Pulse Points is a series of posts on Create Mixed Media where five mixed-media artists are each presented with two survey questions gleaned from the pages of The Pulse of Mixed Media: Secrets and Passions of 100 Artists Revealed by Seth Apter.
Have you ever been jealous of another artist’s skills?
With so many talented artists in the world, you have to wonder just what fellow artists truly think of the skills and success of their peers. The art world can be a competitive place, even in our tight community, and sometimes competition can breed negative feelings.
This question evoked a range of responses from the artist panel. Julie said, “I don’t like the word ‘jealous’ when referring to another artist’s skills” and Kari said, “I’ve searched my heart for the answer to this one and I don’t believe I have ever been jealous of another’s skills.” Jane said, “I haven’t really been jealous of another artist’s skills” but noted that sometimes she feels “demoralized and discouraged when others seem to be moving faster or have better opportunities.” Amy stated, “Jealous? Mmm. Envious? Or maybe just appreciative? Or a mix of all three.” Kecia matter-of-factly said, “Oh of course! Anyone who says ‘no,’ I’m not sure I would believe them.” But she goes on to add, “I really try not to get caught up in being jealous of another artist though. Not a healthy way to be.”
Diving deeper into the response of each artist reveals that there are many complex and varied feelings that are evoked when comparing oneself to another. Many of the artists focused less on feelings of jealousy and more on feelings of admiration. Kari notes that she has been “in awe…shocked…and even amused “ at other peoples’ skills. Amy says that “there are artists that I stand in awe of, whose work I find absorbing and provocative.” Kecia notes that maybe “it’s not so much jealousy, but more an appreciation for their skill.” Julie goes on to say, “I admire artists who get up every day and make art. They motivate me to keep going, keep exploring, keep creating.”
The skill of an artist is only one aspect however. Many of the artists on the panel admit to being jealous of other aspects of their contemporaries. Jane notes that she finds herself “occasionally jealous of the time or resources or opportunities that other artists seem to have.” This was echoed by Kari who described jealous feelings of the “perfect, enormous, well lit Parisian studio” and a “seemingly bottomless budget for tools and supplies.” Amy says, “to be honest, there have been times when I have been jealous of another artist’s recognition or popularity.” But she goes on to say, “part of that is my own doing. I toil away in my own studio and assume that the marketing will take care of itself.”
These artists suggest, however, that there are ways to use these complicated feelings for “good rather than evil.” For Kecia, seeing the work of somebody she admires “makes me work harder at understanding why my work frustrates me and I set out to try harder.” And for Kari, rather than feel jealous of other artists, she will reach out. “When I admire someone’s skill, I don’t hesitate to let them know. I don’t feel pressure that they are better at something than me – I hope they are! What an opportunity to learn something new.”
Do you feel you have found your niche art-wise or are you still searching?
I think that many artists, both emerging and established, aim for creating work that is uniquely there own. Perhaps work that can be identified as theirs even when not labeled, as happens in countless art history classes. And in fact, all five artists on today’s panel seemed easily able to identify their unique, creative aesthetic as artists. For Kecia, it is incorporating vintage items into her jewelry and fabric work. For Kari, it is all about layers of texture and pattern. Amy connects with weaving together mixed media collages. For Julie, it is creating visually “arresting” art in many different mediums. And for Jane it is combining printmaking with fiber work.
Interestingly however, despite being clear and confident in these descriptions, all five artists have hesitations about settling into a single niche and for being known for one specific thing. While finding one’s place and being comfortable working within a medium are clearly important, the last thing these artists want to do is limit themselves. Julie sums this up by saying, “I’m quite happy where I am right now (but) I don’t think that I will ever find my niche. To me, that phrase indicates a stopping point.” She adds, “I want to continue to improve my skills, work in ways I’ve not yet imagined possible, and scare myself by taking on an idea or a project that’s just a little out of my reach.”
Both Kecia and Kari describe a need for variety as well but for differing reasons. For Kecia, moving on to different things seems to be a useful strategy we can all use for avoiding artist block. “I bore quite easily. So when I feel that I am getting into a rut with my jewelry work, I will break out the paints…or even do sketching on my iPad.”
Kari says that while “a lot of artists laughingly say they are ADHD, I am truly ADHD clinically diagnosed. For me to work solely in one type of medium for more than a few weeks at a time is agony.” Allowing herself to shift along the continuum into a variety of mediums, while at the same time staying true to her textured and layered aesthetic, has worked well. “The ideas just flow…the work is successful…and people have responded to it much more.”
This notion of a flow in art was echoed by many of the artists. Jane says, “I find myself circling back or pushing the boundaries of the definitions of my niche, rather than really searching for a niche.” Amy noted that while “I do feel that I have found my niche…I find it’s more of a continuum rather than a static position.” She poetically describes her “approach to art as a tattered piece of fabric…woven together yet stray threads poke out in all directions.”
Jane also makes a valid point regarding the consequences of working in multiple mediums or differing styles. “The drawback to pushing the definition of your niche is that people aren’t quite sure what to do with you. What I often feel pulled to create is not approachable for many in my audience.” She continues, “entering shows can also present a conundrum in that I don’t fit neatly into proscribed categories.”
Perhaps the answer for this, as in so many other things, is seeking a balance that works for you.
Be sure to check out Seth’s previous blog series on Create Mixed Media called Your Blog, Your Way.
Seth Apter is a regular contributor to CreateMixedMedia.com, the voice behind, The Altered Page and the author of the book, The Pulse of Mixed Media (North Light Books, Spring 2012). His two instructional videos, Easy Mixed Media Surface Techniques and Easy Mixed Media Techniques for the Art Journal are now available in the North Light Shop.
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