Change Your Perception by Changing Your Patterns

The topic for consideration this month on the artist community platform that I subscribe to (Make Big Art) is [drumroll] Pricing Your Artwork.

This is a sticky subject for nearly every artist I know. Having to put a price on something you’ve created causes all sorts of emotional baggage to come floating up to the surface.

The conversations around value are timely for me. They touch on the related topic of PERCEPTION – how we, as artists, view ourselves, our work, and – by extension – our VALUE.

Last week I caught myself procrastinating on preparing a mock-up sketch for an application. The sketch was the last step in an application for a solo show opportunity at an institution. Showing at a museum is a next level opportunity for me, and therefore, kinda scary. It’s a high-stakes application that had me questioning my worth, and worthiness, to apply.

Last summer, I also prepared a call for submission for this same institution; I prepared thoughtful written answers, selected and formatted my images, and even took the time to draft a template for my installation sketch. Then I got inside my own head, freaked out, and talked myself into believing that I was too much of a nobody to even dare apply.

I told myself that this institution is out of my league.

I told myself that even if I managed the snowball’s chance in hell miracle of having my proposal accepted that I wouldn’t be able to deliver.

In effect, I told myself that I didn’t deserve to apply.

I did such a good job of talking myself down that I ended up not completing the application and scrapped all the work I’d put into it. It remained, unfinished, in a folder on my computer, reminding me every time I opened that particular folder that I’d said “NO” to myself before giving anyone else a chance to.

So…here I was this summer, in the same situation. And, yes, the small lizard-part of my brain that wants to protect me is tried to once again get me to abort the mission. There are so many external cliches that I COULD blame for the overactive flight response: the old trope that society doesn’t value art, the stereotype that artists need to struggle financially to be authentic (so don’t apply to those ops that financially support you!), and the internalized belief that there’s such a slim chance of success you definitely shouldn’t bother.

The discussions about value and the awareness around my hesitation has prompted me to consider how my own perception of my value drives my actions (and how those actions reinforce the perceptions I have about myself).

There is a longevity study proving that humans live longer if, throughout their lives, they are consistently a little bit hungry, and a little bit cold. In other words, you live longer if you are a little bit UNCOMFORTABLE. I don’t remember if they mentioned this in the study, but I’m pretty sure that being a little bit afraid, as long as it doesn’t stop you from moving forward, is beneficial, too. Choosing to be uncomfortable and take on opportunities that are out of our comfort zones push us to grow and evolve. Although it’s safer to stay in the lane that we’re comfortable in, doing so only reinforces the self-perception that you can’t, or don’t deserve to, have bigger opportunities.

There is a caveat of course: it’s smart to make sure you and the opportunity you’re aiming for are a good fit for each other. Scatter-gunning your applications is a waste of resources. If you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t expect that if you apply to Yaddo you’ll be accepted on the first try. If you’re an abstract painter and the residency is for figurative sculptors, then it’s not for you. But if you and your artwork are a good fit for the call, go for it! The perception of our value is reinforced by the decisions we make. Thank the lizard-voice in your brain for protecting you and then tell it that you are proceeding with your plan to do the scary thing.

And that’s what I did. I completed the mock up sketch and clicked “SUBMIT” on the application site.

Mock up of proposed addition to Everywhere All Over. All Over. Everywhere.

No more self-sabotage (not for now, anyhow). If the institution doesn’t think I’m ready or a good fit for their mandate with the project I’ve proposed, then I’m going to let THEM tell me that.

Is there something that you’re holding yourself back from doing? What scary thing can you do to shift a pattern of self-sabotage?

8 Responses to “Change Your Perception by Changing Your Patterns”

  1. Polly Faminow says:

    Thanks Jody. An excellent conversation. Polly

  2. Karl says:

    A must read, excellent job Jody.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Brilliant! Well done. I totally relate to that and today I will continue with my proposal and also press send. I have also been procrastinating despite having already done lots of work on it. Your newsletter was exactly what I needed to hear.

  4. Judi Tavill says:

    Fantastic Advice! I loved your installation in the 4 heads House at Governor’s Island last summer. As this is not my forte, any chance that you can suggest where one can learn how to create a sketch via an app or program as I am clueless!
    Judi Tavill

    • Thank you, Judi! There may be other applications that are meant specifically for creating mock-ups, but I like to use the Pixelmator app (it’s similar to Adobe Photoshop, but I find it easier to navigate for my purposes. For the sketch in this blog post, I opened a photo of the gallery in Pixelmator and then used the pen tool on a new, transparent layer to trace the main angles and details of the room. Then I printed the line sketch out and hand drew the proposed artwork in, scanning it to create a final jpg. Good luck!

  5. Ilze Bebris says:

    Yup, those self doubt demons are hard to chase away, especially as we venture into the untested.
    Best of luck with your application!