Blog / 2021 / Art Anxiety

December 8, 2021

[video transcript]

This skeleton is part of Everything’s Fine, a collection of images about mental health that I’m painting live on Twitch every Monday and Thursday.

Last year, I did a blog series about how to love your art, with seventeen tips for getting over self-doubt, and it occurs to me that I might need to review some of that information right now.

skeleton with a chick on top of its skull holding a paintbrush and contemplating things, mental health illustration by surrealist artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Practicing Death
acrylic on panel
10 x 8 inches

The pensive skeleton isn’t for sale until I figure out what I’m doing with the series, but there are prints and pretty things with this image here in my print shop.

skeleton art by Gwenn Seemel
detail of Practicing Death

It’s a fear that too many artists have. It stops us from putting brush to canvas—from ever getting started on anything—or it makes it impossible to finish a piece. It quashes our desire to share our art with others. It’s the intense worry that everything we do is being judged negatively.

And, to be fair, it is.

I mean, everybody is a critic. People without any art training or experience have opinions about our work. Often they think we’re crap or—and this may be worse—they’re completely unimpressed either way. They can’t give our hard work any more than a shrug.

And don’t forget the people who think they know things about artists: that we’re all starving, self-centered, drunk or high, pretentious, unstable. My favorites are those who take some tired trope about artists and hammer on it like it’s Truth, with a capital T.

Recently, I literally watched an artist say that they wouldn’t make art if they were alone on a desert island because the communication element of art is too important to them, and their friend corrected them: “but of course you would!” I think the friend thought it was a compliment to the artist, but all they were really doing was projecting some boring stereotype onto the artist.

The fact is that creatives are dependent on society to make a living, and we can’t deny it as easily as people who work for a company. Unless we’ve got family money, we need a community to buy our art or pay us for our work in some way, and plenty of people—people who are just as dependent on companies to pay their bills—judge artists for this.

These people tend to think they know how to do our job better than us—at least the selling part. They tell us things like “put your art on the sidewalk to sell it!” No. Really. I’ve gotten this suggestion, unsolicited, multiple times over the years.

“Post more on social media,” they say, or sometimes “post less,” as if fine-tuning our social media marketing was all we have to deal with. No, kittens, many of us have been so beaten down by the negative messaging around our art, that we don’t value our work enough to even make it to the “to post or not to post” portion of the exercise.

One way or the other, artists constantly have to prove to the world that our work matters. It. Is. Exhausting.

For me the trigger for art anxiety is pushing sales. I can share about my work and how I made it all day long, but asking people to buy it makes me spiral into the black hole of “what makes you think you’re allowed to do this?”

For you, the art anxiety trigger might be writing about your work or displaying it in a group show setting—so hanging next to other artists’ work. Whatever the trigger, knowing that art anxiety is real and knowing that there are specific situations that make it worse for you is very useful.

That and you should remember that too many people let art anxiety stop them. So if you’re still managing to make something and share it, that’s already massively brave!

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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