11 Things That Scare Creative Artists (and what you can do about it)
by: Kevin Chung
As artists we live in fear
“You might as well give up.”
“You’ll never make a living as an artist.”
“Being an artist is a great job if you want to starve.”
These words have been ingrained in our thoughts for what seems like forever, but it wasn’t always that way.
“That’s such a wonderful drawing.” “You are so talented.” “They should hang that up in a museum.” You’ve heard these words before. Unless you are a professional full-time artist, it’s probably been a while. When we were children, we heard praise like this all the time. People are encouraging when we are children. People make us believe we can do anything.
If we want to pursue art as career, that encouragement turns to doubt. “What if I don’t make it as an artist?” No one tells that to a doctor or an engineer, but artists are different.
What happens to that confidence we once had as children? We have given in to the fear. We become scared of what it means, and what it takes, to be an artist.
Here are the most commons things artists are scared of and what you can do about it.
1.) We’re afraid of failure
Failure is inevitable.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how successful you are, you will encounter failure.
One thing we fear more than success is failure. We fear nobody will buy our art. We fear we will not make it as an artist. We fear our gallery showing will be a bust. These fears pile up until we are paralyzed. This leads to the ultimate failure, giving up.
Fear of failure can bring your progress to a complete halt. Instead of challenging yourself, you play it safe. You create the same looking work as dozens of other artists. You stick with what you know, fearing nobody will like it if you try something new.
How can we succeed if we are so scared of failing? We must take on the startup mentality. Startups are unafraid to fail. If one version of their idea fails, they reflect and try something new. This leads to innovation instead of stagnation. Sure, you shouldn’t try to fail, but you also shouldn’t be afraid to fail. This mentality can help you learn from your mistakes and improve your work much quicker.
Things to do:
- Accept that failure is a part of growth
- Try new ideas and expect some of them to fail
- Learn from what didn’t work and adapt your thinking
- Instead of giving up, or not trying, figure out what works
2.) We’re also afraid of success
This may seem counterintuitive but one of the biggest fears we all have is a fear of success. You might think to yourself, “I am not scared of success.” You might not have those exact thoughts, but if you look deep enough, you can find signs of it everywhere.
The most common way you’ll encounter the fear of success is in the “What Ifs”. What if someone steals my ideas? What if I can’t find the time to work on my art? What if I don’t know how to price my art?
There are an endless number of what ifs, and they prevent us from doing work. We aren’t worried about what happens if we fail, we are worried about what happens if we succeed. Success means change. Most of us are perfectly comfortable doing what we’ve always done. We are comfortable with what we know. To get over your fear of success, you must first believe you can succeed.
Stop asking yourself so many questions and create the best work you can. Stop the negative self talk and believe in yourself. At every stage of growth, you will encounter more doubt. It’s natural.
The best we can do is learn from those who found success before us. Don’t follow their path step for step. It won’t work for you. What you can do is learn from the mistakes others have made and avoid them yourself. Success will come to those who seek it, so go out there and find your path to success.
Things to do:
- Define what success means to you
- Stop doing things that aren’t working and find out what works
- Get out of your comfort zone and do the things that are uncomfortable
- Experiment and be willing to fail. That is the only way to find success
3.) We’re afraid of hard work
Being an artist should be easy.
You don’t have to listen to a boss telling you what to do. You don’t have to send every project up the chain of command before it’s approved. You don’t have to dress in a suit and tie and head into work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean being an artist is easy.
Being an artist comes with its own set of challenges. How do you come up with good ideas? Where do you find people who want to buy your work? How should you price your art so you aren’t devaluing yourself. These are just a few of the questions artists ask themselves daily.
Instead of embracing the challenges and hard work that comes with being an artist, we shrink and avoid these things like the plague. We tell ourselves, “I shouldn’t have market my art. If my art is good enough, people will find it.” We think releasing good work means we don’t have to create more. We shouldn’t have to do any research or improve our skills because “I am fine the way I am.”
These are all convenient excuses to avoid the hard work. How do you expect to become better if you don’t put in the work. How do you expect to sell more work if you don’t go out there and sell it? If you want to live your dreams and become a great artist in this digital age, you need to hustle.
Things to do:
- Study the masters and people whose work you like. Find out how you can improve or adapt what they’ve done into your own work
- Create something daily regardless of whether you have a good idea or not
- Find the people who might like your work and build relationships with them
- Ask your customers questions. Find out why they like your work
4.) We’re afraid of being ourselves
As artists, we are afraid to let our true selves shine through. We let the outside world define who we are and what we do. If you take a look at different artist websites across the web, you’ll find the exact same thing. One link will be to a gallery of work. One link will be a resume style list of accomplishments. One link will be to an artist statement that bores you to death.
This is the image all artists try to project to the world. Why are we all doing the exact same thing and then wondering why we aren’t connecting with people? What is it about artists? Why do we all follow the same script and expect a different outcome?
