10 Mistakes I Made as an Artist, Pt 1

Unbelievably, the holidays are already upon us and with the holidays usually comes the inevitable time of reflection. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to write this post.

I am a podcast junkie, I’m always listening and gathering information on way too many subjects, most of them about art. One of my favorite podcasts is AHA (Artists Helping Artists) in which two artists, Leslie Saeta and various artist co-hosts, discuss topics dealing with just what the title suggests. No matter the topic, I always find something helpful and they always make me laugh. One of my favorite episodes is 10 mistakes each of them have made during their art careers and as I listened, I found myself making up my own list. Surprisingly, my list came out to be quite a bit different from theirs and I had so many mistakes I had to edit out a few to get back to 10! No worries, I kept the good ones 🙂 and my list is in no particular order. The best thing to keep in mind when reflecting on your mistakes is obviously that no matter how many times you make them, you still learn from them. Less obvious and a mantra I have to repeat to myself daily, is that without making these mistakes you wouldn’t have taken the path you did and you wouldn’t be the artist you are today. I’m sure as you read you’ll come up with a few of your own mistakes, please feel free to share them in the comments.

  1. Relying too much on a day job. Now that I am a retired assistant professor and selling my paintings and teaching workshops for a living, I couldn’t be happier. I spent waaaayy too much time thinking about doing what I knew would make me happiest and I realized I have done this many, many times throughout my working life. Too many jobs I have lingered at way too long while knowing that I should just do it already because no matter what, I will always land on my feet. I let fear creep in too many times, let the comfort of security lull me into a false contentment until I realized I was not content at all, I was miserable. It took me to age 49 to realize I was feeling bitter and resentful and I didn’t want to continue in that direction. It’s so true that when one door closes a window opens and I can expand on that by saying that the freshest, cleanest spring mountain air flows through that window and it just keeps you awash in it’s light when you’re doing what you were meant to do. If you’re worrying and waiting and finding yourself staring out from your cubicle wishing you were painting, the time to leave that job is now. Make a definitive plan and get the heck out of there, life is too short.
  2. Not acting on good ideas for new work. Have you ever found yourself making art in your head and then telling yourself the reasons why you shouldn’t actually make the art in your head? I so wish I had made so many of my really good ideas, but I allowed the negative voices in my head to talk me out of it only to find that years later someone else had made my idea and was getting recognition because of it!! I read somewhere that ideas can jump from one brain to the next and you need to act on the good ones or else they will move on to someone else.
  3. Not hiring people. I have a problem asking for help. There I said it. I should also add that I have a problem asking for help until it’s way too late and I’m up at 4am wiring paintings because I have a 7am shipping deadline. I am of the DIY mindset and because I have held so many jobs and acquired skills, I feel if I CAN do it, I SHOULD do it. Not true. One valuable lesson I learned this year is that just because I can do it, does not mean it is the most valuable use of my time. I SHOULD be in the studio making work and that is always the focus of the day. Of course there are many tasks keeping me away from the studio that must be done, but there are many things I could use assistance in doing. There are also those tasks that that I procrastinate doing because I don’t want to do them, don’t know how, etc. So I made a list of tasks that need doing and went about searching for quality people who could help with those tasks. Now this is a work in progress, but this year I have hired a catalog designer, a virtual assistant, a housekeeper and an accountant.
  4.  Not asking for advice. Like I said above, I have a hard time asking for help and that becomes even more difficult when it’s an intangible thing like advice that you can’t find in the yellow pages. Many, many times during my artist career I wasted a lot time going down the wrong path, procrastinating or not doing anything at all because I didn’t know what to do or whom I should ask. It wasn’t until graduate school 15 years ago when I was so overwhelmed I was forced to ask for advice or fail. It was there I learned that having a wide range of artist friends and speaking with them regularly is the best thing you can have in your life. I have artist friends that range from groups on Facebook to close buddies to accountability partners and we are always asking questions, exchanging advice and sharing information. I have several scheduled monthly calls to artist friends and sometimes I don’t even know I need advice until it comes up in one of these calls. It’s also great to have people to talk to who have been there, shared the same fears, feelings of rejection, etc. Most of us work in isolation, so sometimes it’s just good to know that you aren’t alone in having these feelings. Although we are all artists, we all have a varied path to how we’ve gotten there and how we persevere to stay there. Your artist friends are your best resource and I wish I had met them 20 years ago, it would have saved me so much anguish!!
  5. Feeling intimidated and ‘not good enough’. We all feel this and it rotates round and round, although I have to admit it gets easier to deal with as one gets older and more accomplished. However, this wasn’t always so- low self esteem, comparing myself to others and not feeling worthy or good enough kept me from doing the things I should have done to begin my career throughout my twenties. It took me until age 34 to go to graduate school and even then it took me two years after graduation to call myself an artist. I even referred to my studio as ‘my room’ for many years because somehow calling it a studio made me sound like an artist and I didn’t believe that’s what I was. My favorite book, Art & Fear devotes a whole chapter to this subject and I recommend reading it whenever you’re feeling low, less than and/or not worthy and/or comparing yourself to others. Here’s a great quote from that book, The important point here is not what you have–or don’t have—what other artists have, but rather that it doesn’t matter. Whatever they have is something needed to do their work–it wouldn’t help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don’t lack it. You don’t need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period.

I’m sure you’re all curious about what that image is at the top of the post…its a painting I recently murdered. I talk a bit about it in this instagram post and I’ll also talk a bit more about it in my next post.

Wishing you the best of the upcoming holiday season. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post and a mini-post which includes a holiday gift from me to you.

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

3 thoughts on “10 Mistakes I Made as an Artist, Pt 1”

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