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Experiencing An Artistic Identity Crisis?

August 24, 2011

If so, you’re not alone. Because I am too!

According to popular opinion, the key to success as an artist is knowing what you want from your art. Do you want fame and recognition? Do you want to be rich? Do you simply want to make a living making art?

Well, what if you can’t identify what you want from your art, or even what kind of art you like to do? You end up like me, spread too thin, not committed enough to any one thing to be successful.

Tough to admit? You bet!

Where does all this ambivalence come from? I’m convinced it’s the result of years of  “brainwashing” in art school. I started school believing I was into one type of art, and I left school believing I was into another type of art. Now I’m floating somewhere in between, not sure where my beliefs end and the school’s teachings begin.

Anyone who has been to university for fine arts can probably tell you that there is a definite emphasis on content and concept over technical skill or presentation. Paintings should have some type of narrative or commentary. Realistic, representational work is boring, pointless, stagnant. To paint something because it will sell is to sell-out.

Well, that was the message I got anyways. It wasn’t until fourth year that someone actually said to me, “if you want to paint realistically, that’s fine, just make sure you do it well.” But by then I was so far gone that I responded with, “I don’t want to paint realistically, it’s become a crutch.”

I’m pretty sure I believed it at the time. Now I’m not so sure.

Plagued with doubts as I am, I look at self-taught artists with envy. They seem to blindly forge ahead, confident in their abilities and direction, completely unfettered by the trappings of the “institution.” And as a result, they are successful.

So, what’s an artist to do in the face of an identity crisis?

My solution is to get back to basics and find the enjoyment in art I had before school by taking these steps:

  • Stop feeling so much pressure to produce, produce, produce.
  • Stop worrying about if it will sell, if there’s a market for it.
  • Focus on painting what interests me.
  • Stop when it’s no longer interesting, move on to something else.

I have been browsing the Wet Canvas Reference Image Library for images that intrigue me and painting whatever catches my fancy (like my horse up there). I want to rediscover the joys of painting and settle into a niche that is more comfortable and natural.

I am re-learning my artistic identity. I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s a necessary step to figuring out what I want from my art and achieving success.


From → Art General

  1. I really like this post. As a self-taught artist, I feel an inferiority to those who were really trained for what they do. But I guess all artists, maybe even all people, experience some sort of identity crisis and we all try to find our way 🙂 Thanks for posting!

  2. nakshatra permalink

    I think painting is not only the process of physical production beautiful imegery,b..but also there is something which can colour your mind without any effort, without could be blue; could be yellow..we have to put those colour,closing our eyes for physical manifastation..our identity should remain into those strokes of colours oonly.

  3. Jeanne Kollee permalink

    Now, this is a first for me! I am a self taught artist and have been painting for close to 35 years. To hear an artist who has gone to art school be envious of me is a shocker! I had always wanted to desperately attend art school, but my parents or myself could ever afford it. I am surrounded in my community by artists with BFAs, MFAs etc. Five in my studio space have BFAs. But I do admit, you are right, I really don’t care what the public thinks of my work. I am now successful, exhibit with all my BFA artist friends and nobody cares if I went to art school or not! Wahoo..I am happy.

  4. I get this feeling all the time! Looking back through my old artwork helps me to refocus on why I create art, as does browsing the work of other artists that inspire me.

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