“Oh, I’m not a real artist”
Kate Rasche on artist imposter syndrome
We encounter a certain situation at ArtsWorcester all the time; an artist hesitates to apply for a competitive opportunity, doesn’t want to price their work that high, or can’t believe anyone is interested in hearing about their art, because they don’t feel like a “real” artist.
We call this imposter syndrome: a nasty phenomenon that occurs when people don’t feel deserving of titles, accolades, or opportunities they have rightfully earned because they see themselves as imposters in their particular field of work. It’s not unique to the art world, but it is widespread within it.
Something we hear from artist members all the time is, “I don’t feel like a real artist because…”
“…I didn’t go to art school.”
“…I haven’t sold any work.”
“…I’ve never had a solo exhibition.”
“…My full-time job is actually [insert anything].”
Artists at all ages and in all stages of their careers have come to us with these self-deprecations. I recently worked with an artist who struggled with imposter syndrome even as we were installing her solo exhibition. She was apprehensive about whether she really deserved a solo show, and whether anyone would be interested in her artist talk. She had difficulty seeing herself as a “real” artist, because she had a day job doing something else, and her studio was in the living room.
Side note: this artist ended up selling multiple works from her show and was then selected by one of our corporate clients for a year-long installation. And yes, people were interested in her artist talk.
Being an artist doesn’t require certification in the same way that being a doctor or lawyer does, which can make it difficult to feel like a valid professional. What it does require is a certain amount of confidence to tune other people out and just do your thing. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you take yourself and your art seriously, other people will too.
In my own experience, I received a degree in studio art, graduated from college, and started working three simultaneous part-time jobs that had nothing to do with my artistic interests, but did get the bills paid. In my free time I painted, built a website, applied for shows, and constantly questioned whether doing all these things in between my other “real” jobs qualified me as a “real” artist. When people asked what I did the answer was always, “I work at X/Y/Z establishment, and paint in my spare time.”
Eventually I realized I didn’t want a career in retail, so I started answering the question differently. When people asked what I did, I’d reply with “I’m an artist.” That shift in mindset opened a lot of doors. By telling other people I was an artist first and foremost, I gave myself permission to stop doubting that I really was one.
Having another job, which most artists do, doesn’t discredit your creative practice. Often times it strengthens the content of your work, and can provide important organizational and entrepreneurial skills that are necessary for a successful artistic career. A joyous part of the work we do at ArtsWorcester is encouraging our members to see that, and providing opportunities for them to increase those skills while adding content and context to their artist resumes.
To everyone out there whose studio is the dining room table, who is creating between part-time jobs, or is “just experimenting” with new materials but maintains that they’re not “really an artist”, this post is for you. Take yourself seriously. Believe in your work. Understand that you can be two (or even more) things at once: a painter and a nurse, a sculptor and an insurance agent, an installation artist and a teacher. None of these things are mutually exclusive, and you get to decide which of them comes first.
And the next time somebody asks what you do, don’t squirm. You are an artist! Tell them so and see how it feels. We’ll be here to back you up.
— Kate Rasche, Assistant Director
Above image: Mags Munroe, Remind Myself, digital, 30″ x 30″, from the Eighteenth ArtsWorcester Biennial.