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Imposter Syndrome In The Arts | Who’s Had It And How They’ve Persevered

Imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and insecurity are rife within the arts community, and understandably so. Art is subjective, there is no possible way to make something that everyone will like, and trying to do so will only stop you creating your own stuff anyway.

But on the other hand, what you create exposes a part of who you are, and facing judgement on this is hard.

Sharing art with the world is scary.

So panic, inferiority complexes and myriad insecurities are understandable, and the best artists don’t have a magic immunity to this, they’ve just learned how to persevere.

Given this is such a common topic to come up on the Street Art Unearthed podcast, we wanted to share snippets of wisdom from some of the coolest artists in Australia who’ve faced their fears, pushed forward and learned how to move in the art world with their worries (mostly) in check.

Sneaking into the Cool Club — Tinky Sonntag

I have to admit probably the first two to three years I felt like a real fraud. It was definitely imposter syndrome. I was almost embarrassed to tell somebody that was a really brilliant painter or had great skills with a spray can, a sculptor or whatever. I was embarrassed. But then the feedback that I was getting, for the most part, was so positive and accepting that I ended up just going “It’s okay.”

“Never one to bury her feelings, Josie was unimpressed by an 8am funeral service. She just wasn’t a mourning person.”

I don’t have to have a degree, I don’t have to paint really well. This is just my thing. And I’ll be doing it. But it took a long time because I did feel like I shouldn’t belong. I felt like I busted in on some really cool club and could be found out any second.

The first festival, it was very focused on graffiti, and it was very male-dominated. I was just like this middle-aged woman, but I got really a lovely reception from people I met and talked to.

I didn’t get shunned or anything like that, but I was kind of conscious that people might be thinking, “”What is she doing here?” Like “How does she fit into this kind of scene?”

In my second year, I was asked to go to the Wall to Wall Festival in Benalla, which is a really beautiful festival. It’s a big festival. Like really big names. It’s amazing.

I got asked if I would like to be part of it. And because I’d only been in it for like a year or two at that point, I don’t think I fully realised what it meant. I was like, “What am I doing as part of this?” And I kept thinking, “Oh no, I’m not really part of it. I’m just maybe an add on.” I don’t know. It was just too much for my little brain to kind of compute and go, “I belong here.”

There was a big dinner with all of the artists on one of the nights, which was absolutely amazing. I remember having really fascinating conversation with some collectors that I’d heard about. They just had some really, really amazing stories. I met Patchy, Julian, who’s just the most beautiful guy. And I dunno, I just kind of tried to be normal. There were others, like Adnate, who I would never go near. I was too intimidated. It was so much fun, but probably it was like a year or two later I realised what a big honour that was, and again, I felt like I’d lucked my way into it rather than earnt my way in.

It was all so unexpected, and it’s still kind of is.

I spent sort of three years saying yes to everything I got approached to do. I was like, “Yeah, just go outside your comfort zone.” I’m glad I did that. It’s scary sometimes, but I thought “Oh, just do it. What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

Fake it Till You Make It — Jack Fran

For me, I really did throw myself in the deep end. I made a lot of mistakes. I could honestly say my first two, three years painting were really bad.

I was literally learning on the job. It’s like someone had asked me to paint this and they’d ask “have you ever painted this?” and I’m like “yeah… sure” and I never did, but that’s kind of how I started, I guess.

The common thing that I would have clients say is: “I could barely draw a stick figure”. And I’m like “Yes, I’m one up on you.”

I had that fake it till you make it sort of like mindset. But there was a point in time where I was like “actually, I need to pull the reins on this because I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Owning the Occupation — Tom Gerrard

I had a few false starts as an artist. I worked in graphic design for years. I did it for 13 years, and art was always a thing on the side. But when I was in South America, and we’d cross borders, you’d have to fill out a form, and they’d say, “All right, what’s your occupation,” and I’d write artist. And my wife used to tease me and go, “You’re not an artist.” And I’d say, “Yes, I am, yes, I am.” And she’s like, “Well, where’s your art?” And I’d go, “It’s all these paintings I’m doing.” And she’s like, “That’s graffiti, that’s not art.” And it’s like, “Well, it’s art too. And what about the characters, they’re art?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” And I’d go, “Anyway, what other occupation do I put at the moment?” And she’s like, “Yeah, fair enough.” I’m not going to write traveller, you know.

I made sure I did that every time I had to do a border crossing and fill out the occupation. I always wrote artist, and it felt really good. I felt proud to do that.

It wasn’t until I came back… after leaving Barcelona… Actually, I tried to live as an artist in London and ran out of money. Then I tried to live as an artist when I got to Barcelona, and I was developing more styles then, but I didn’t have a… I don’t know, I didn’t really know how I was going to make money, and no-one’s buying a lot of art in Barcelona. There’s not a lot of disposable income.

So when I got back to Melbourne, I worked for a year as a graphic designer, and I started my podcast Bench Talk, and I started interviewing artists who were making a living as an artist and just asking them how they were doing it. It got to about episode 20 or so, and I thought, “I think I’ve got enough to give this a crack.” And I had a bit of work, and I had an exhibition lined up, and I didn’t have enough time to get all the paintings done, so I just got into the studio and just never looked back.

Speaking it Into Being — Mulga

I didn’t really ever believe it was possible that I could leave my 9–5 job and then make the same amount of money. I was trying my hardest and giving it a go, but I still couldn’t believe that it was possible.

I read a book or something about goal setting… And instead of, when you meet someone new, and they say “what do you do for a job?”… instead of saying “I’m a paraplanner” I started saying “I’m an artist” trying to con myself into believing. That does just change your mind. I think that helped.

It’s like that principle of The Secret. If you tell people “I’m an artist” they go “oh I need some artwork”. You’re promoting yourself.

Embracing Imposter Syndrome Pros — JESWRI

I try and twist things to make it an advantage. I look at things, like imposter syndrome… I judge myself all the time. For me, I still get it really badly. I’ll get a really good job, and it’s going to put me onto another level, but I’ll still go “am I deserving of this? Have I done enough to make me feel kind of worthy or ready or ready in the eyes of other people?”

I think that imposter syndrome is great, I see it as an advantage because I don’t think a lot of people get it, and most of the people who get it are creatives. You spend so much time judging yourself, and I think that is the advantage. By the time you’re finished judging yourself when you’re ready to put it out in the world, who cares what people think. If anything, you’re going through a million people worth of opinions in your head before it’s out in the world. So if one person says “I don’t like it” it’s like “fuck, I don’t give a shit”. It’s a complete blessing.

Everyone who loves what they do is always going to be hard on themselves, and that is the beauty of it, I think. That’s when you know you love what you do.

Header image is the fab work of JESWRI.

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