Weekly Question No. 22 - The Artists' Curse

Perhaps most of us have suffered from it to some degree at some point in our painting journey. That small dark voice that wants to tell us that what we’re doing is no good. It can’t understand how others could like our work. In one of his videos Mark calls it “the Artists’ Curse”. It can be a monkey on our back that can sabotage our enjoyment of painting and perhaps even stop us painting altogether. Do you sometimes suffer from the artist’s curse? If so, how do you get that monkey off your back?


  • I never get rid of it completely. Every now and then I'll throw it a banana! (reread positive feedback) 
  • Lol. Yes, that's my strategy, too, @Richard_P.   :)
  • edited May 3
    It's actually funny that early in the learning curve as I am, I tend to have the reverse of the artist curse. I tend to not be able to realistically judge my own work and feel too happy about it in the heat of the moment. The progression is faster at that stage and slows down as we get better, as in all learning process. So when I get a success I seem to be overly happy about it, only to realize few months or weeks later that it was not as good as it seemed. It is strange that I actually feel kind of guilty to feel good about my work, because all great artists that I know do have this curse. How stupid is that, to feel bad not to feel bad about my painting, when I was initially happy about it! 
  • I still suffer from "The Curse" but I don't take it as such a bad thing.  I figure it is just another level of feedback.  The only way I know of how to "get over" the curse is to do as Mark says, try to make every painting I do a masterpiece.  To do that I constantly make corrections along the way.  I don't leave anything "for later".  I also try to improve on composition, value, color, edge treatment, lighting, et al.  I try to add some kind of narrative if possible.  If not, then I try to make the piece dramatic and arresting to view.
    I sometimes get "The Curse" for other artist's paintings that I at one time thought were so fantastic and then after painting the way I now paint for three years I see issues with their paintings.  But there are some artists that have withstood the test of time and are fantastic still!  Yay!  
  • edited May 3
    Thanks, @adridri and @GTO

    @Adridri, I know exactly what you mean. I too have difficulty objectively judging my own work. And that's why I love this place. It provides a reality check.  And, like you, I've looked back at old work that, at the time, I thought was great, only to be disappointed by it.  But that's normal. It's just a function of having learned more, of having learned how to see better and having honed our skills.

    Don't feel guilty about feeling good about your progress. We need that feeling. It leads to doing even better work so that we can feel it again. You're doing great.  :)

    @GTO, yes, we can treat the artists' curse as a goad to doing better - as an "I'll show you!" sort of thing. 

    You say  that you "get "The Curse" for other artist's paintings that [you] at one time thought were so fantastic and then after painting the way [you] now paint [you] see issues with their paintings. " 

    Yup, I'm exactly the same. Again, I think that's just a function of how we've progressed. It's a good thing. But, as you say, there are some that stand the test of time. They're the ones we continue look to, not to copy, but to admire in the hope we can further improve our skills.  :)
  • Folks

    The Curse is my friend. Makes me want to do better. I’m driven to change, experiment, explore, rethink and problem solve. Without the Curse I may just be satisfied with mediocrity and quite lost as an artist.

  • edited May 3
    Thanks, @dencal. That monkey can be useful but, unless we have supreme self-confidence (in which case he'll probably never appear) only up to a point. He can also be an overly negative and  destructive force if we let him be the sole judge of our work. Sometimes we need to shut him up.

    What helps me is to drown him out. Bombard him with positive thoughts as @Richard_P said. Instead of listening to it, we can deliberately turn our thoughts to the good crits we’ve had on DMP and elsewhere, to the competitions into which we’ve been accepted, to the honorable mentions or prizes won, to the paintings we’ve sold... That mean little monkey can’t dispute any of those facts. Doing this helps me a lot.

    There are also ways to forestall its appearance.

    One thing I’ve found that gets the nasty monkey jabbering is to compare my work to others. That’s often not a good idea.  Comparing our work to that of others can be a useful exercise when we are stiving for technical mastery and looking for ideas. However, once we acquire a good level of skill, it can become destructive if that’s the only criterion we use to judge our work and it can really get that monkey jabbering. But we’re not trying to paint like others. We want to paint like ourselves. We want to be original, authentic, and true to our own aesthetic vision. We can’t paint exactly like others, and no one can paint exactly like us. We are separate, unique minds. And imagine how boring art would be if everyone’s paintings looked the same.

    I also try to keep in mind that it’s unrealistic for us to expect everyone to love every painting we do. Some will love some of them; no one will love all of them. But that’s ok. It’s the best we can hope for. And it’s good enough.

    That monkey on our back is no use at all. He’ll dislike everything we do and never buy anything. But he’s a dick. He knows nothing and doesn’t speak the truth. He’s not even real.

