THE IMPOSTER SYNDROME

Like many creative friends, I also suffer from the “imposter syndrome.” Yes – that’s a “thing.” And it is not like Leonardo DeCaprio (from his movie “Catch Me If You Can”) passing himself off as a physician or commercial pilot. It’s the anxious feeling artists get when they say, “I am an artist,” and their insides tell them, “Who are you trying to kid?”

Even longtime artists can experience it when they discuss their art with friends and family, or when in the presence of those they perceive as artistically “superior.” There’s an annoying inner voice that cynically says, “Who are you to call yourself an artist?” 

You see, dear friends, artists regularly schedule shows in upscale galleries, serving wine and cheese, while chatting up well-heeled guests. Artists are either working feverishly in remote cabin studios, or giving museum presentations about their global travels and the East Asian influences of their latest works. Ask your grandmother, and she’ll tell you that “real” artists have their works made into jigsaw puzzles and drugstore calendars.

The truth is that most artists I know use their kitchen tables or guest rooms to squeeze in their supplies and unfinished projects. They’re up late finishing a few works to hang in a restaurant, hoping that some special person will notice them. The work is messy and tiring. It does not include world travel, and there’s little wine and cheese involved.

So how can they call themselves “artists”? Because they will spend endless hours tying words together, taking them apart, and rearranging them. Or because they move brushes, pens, and pencils back and forth, swirling colors and scratching lines, their vision uncertain, but compelled to create despite the doubts. Whether it is literary, decorative, performance, or any other art form, these people call themselves artists because they create art.

For many artists, after days spent on a project, the most difficult task is affixing a price tag. This is when the voice is the loudest. Who are you to ask that much? It’s only a clay bowl, colored canvas, or a glossy photo. You are not an artist – you’re an imposter. 

That is what you hear when an acquaintance says, “You’re asking that much for this?” Yes, dear friend, cousin, or neighbor. “This” represents three weeks of my life. How much is three weeks of your life worth to you? And how do you factor in the years spent developing your skills? These are the hard questions that strike at the heart of an artist’s self-worth.

You cannot quantify art the way you count clients served or boxes delivered. Nonetheless, if you’re an artist, you have spent a chunk of your life in what you have carefully created. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else will see the same value in your work. But it does mean you are an artist (not an imposter), and you are worthy of reward for your unflagging effort.

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