Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of artists express some doubts about their work. In fact, I know that some artists actually shy away from promoting themselves because they lack confidence in their creative efforts and they fear the criticism or rejection that may result when they start sharing their work with other people. For some artists, self-doubt has become an obstacle to pursuing their dreams. But, says my friend, artist, teacher, and author Sam Adoquei, all artists experience self-doubt, and we should all welcome it as a gift. Really? Sam should know. He’s beaten the odds and excelled at building successful credentials and accomplishing extraordinary goals, all while facing a new culture, a tough marketplace, and fierce competition.
Sam and I had a long talk about this the other day, and as is always the case with Sam, he’s found the silver lining to the uncomfortable feeling called self-doubt. “To be honest, every human being has some doubts, artists more so than most,” Sam told me. “Anybody who is in the arts who says they don’t experience doubt is not being entirely honest. Leonardo, Sargent, and Cezanne all suffered their share of doubts. Self-doubt simply means your dreams and visions are still a little foggy and unclear because new ways of doing things don’t always have clear definitions. If you’re experiencing some doubts like everyone else, it means you are daring to go higher and doing something right and different.”
When I asked Sam for advice on what artists could do to help overcome the feelings of self-doubt, he said the answer is simple: let it motivate you. Specifically, his suggestions are to “worry little, say little, be open minded, be practical, put your head down, and put all your energy into your work. Seek wisdom and broad knowledge to assist you. That’s the road I took. Occupy yourself with ideas, keep digging and mining the jewels of your dreams, and you will never have room for worries and doubts.” According to Sam, the real question artists should be asking is this: What kind of work do I have to do to vanquish the self-doubt? What kind of quality should my work have, what choices should I be making, what message should I offer in my work that will make it so that a viewer has no other choice but to admire my work?
My first reaction to this idea was to think about enhancing skills, and one possible solution that came to mind was to get a critique from a trusted, knowledgeable artist. Many artists are offering this service online, and it struck me as a good option for helping to identify the skills that need improvement. But Sam feels that an artist needs to take a more comprehensive approach to artistic and career development, which is why he goes way beyond skills in the evaluation and coaching services he offers.
“You need to be a bit broad in your way of thinking,” he explained to me. “Study everyone from Michelangelo to Van Gogh to Picasso. Do not judge and claim that there is only one right type of art for you to explore. Smart, successful people take from all sources, so shouldn’t this also be part of the artistic pursuit? Actually, if you’re still thinking that one style or one movement or one technique is going to lead you where you need to go, you’re just making it harder for yourself.” Sam went on to tell me that artists who want to engage in true artistic growth will also seek to improve their way of thinking about the tools, the profession, and the journey. We should all strive to enhance our ability to analyze what’s out there.
Now here comes the truly mind-blowing part of our conversation: As if vanquishing self-doubt isn’t enough of an incentive to work on expanding your skills and your mind, Sam went on to say that artists who pursue this level of expertise will also set themselves apart in a way that will make them unstoppable. “By virtue of the journey we make, we are acquiring a unique combination of skills, experience, and personality that no other person can have,” Sam said. “So, when you create from a place of total honesty that shows your unique choices in subject, style, vision, and goals, no one else will be able to copy you. No one else can understand and explore with great desire your little village or garden the way you do.” In other words, honestly creating from within—using all you are and all you’ve learned—is the path to distinguishing yourself and feeling great about it.
By now, it’s obvious that Sam is blessed with the gift of wisdom, and I’m sure you’d like to know more about him. You can enjoy many examples of his stunning paintings, learn more about his teaching and evaluation programs, discover his three books—including “Origin of Inspiration” and “How Successful Artists Study,” and read his story on his website, www.samadoquei.com. And follow us both on the arts blog, The Sankofa Review.
What are your thoughts on self-doubt? Let's connect!
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