Overcoming the Crippling Self-Doubt of an Artist


“Self-doubt is always present for artists because we have the job and the privilege of defining problems and then asking ourselves whether we have solved them,” said Susan Hiller, a 75-year-old artist, as she talks about struggling with gender equality and self-doubt.

It’s amazing how even the best of the best encounter debilitating self-doubt. Being one of the worst enemies of an artist, self-doubt can be crippling to the point that artists fail to accomplish something and put out their work.

Listening and accepting criticism

Artists have the duty to listen and accept criticism. In return, artists also need to exercise their right to give constructive criticism. Without this, an artist will never improve and truly hone their craft. Yet, it is also this exchange that scares artists. First, criticism tends to be harsh.

Second, when you have poured hours of hard work and passion into something, you expect it to be perfect. When someone points out that it is—in fact—flawed, the rose-colored glasses wear off. Third, it sometimes hurts when it comes from someone you adore.

On the other hand, these critics mean well. They only want you to improve your craft. Criticism, then, is the secret to art’s relevance. In a world where art’s value is determined by its price and spectacle, criticism grounds an artwork to its “connection with the larger world.” This discourse between society and the artist is essential because, as the world evolves and faces the cracks in the system, art for art’s sake is no longer filling the gap.

Overcoming self-doubt

Just do it,” screams Shia LeBeouf.

Write the story and see where it goes. Pick up the paintbrush and fill the canvas. Add that risky touch to the interior design project for a big-time client.

When you choose to get over your fears and take the leap, the voice that is hindering you from doing so eventually disappears. By doing this, you are acknowledging your skills. You are letting your creativity take hold of you, instead of fear.

You might find yourself second-guessing if you should submit that manuscript or complete an exhibit. What you can do, though, is say what teenagers used to tell themselves before making a bad decision: “You only live once.” Now, do it. Put your art out there.

The power of self-gratitude

couples in the museum appreciating art

Sometimes, it also helps to think about your past achievements. Maybe you got published in a journal. Maybe your last exhibit was a success. Maybe you won an award, or a client loved your design. This practice of self-gratitude is probably the pat-on-the-back you need to inspire yourself to do better this time.

Validation is important for artists because art is subjective. This validation is taken from the audience, mentors, and peers, but how often do you give yourself the validation you deserve? How often do you acknowledge you might be good at what you do?

Being an artist is hard, and it is not just the “starving artist” kind. An artist goes through a rigorous creative process, crippling self-doubt, and the obligation to let the world witness their art.

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