art” sounds exclusive but it’s really an outdated term. Creativity is unlimited in all areas of effort, even thinking. It all depends on the person doing it. Some people don’t think trying to represent a landscape as closely as you can to nature is creative, like they have to put their own spin on it to be creative, but that might be their own ego talking. Who knows. It’s not really worth fighting about. You got the right idea if you don’t let it bug you.

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  3. May I add another thought? I always saw the ones who think they’re a great artist but don’t have the skill as the pretenders. I mean the huge ego with nothing to back it up. And what I gather is you thought you were the pretender. You’re not the pretender. It can take a lifetime and you still don’t have the skill you want as an artist. Those that seem like they were born with it only started young. They also had to learn to draw. (or maybe they got into modern art and drawing isn’t required) Who was it, Matisse? I’m not sure, When he died he said, “Darn, just when I was getting the hang of it.”

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    1. Oh, thank you for sharing that quote about Matisse. He was such a unique individual. I like him more and more all the time, not just as an artist, but as a memorable character in the art world.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, not only was Matisse a great artist and innovative but he was also a nice guy, not a male chauvinist pig like Picasso,( who is way overrated as far as I can tell, and should be cancel cultured, haha) Thanks for letting me put my two cents in, as always.

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  4. i have felt all of this to a degree at one time or another..eventually i got over the insecurity part and it made all the difference. As they say, comparing yourself to another person in any way is kind of crazy- it usually leads to bad things. I am so glad though that i did go through it though because otherwise i would never have learned what you have expressed here. Now, i am at the point where i have been considering not calling myself an artist anymore ( a been there, done that kind of thing ) and just allowing myself to be whoever or whatever comes day by day. It may sound glib, but it took a lot of courage ( for me anyway)to disengage from the image and identity since it’s been such a part of “me” for many years. Yes, i’ll still paint and sketch and create, but maybe not worry about the details and meaning of it all so much..:)

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    1. That’s an interesting approach, and I understand what you’re saying, I think. In some ways, that’s a bit of how I’m looking at art and the whole idea of “being an artist”. Whether I am or not is irrelevant in a lot of ways. I’m just me — and being me now includes doing landscape oil paintings, playing with colors, doing mixed media, making creative messes with art. So whether I’m an artist or not, I’m creating art — good, bad, who cares? I’m doing things that artists do, so what difference does it make if I go around calling myself “an artist” or not? The name/label won’t really change who I am and what I do.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I enjoyed looking at the illustration and seeing all those “thoughts”… like maybe “I’m just lucky…” I know I’ve had each and every one of those thoughts over these last few years since I began learning to draw and paint. One interesting thing to me was getting to know many talented artists and realizing that they, too, have their doubts from time to time. I think a bit of “impostor syndrome” always comes with the creative territory, and I think this is in large part because there are no definite standards. It’s not like a test score where we can hold up a number and say, “Yes, I did well on this.” It’s all subjective, all open to interpretation, and all subject to criticism and good ol’ “personal opinion”.

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  5. I highly urge you all to get the book “A Big Important Art Book (Now with Women!), hardcover. It’s OUTSTANDING. I had already decided some time ago to stop torturing myself with the “is this art/am I am artist” self-punching bag and just start MAKING. This book supports my decision and shows me that art is all sorts of things and it’s all in the eye/mind/heart of the creator.

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