Shadow of a Doubt


I had the embarrassing experience recently of donating a small abstract painting for an auction, and having no bidders…not a confidence building exercise. Truth be told, it was not my best or strongest work, but it was a solid little painting. I think. This kind of thing can seriously corrode one’s certainty. 

There were other factors, of course. Mine was the first item introduced in the the auction and it did take a little time to get the crowd bidding. Or was it just that the painting sucked? Also, this was not a crowd of abstraction fans, made obvious but the fact that a realistic watercolor of a robin on a branch had many bids, and sold for more. Maybe I should have put a bird on it? My painting did sell to a friend, but was it a mercy bid?? Can you see how this whole line of thinking is not very productive? It just goes around and around in nasty little circles in your head.

It isn’t just artists who encounter this kind of thing…we all have doubts about ourselves at times. But it’s important to be aware of the negative, self-limiting thoughts, and nip them in the bud quickly. Otherwise, we can get too involved in trying to please others, and completely lose our way. This is not to say that I can’t look at this event as feedback, and learn something from it. As Cicero said, “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” 

So this is my takeaway. I'm talking to myself here, but maybe it will help you too...

  1. Only put your best work out into the world, even if it’s a give-away. This will probably limit the donations, if you're a painter like me, since artists can’t write off the value of their art - only the cost of the materials. Seriously.

  2. Know your audience. The robin-on-a-branch watercolor would not fly in LA, but it’s a crowd-pleaser here in Wyeth country…so don’t take things personally.

  3. Get back to work. Let these little defeats push you to do exceptional work (just in case it really did suck).

  4. Be careful of the story that you build around things. It’s easy to make false assumptions that leave us feeling anxious. Most of us do this, and don’t even realize it. So stay focused on your accomplishments and repeat from #1.