Doubt and art

by     /    July 17, 2006   

I read the most troubling statement on an online forum today. The question was posed “How do you know you are an artist?”, to which one person responded:

If you wonder if you are an artist, then you must not be one.

What a misleading and arrogant statement. But unfortunately, a popular one. Many people believe that this is true. Many people in the art world make this claim, probably in a misguided attempt to elevate their craft to the realm of a “religious calling”. But it is wrong. Completely wrong. Doubt is a contant, and even necessary, component of creation and art. If having doubt precludes someone from being an artist, then most of the world’s art would never have been created.

Doubt is a lifelong companion of the artist. Doubt is the voice of your internal critic, that questions you, and drives you, and if it doesn’t kill you (to paraphrase Nietzche) makes you stronger. Doubt is the recognition that you are mucking about with forces that are much bigger than yourself, and therefore a little humility is in order. If you don’t feel some doubt about your ability to harness and shape the creative forces you are working with, then you are probably not doing anything worth creating. The more you feel that things are out of your control, and the stronger the urge is to quit, the more you know you are onto something…. big.

An artist who is without doubt is an artist who is in danger of becoming arrogant. And creativity fueled by arrogance is as dry as dust.

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Comments on 'Doubt and art'

Glenn  (January 29th, 2007):

A few years ago, I attended a creative writing conference. At the end of the first day’s discussion sessions, a fellow conference-goer struck up a conversation with me. I must have been wearing my self-doubt on my sleeve because he asked, “You don’t really see yourself as a writer, do you?” I didn’t know how to respond. I felt embarrassed. He was right.

Despite a few small-time publishing credits and two writing degrees, I still didn’t consider myself an artist. Today, I still have much self-doubt, but also have a better understanding of myself and of how I wish to spend my time.

-Glenn

Daniel Sroka  (January 29th, 2007):

I know what you mean. I’ve heard far too many self-satisfied artists claim that an artist who expresses doubt is not a “real” artist. What a load of crap! People who say things like that are just trying to cover up their own doubts. It is my belief that any creative person who does not doubt themselves is simply not pushing themselves hard enough!

Michael Vaiana  (December 10th, 2008):

I agree completely with this post. Doubt is a life long companion for the artist, and it may even be what defines an artist. Its part of the realization that your work is to create something that expresses the inexpressable. Anyways, I wanted to ask you if you know of any writtngs about this. I believe there is a famous artist who has written extensively about doubt, but his name I can not remember

Daniel Sroka  (December 11th, 2008):

Michael, the book I always recommend is Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.