“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it,” Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal while at Smith College. “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” In a similar vein, we can say that anything in life can be painted, sculpted, photographed, or collaged—but only if fear doesn’t get in the way.
Sometimes, doubt can be a good thing. Challenging the status quo—and questioning our own ideas—is a fundamental part of living a creative life. But when we internalize that doubt and use it as a weapon against ourselves, it can become crippling. We spoke with eight artists working across disciplines to tell us how to deal with self-doubt and how they find the “guts” to keep pushing their boundaries.
“I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from surrounding myself with other artists at various career stages,” Connecticut artist Andrea Farina says. “The most important lesson came from realizing that most of us are really still figuring it out. Someone could seem so professional and experienced, but really, they’re also wondering, ‘Am I pricing my work right?’ or worrying, ‘What if I wake up tomorrow and have no more ideas… like, ever?’ or asking themselves, ‘Am I even good at this?’
“At the end of the day, it’s reassuring to know that on some level, most of us are winging it. Once I realized that, it took a little pressure off. Now, I’m working on being comfortable with not knowing everything and trusting that I will figure things out as I go. It’s something that gets more comfortable over time, but I don’t expect to ever hit a point where I don’t doubt myself at all.”
“I find the best way to deal with self-doubt as an artist is to keep creating,” Colombian artist Carlos Delgado tells us. “Show up every single day in front of the canvas and paint, draw, throw color on the canvas—whatever it takes to just keep working. I don’t always end up loving everything that I do, but the more I show up in front of my canvas, the more I know that being an artist is a process and not a final place to get to. This allows me to work through any doubts that I may have.”
“I experience self-doubt all the time, and isn’t always a bad thing,” Australian street artist Fintan Magee says. “It’s healthy to be self-critical sometimes. The only time it’s an issue is if it stops you from working and stops you from creating because you are telling yourself, ‘I can’t do this.’
“When I get like this, I just put my head down and start working again. Focusing on the work shuts out a lot of those negative voices for me. I really enjoy the painting process and often find myself in a state of flow when I am working. I just focus on how much I enjoy painting and being in the moment, and then a lot of those negative voices disappear.”
“Self-doubt is constantly lurking in the background,” sculptor Barbara Ségal admits. “But I have found ways to silence the self-doubt by living in the moment and understanding that it’s the journey and not the end result that counts.
“I look on the bright side, which for me is that I have been able to live my life as an artist and support myself through my work—how lucky is that? Even if you are not supporting yourself through your art, focus on the highlights of your journey. Ultimately, all artists have self-doubt. That doesn’t change, no matter how far up the ladder you’ve climbed.”
“I used to work as an art director in advertising,” German painter Cathrin Hoffmann tells us. “I earned good money and had a stable life, but I was simply unhappy. Around this time, my boyfriend and I traveled through Central and South America, and we rented a room for one whole month in León, Nicaragua.
“I started to create digital collages with the photographs that we had taken during our trip, and then I began sketching and painting digitally. I literally couldn’t stop. I spent 12 hours every day at my little desk in Nicaragua. Everything felt right, and I knew I had found what I was looking for in my life.”
Now, whenever she feels the self-doubt art can cause, she remembers those fruitful days in León. “When I returned to Germany, I thought about Nicaragua and how I had started creating without any fears,” she continues. “I thought about how redemptive it felt. Always remember why you are doing what you’re doing.”
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“For artists, self-doubt often comes in the form of telling yourself that you’re not good enough, or that you’ll never be as good as the artists you look up to,” collage artist and illustrator Magda Górska admits. “But we don’t need to be as good as them. We just have to be better than we were yesterday.
“For me, the most important things are being honest with myself, setting goals, and surrounding myself with people who have similar goals and positive energy. Negativity destroys your artistic potential. And remember to give yourself permission to create and share your vision. Life is not meant to be spent admiring things that other people have made.”
“Self-doubt is something that’s been with me since the beginning and has never left me,” artist Dan ‘Nuge’ Nguyen admits. “This fear isn’t something that I’ve learned to silence, but instead I’ve allowed my ‘want’ to be louder. My self-doubt is always nagging at me, making me question if my art will ever be good enough. Whether I will ever sell another piece. That the best piece I’ve made is already in my past. That I won’t be able to make my career last.
“But I’ve used all of these doubts and turned them into fuel to elevate my craft. With all of these possibilities of failure on my radar, it makes me want to not fail even more, because I know what is at stake. As a result, I put every ounce of my energy into my work. My ultimate goal whenever I create is to make my latest piece be the greatest piece I’ve made. Everything else is out of my control.”
“As an artist, I experience self-doubt almost every time I pick up a paintbrush,” painter Alexis Cortez admits. “The most terrifying aspect to it is that it’s entirely self-inflicted; I am the one and only thing that stands in the way of what I’m creating. But once I actually do the thing that I was scared to try, it usually comes out better than I could have ever imagined.
“My advice is to just try it. Try the thing you’re scared to do. It’s okay if it goes wrong, because you can always fix it or start over and try again. Self-doubt is just an uncomfortable part of growing. Remember that it will pass.”
As these artists mention, self-doubt is ever-present for any creative—but it doesn’t have to rule you. If you’re still grappling with questions about how to deal with self-doubt or you’re wondering how to build confidence as an artist, we’ve got the answers that will take you from fearful artist to positive artist.
As the creatives above can attest to, artists deal with self-doubt in all kinds of ways, from remembering why they started creating in the first place to talking to peers about the self-doubt art projects can inspire. But, no matter what, they start by acknowledging their doubts and actively replacing them with activities that boost their self-confidence.
If you’re not sure where to begin, try Skillshare instructor Danielle Krysa’s course, Creative Breakthrough: 8 Exercises to Power Your Creativity, Confidence & Career. You’ll learn how to identify your strengths and the things that make you unique as an artist and channel these principles into actionable confidence-building.
The short answer to this question is “fearful.” Most of the time, when creatives find themselves facing self-doubt, it’s because they’re grappling with an unsurfaced fear—the fear of working in a new medium, the fear of consumer or community reception, or maybe even the fear of their own potential.
If this is you, Skillshare Instructor, Derek Franklin’s course, How To Be Awesome At Overcoming Fears ● Taking Action ● Learning Ideas ● Productivity ● More… will show you how to identify and confront your fears, how to take action against your fears, and how to move forward with more self-confidence.
Artists can truly find inspiration everywhere! If you find yourself wading through artist self-doubt and your creative juices have run dry as a result, try The Scientific Method for Artists: Find Inspiration, Get Motivated and Grow your Creative Skills taught by Skillshare instructor Kendyll Hillegas. Kendyll will teach you how to find inspiration in your surroundings, in digital and virtual spaces, and within your own imagination.
While most artists would agree that you can never fully eradicate self-doubt, the best remedy for shedding at least some of it is focusing on success rather than the possibility of failure. Take your doubts and turn them into something that you can use to fuel your creative endeavors and make your work better than ever!
One great way to do this is by setting actionable, achievable goals. Skillshare instructor Watercolor Witch Eliza can help: Her course, The Successful Artist’s Guide to Creative Goal Setting – create art goals that last!, is specific to creatives who want to learn how to build confidence as an artist. You’ll learn how to identify your goals, how to measure your progress, and ultimately how to move past self-doubt and towards success.
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