Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Hi everyone!

Holy smokes – I seriously CANNOT believe how behind I am on this blog.  This is terrible!  It’s been a whole season since I’ve written.  It was a supremely busy summer, with lots of gallery installations and meetings and fun and art and awesomeness.  This was capped off by an amazing workshop that I just attended, one that was both awe-inspiring… and ponderous.

I had the EXTREME fortune of taking a serigraphy workshop with the incomparable Larry Basky.  For those of you who don’t know who Larry is, he is a master serigrapher (by the way – “serigraphy” is also known as screenprinting, but it’s far more complicated than making t-shirts).  Larry has been making extremely complex serigraphs for over 50 years.  It was an honor to learn from him.  And we learned in one of the most beautiful places possible – the Sinsinawa Mound Center in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, about 8 miles from Dubuque, Iowa.  It’s a HUGE complex that houses the sisters of the Dominican order.  It’s been there since 1848.  It’s absolutely enormous, and it was so peaceful!  All of our meals were taken care of, and we also had these adorable little rooms.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.46.07 AM

We worked LONG days!  We began at 9, and except for meals, worked until 9 at night (I did make a small detour to Cedar Rapids, Iowa the first evening to see my wonderful niece, who’s a freshman at Coe!  I was so close, I couldn’t NOT do it!).  🙂  This was definitely a WORKING workshop, not a meet-and-mingle type of thing.

There we seven of us in the class, who ranged in age from 25 to 88.  YES – that is not a typo!  And their work was amazing and wonderful.  And herein lay the conundrum behind the title of this post.

I am a very slow learner.  I also have a very short attention span.  These two things together can be poisonous in a workshop. It was perfect that we worked in a large room with no windows, but there was music playing the whole time, which is killer when you already have a hard time paying attention.  I have this issue in EVERY workshop I’ve ever taken.  Couple that with the fact that it takes me about two days to process information – any information – and I was about two days behind everyone else.

Oh, and most of the women I was there with are exceptionally talented.

Does this happen to you, too?  You’re doing something you love to do (for me, that’s learning more about various art techniques, but it could be anything, really).  You’re learning.  And everyone around you is surpassing you in every way imaginable.  Better designs.  Better colors.  Better grasp of the process.  Better everything.  You take one look at your own work and think to yourself (choose all that apply, and to any career that applies to you):

  • I suck.
  • I should never have quit my job to do this full-time.
  • I should give up being an artist.  What’s the point when everyone is better than I am?
  • I don’t have what it takes.
  • I’m a hack and a fraud, and now everyone will know.
  • All of those good art things that have happened to me – that was just people being nice.
  • I only get art gigs because no one else wants to do them.
  • I only sell art because people feel sorry for me.
  • Maybe I should delete my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/LinkedIn accounts so that people don’t have to see my crappy work and be compelled to be nice to me

Sound familiar?  Of COURSE these do.  Every single one of us in a creative profession have felt one or more (or all) of these things at one time or another.  I have to believe that it’s almost a given that we’re going to feel this way.  Those of you who know me personally (but not well) may be surprised to hear that I too feel this way – often.  I like to present myself as an optimist and a happy person online and on my social media sites, because that’s generally who I am.  But NO ONE is like that all the time – if we were, we’d be delusional, or not paying attention.  And I do feel it’s really important as artists to lift each other up!  So if you’re feeling any of these feelings, or have felt them in the past, keep this in mind – this too shall pass.  It’s a new day, and a new opportunity to show the world your take on art (or whatever!).

Get back on that horse.  You heard me.  No time to wallow!  The more you tell yourself awful things (like those above), the more you’ll start to believe they’re true, even though they’re not.  And so what if you’re not the best in the class, or in your art group, or hell – even in your town.  I’m not, by a LONG shot.  (If you live in Fond du Lac, WI, you already know this.)  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own fresh take on various art media.  I have sold a lot of art, taught a lot of wonderful people (many who are WAY more talented than I!), and done some good for my art community.  And that’s not nothing.  I’ll keep on chugging along, knowing that I’ll never be the best, but that I’m doing something I love.  And quite often, actually, I’m rewarded for my art in myriad ways.  So today’s a new day, and I’m going to take my newfound education and add it to what I already know.  THAT’S what it’s all about.  🙂


6 thoughts on “Comparison is the Thief of Joy”

  1. Hi Mel. Great blog and yes, I’m with you. It takes me time to process the new skill learned at a workshop and often it’s weeks or months before I try it. I admire those people who get home and use their new skill immediately. I have a bunch of art goals for this year and I will add “practice workshop techniques within a week or month” to that list! Thanks AGAIN for the inspiration!


    1. Hey Angie! Thanks so much for this comment. I’m glad I’m not alone! I wish I were one of those folks who retain everything, but I’m slowly realizing things about myself that have probably been true since I was born. I also think it’s why I teach the way I do (from the very, very beginning). 😀


  2. I can so identify with everything you said! It took forever for me to get to a place where I stopped evaluating myself and just moved forward, determined to enjoy what I was engaged in. Also, omg, always, always remember that what you create is a reflection of you, as it must be; that’s the true nature of art! It’s true in painting, collage, making music, writing poetry…..I know I’m not a master at anyone of those, but I enjoy doing it,anyway. It enriches my spirit.


    1. Hey Fran – thank you for writing! I too am trying to enjoy the moment more, but it’s rough when your income stream comes from your artwork. It’s added pressure that I didn’t count on when I first began this roller coaster ride – I’m glad I didn’t know about it BEFORE I began, or I never would’ve taken the leap.


  3. Love and appreciate your honesty Mel. I just had this conversation with my kiddo this weekend. I think creatives are so prone to this type of thought process…I am NO exception! For me the trick has been to acknowledge the thought but then to let it go and not let it sit around in my noggin and turn into a black hole of despair – in simpler terms, “turn that frown upside down” 🙂 I just decided to reduce my hours at my “real job” to focus more on my creative work – lots of little gremlins are coming out to play in my mind…but I am not going to feed them after midnight 😉 MWAH!


    1. Oh Geri! Thank YOU so much for your comment! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re also prone to this kind of thought process, because you’re so creative. But you turn out such consistently beautiful work! 🙂

      I do have to say that I’ve only had one long bout of “creative slump”, and that was 2 1/2 years ago already. I’ve got too much invested to let it last too long! 😀


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