    He's always going to turn up now and then, but thinking like this is usually enough to keep that monkey off my back for a while so I can get on with the work at hand.  :)

  • It has operated in two ways for me. Firstly where you shift from the initial stage of being in enthusiastic control to a kind of ugly stage where it just doesn't look right. I abandoned a number of paintings early on because I got lost. Later I learned to 'trust the process'. That's the exact phrase a portrait teacher used and I use it as a mantra now.
    The second one is mixed. Balancing an inner belief I'd had from childhood that I can do it (even before I started painting decades later) with the suspicion that real artists would see flaws that I wasn't aware of. That I don't use enough paint. That my brush strokes aren't right or something. I didn't ever exhibit and no one at home in those days said anything about my paintings. My kids raved about my mother-in-law's paintings and mine were met with silence. No comment. Occasionally though someone would say nice things, like an artist friend on facebook. It wasn't until my first art show and the reaction of the staff at the gallery to my painting - because I was expecting they would turn their noses up ("realism" ho hum; other criticisms) - but quite the opposite. When I dropped the painting off they called everyone in and said, so you're the person who did this! That just blew me away. Completely unexpected affirmation. Everyone on this site has been really encouraging as well.
    So... I draw on those two things. Inner belief, which is strongest when I feel centred. And 'trust the process'. They help me through the moments of curse.
  • edited May 4
     Believe in yourself and trust the process. I think that's great advice, @Abstrastion:)

    And if we have problems believing in ourselves then we can get into the positive reinforcement/affirmation. That helps shut the curse up. 
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    For me it's about fifty/fifty whether the painting works out to my liking. Recently I'm able to tolerate the work until I get to the end, and start tweaking and adjusting. That's the point where almost every painting takes a big step towards completion and often I find I like them at the end whereas it's been a miserable slog to get there.

    I can also just accept that some never work out, and they get put into long term storage in a landfill.

    I can't get rid of the curse, but I can get rid of the painting.
  • edited May 5
    PaulB said:

    ... often I find I like them at the end whereas it's been a miserable slog to get there.

    So true, @PaulB. I don't think people realize the hard slog involved. People are sometimes shocked when I tell them a large painting can take me weeks of painting 12 hours a day to complete. They have the strange idea that artists can just knock these things out over a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

    And then there are the paintings that just don't work despite the hard slog. Landfill is such an undignified burial. 

    If possible I try to rethink whatever is not working and then scrape/sand down and redo. But all artists have successes and failures. I guess we just have to treat the failures as necessary learning experiences and not as food for the Artists' Curse. 

    Thanks for your response, Paul.   :)

  • Usually I like my paintings right when I finish them, but the next day I will look at them and get this down feeling like they are not what I expected or saw the day before, it's a weird feeling one day I'm happy with the result and the next few days it will seem too amateurish, not good enough... 
    I learned to hold on to the "good" feeling and try to convince myself that the downer comes from my own insecurities and not from an objective perspective... I will try to locate exactly what's wrong with the painting and just have that in mind for the next one
  • edited May 6
    Ah the curse! When I tend to be satisified with "just ok", the curse keeps telling me I need to fix it.  Or maybe it's God telling me I'm not doing the best I can.

    I usually regret it if I ignore the curse.  

    The curse as a propulsion for excellence is a good thing to have on your back.  To do what the greats of this forum do, and keep correcting, correcting, and correcting again.

    The curse as an embittered source of discouragement and comparison to others needs to be put away ruthlessly.  To do this I find it helpful to remind myself, "all you can do is do your best."  not mediocrity, and not trying to attain someone else's work.  But do push yourself.

    I may have a bit of head knowledge on this; if only I could actually follow my own advice!

    (edited to say, thanks for the great question @tassieguy!)
  • Thanks for your responses @RUESGA and @allforChrist. You both make some good points.  :)
  • edited May 6
    I think I suffer from it less now than I used to. I have certainly done some pieces that others seem to like more than I do.
    I used to get disheartened during the ugly phase of a painting until another artist talked about how they liked that stage because the painting is still forming and anything is possible.

    Changing my mindset on how I looked and felt about that helped.

    I do like the stage towards finishing when everything is coming together.

    If I have done or are doing a piece of work that I dont think is good I ask myself what is it that I am unhappy about with it and I then do my best to get it how I want it.

    I think periods of doubt and uncertainty are all part of it you just have to let them pass and do your best to resolve.

  • Thanks, @MichaelD. Good points.  :)
  • Irregular earnings from art is the only Artist's Curse that I suffer from  :p
  • edited May 19
    I believe that at some point of our experience, some of us arrive at just simply laughing our heads off at it, when it shows it's ugly head. Hahaha!
    Really I guess the key here is to recognize it and win against it at all cost.
    Boy! have I come a long way babe! Hahaha!
  • Thanks. @Forgiveness. Yes, don't let it go unchallenged. Laugh at it. Contradict it. Just don't believe it.  :)
  • Laughter could be the vaccine against the artists curse.😀
  • It is indeed the best medicine.

    Though im not sure if major surgery was required that I would opt for chortling 

  • @GTO obscure reference.. but this reminds me of Tulkas
  • I’m not familiar with Tulkas.
  • @GTO

    yes very obscure… Tolkien’s mythological equivalent of say a Roman god hybrid of Jupiter and Mars… who laughs when going to war or in the face of evil, the equivalent of the Greek his Hades…

    a sort of archetype for laughter in the face of perceived or real adversity… stuck with me ever since I read his mythology.
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