If you want to stand out in the world, not just in art, you need to put yourself out there. It’s no wonder the myth of the starving artist still persists. If we are all trying to conform to the same norms, most of which don’t work, we won’t find different results. Don’t let society or other artists tell you how to present yourself to the world.
Instead, imagine unleashing your personality to the world. What do you do that makes you different from everyone else? It is that small difference that sets you apart from all the other artists. Your work may look like other artists’, but if you are vulnerable and share your story, you just will stand out.
Things to do:
- Discover what makes your art unique. Do you do anything different from other artists?
- Tap into the stories of your life and how they relate to others. People love to learn from people who are like them
- Let your personality shine through. Make your voice stand out
- Allow your interests in non-art related subjects influence your art
5.) We’re afraid to release work that isn’t perfect
When we are kids, we try our best to get 100% on all our tests.
We studied countless hours pouring over a subject so we could attain that elusive perfect score. Any time we got that perfect score, we were praised for how smart we were.
This idea of perfection society cast on us at such an early age has caused us to nitpick every detail. We criticize our own work more than anyone else. We all want our work to be perfect. Even as people tell us our work is great, we refuse to release our art into the world until it is perfect.
Let me tell you a little secret: you will never achieve perfection. Even one of the world’s most well known artists, Salvador Dali, realized this when he said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
We can’t let the idea of perfection impede our greatness. That being said, even if we can’t achieve perfection, we can reach for greatness. You will know when your work is ready for the public. When you find the smallest flaws in your work, it is time to let go.
Instead of trying to make a single work perfect, create more work instead. It is only through constant creation that we can grow and become better. Experiment with your art. It can lead to wonderful things. Stop worrying about being perfect.
Things to do:
- Release work that isn’t perfect
- Don’t be afraid to leave small blemishes in your art
- Create new work instead of nitpicking a single piece
- Experiment and work in things you aren’t comfortable with, it’s the only way to grow
6.) We’re afraid of being rejected
Imagine being up on a stage before a big presentation. You are about to speak in front of a large group of people. How do you feel? If you are like most people, you are terrified.
Even those of who are comfortable talking to anyone, shrivel up when presenting in front of a large audience. What is it about speaking in front of a large audience that scares us? My guess is we are scared of rejection.
“What if I mess up?” “What if they don’t like what I have to say?” These are the thoughts that creep into our minds no matter how hard we try to keep them out. We are deathly afraid of being rejected by other people.
This fear is just a product of our thoughts. Most people want us to succeed. After all, they are there to listen to what we have to say.
This same fear creeps into the minds of artists. “What if no one likes my work?” “What if the gallery doesn’t want my work?” We project rejection onto ourselves to soften the blow if we don’t succeed.
To break this fear of rejection, we need to realize that everyone won’t like our work. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t good. It just means people who don’t like our work have different tastes.
If you try to make art for everyone, you are making art for no one. Instead of making work to please everyone, we need to seek those who like our work instead. These are the people who will buy from you and support you.
Things to do:
- Get over your fear that someone won’t like your work. You will never please everyone
- Instead of fearing rejection, embrace those who support you
- Stop creating work that tries to cater to everyone
- Create work that you love and find those who like it instead
7.) We’re afraid to ask questions
When we are kids, we have no problem asking questions. Just ask any parent. They are barraged with questions from their children non-stop. As adults, however, we take for granted how much we know about the world. We forget what it feels like to have a beginner’s mindset.
How often do we try new things without giving up in frustration? How often do we ask questions in order to help us understand what is causing our frustration?
It is no wonder we stick to what we know. Instead of challenging ourselves, we try nothing new. I think this is why so many artists have such a negative attitude towards marketing. They believe marketing is evil instead of trying to understand how marketing can help them. How do you get past this mindset?
You must embrace the beginner’s mindset and childlike curiosity. Ask questions when you don’t know the answers. Explore subjects without becoming frustrated and giving up. Get over your fear of looking stupid and become curious instead. The smartest people in the world are open to asking questions when they are unsure, you should follow their lead.
Things to do:
- Embrace challenges instead of giving up
- Take on a beginner’s mindset
- Explore the unknown and don’t fear looking stupid
- Ask questions like with childlike curiosity
8.) We’re afraid to ask others for help
We are all told this lie and we foolishly believe it. That lie is that geniuses live a life of solitude.
We are made to believe that creativity is a lone adventure. We are told that inspiration will strike like lightning, in a flash of insight. It will come out of nowhere and it will be glorious.
We want to come up with ideas on our own. Instead of seeking guidance from others, we toil away on our own, because that’s what creative geniuses do. The truth is creativity is not achieved in isolation.
This is also the reason we’re afraid to ask others for help. We are afraid to ask our previous customers for a testimonial. We are afraid to ask successful artists how they got over the proverbial hump. We are afraid to ask readers to share our work with their friends.
We believe, since we are artists, we have to do it all on our own. What other occupation is so opposed to help from others? What makes us so different from the rest of the world? The answer is, nothing. If we want to take our art and career to the next level, we need the help of others.
We need the help of our fans to tell others about our work. We need the help of our friends when we are going through tough times. We need the help of others when we need a different perspective and a creative spark. We need to break from the myth of the lone creative genius and embrace the help of others.
Things to do:
- Stop believing in the myth of the lone creative genius
- Be willing to ask for help when you need it
- Find your tribe and embrace them. They will be more than happy to help
- Find out what you need help with and ask for it
9.) We’re afraid to ask others to pay for our work
“I’m an artist. I don’t need to sell my art for money.”
Does this sound familiar? Have you heard yourself or another artist make this claim? Do you believe it?
Are we telling this to ourselves because we believe it or because it makes for a convenient excuse? How many hours did your art take to create? Would you rather continue doing what you’re doing or would you rather make a living off your art?
No, everyone is not meant to make a living off their art, but you can still make extra income from it. We tell ourselves we don’t need to make money from our art because we are scared. We are afraid no one will like our art. We are afraid people won’t be willing to pay for our art. We are afraid to ask people for money.
How do we get over this fear of asking for money? We need to realize that people are more than happy to pay for art if they like it or the artist. If your art touches that person’s soul, money won’t be an issue. They will not only be willing to part with their well earned money, they will want to.
The realization you need to come to is people want to support people they like. Whether that’s because they like you or your art makes no difference. If you can build connections with people through your art, they will pay you for it.
It may seem uncomfortable at first, but if we don’t try we will never know. Instead of excusing yourself from trying to sell your art, go out there and promote it. Find the people who love your art and want to help you by paying you what it’s worth.
Things to do:
- Change your attitude about needing money for your art
- Find people who love you and your art
- Be willing to sell your work for what it’s worth
- Ask people who like your art to support you buy paying for it
10.) We’re afraid to market our art
Marketing has a bad reputation in the art world. When you hear the word marketing you might think about a sleazy salesman or an ad that has nothing to do with the product. The fact is marketing has been given a bad name.
We live in a world where marketing is shoved in our faces. Commercials are selling us things we don’t want to buy. Radio ads tout products we don’t need. Magazine ads show us the lives we aren’t living.
The good news is, marketing is changing. We no longer need to rely on TV, radio, or print ads to promote our work. We our shifting from pushing things in front of people to pulling them towards us.
What does this mean? In the past, we needed to rely on the gatekeepers to get our work in front of people. We went to a gallery or a music studio or a book publisher to put our work in front of the masses. Our work was pushed in front of people. Since the rise of the internet, we have realized the power of relationships, not only in our daily lives, but in our businesses too.
The method of marketing to the masses is fading. Instead we are seeing companies provide value to their customers. Through social media, companies are now trying to start conversations with their customers. Companies want to figure out what the exact needs of their customers are and how they can help them.
This is what you need to do too. You need to build strong relationships with your customers. This doesn’t mean throwing a picture of your art up on Facebook and hoping people comment on it or like it. It means finding out why they buy YOUR art and starting a conversation around it.
Things to do:
- Change your attitude about marketing
- Stop relying on the gatekeepers to do the work for you
- Create relationships with your customers and prospects
- Build a community where dialog and action can take place
11.) We’re afraid of the unknown
There is nothing more terrifying than the unknown. It’s the creature that lives under your bed when you are a child. It looms over you like a dark spirit in the night. It is the most likely cause of all our fears.
We let the unknown rule our lives. How often have you refused to try something because you didn’t know the outcome? What experiences terrified you before trying them? How many things are we missing out on because the unknown terrifies us?
There is only one way to conquer this fear of the unknown. That thing is to go out and do the things that scare you. How else can you get over your fears if you don’t conquer them?
You need to face your fears, or you will never get over them. If you’ve faced your fear just once, the unknown becomes known. As a result, a whole new world of possibilities is at your feet. If you’ve been living your life scared of the unknown, your old world will seem small by comparison.
The biggest thing preventing you from growing as an artist is your unwillingness to try new things. You must change your mindset and be willing to embrace new things.
Things to do:
- Let go of your fear of the unknown
- Face your fears head on
- Try new things and expect to fail
- Embrace your new world of possibilities
The things I’ve listed above may seem daunting and uncomfortable. They should be. As author Brian Tracy has said, “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”
If you are struggling with lack of sales or an inability to market your work, these fears might be the cause. The good news is, they don’t have to be. If your art is great, but you have been struggling with finding customers, all you may need to do is shift your mindset. You must be willing to change and try new things. That is the only way to see progress.
About the Author
Kevin Chung is the creator of Marketing Your Art the Right Way, a site dedicated to teaching artists how to market their artwork and build relationships with their audience. He has spent the past seven years designing and developing websites and wants to use this knowledge to help artists grow in their business and life.