Your creativity fuels you, but there it is again – that nagging feeling of inadequacy as you look at someone else’s work. Ah, the dreaded comparison-itis!
We’ve all been there, and let’s face it, it’s a part of the creative process. It takes me about two seconds to find artists who can draw better than I can, and whose beautiful work has me thinking: “I could never make something this amazing!” or “I’m not creative enough to come up with anything like that!”
I’ve learned with experience that those thoughts are just small parts of me, and not the whole picture. Comparison-itis is real, but it when it starts to gnaw at your confidence and motivation, it’s time for a shift.
This is the message I want you to receive: comparison can fuel your inspiration instead of your insecurity. Promise! Hint: it’s very much about accepting yourself and tuning into your creative voice.
Before you get down on yourself for feeling envious of another artist’s skill or success, take a deep breath. Comparing your work to others’ is normal, and yes, everyone does it.
It’s not only normal, but it’s important for your creative growth. After all, how can you make new and creative work if you don’t know what’s out there? The solution is not to stop looking at other art, but to appreciate it as someone else’s unique contribution to the world, and to see if there’s inspiration in it for your own creative path.
From this perspective, when I find myself feeling insecure when admiring another artists’ drawing skills, I might think instead, “Ooh, I like their delicate line work, I’m going to play around with that later.”
Here are five points to remember when you find yourself negatively comparing yourself to other artists:
1. Recognize Your Uniqueness
No one else has had your experiences or sees things from your perspective. Not only is every artist’s path unique, but no one is at the exact same point.
It can be apples-and-oranges to compare where you and your work are at to someone else, especially in terms of style, value or technical prowess. Your uniqueness is your superpower; no one else has it!
For example, I may not be as skilled at realistic anatomical drawing as other artists, but my work is more conceptual and based in color and form, so why should I care?
2. Reframe Comparison as Inspiration
Instead of letting comparison demoralize you, I want you to work on reframing it as a source of inspiration. Identify elements of other artists’ work that resonate with you. It might be the mood of the piece, some technical aspect, or a unique composition.
Look for patterns in what you are admiring in other work. These tidbits are great fuel for playing around with your creative work.
Inspiration is so important, that there is a section about it below, after these five tips. Being open to inspiration is a powerful antidote to comparison-itis!
3. Limit Your Exposure to Comparison Triggers
Pay attention to what you are doing when comparson-itis strikes you to hardest. Hint: are you on social media? Unfollow or mute accounts that trigger negative feelings of comparison.
While social media can be a valuable resource, set boundaries to avoid constant exposure to other artists’ work. Be selective with the accounts you follow and focus on those that inspire and uplift you.
Social media isn’t the only culprit. Are there toxic people around? Surround yourself with supportive artists who uplift and motivate you. Again, setting boundaries is important here.
4. Cultivate Self-Compassion
Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend. When negative thoughts arise, take a few breaths to calm your nervous system, and counter the negative thoughts with affirming and supportive self-talk. Acknowledge your progress, and remind yourself that your artistic voice is valuable and yes, downright precious.
Self-compassion is a huge topic deserving of its own separate post (note to self!). If you’re really struggling and feeling stuck, consider investing in a few months of therapy. A short series of therapy sessions can really shift your trajectory; I’ve been there, on the therapist AND the client side!
5. Focus on Your Progress
Measure your success by your growth and improvement over time, rather than how you think it stacks up to others’ work. Celebrate every milestone, and set small goals for yourself so that you have regular reasons to celebrate.
Remember, it’s a natural human tendency to compare yourself to others. But that doesn’t mean it has to hold you back!
Embrace your uniqueness, seek inspiration, limit exposure to triggers, and nurture self-compassion to help mitigate the negative effects of comparison.
Finding Inspiration while Minimizing Comparison
It takes time to cultivate the mindset of finding inspiration in comparison. And spoiler alert, you’ll likely have some semblance of this tendency your whole life, because you’re human!
Don’t be hard on yourself, and stay your course. My insecure thoughts like “I could never make something this amazing!” might be one side of my internal conversation. The other side? “Yeah that’s their work, not mine. I’m on a completely different path that could only come out of me.”
I brainstormed some ways to find inspiration that are less likely to trigger feelings of negative comparison:
- Time in Nature: Connecting with nature is pretty magic. Take a walk in a park, forest, or garden. Pay attention to light and shadow, and the colors of leaves, dirt, and rocks. Nature can be a limitless source of inspiration, and free from comparisons to other artists’ work.
- Art Museums and Galleries: Visit local art museums and galleries, and notice the variety of artistic styles and movements. Instead of comparing yourself to renowned artists, view their work as a testament to the infinite expressions of creativity.
- Art History Lessons: Study the history of art through books, online courses, or documentaries. Understanding the evolution of art gives you a broader perspective and appreciation for your own artistic journey. I always come away with new ideas for my own work.
- Art Challenges and Prompts: Participate in art challenges and prompts available in many online artistic communities. These activities provide a sense of community and encouragement, and they’re fun!
- Create an Art Journal: Start an art journal as a private space for experimentation and self-expression. Without public scrutiny, you can explore new ideas and techniques without feeling the pressure of comparison.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Practicing mindfulness and meditation will help you stay centered and grounded. I’m willing to be that after just a week or two of meditating for five minutes a day, it will be easier for you to focus on your inner creativity and tune out external influences that may trigger negative comparisons. That’s how powerful it is!
- Art Workshops and Classes: Attend workshops or online classes with a focus on skill-building and exploration. Engaging with instructors and other artists can foster a supportive environment that promotes growth and encouragement, instead of than comparison.
- Follow Diverse Artists: Seek out artists from diverse backgrounds and styles. Exposing yourself to a variety of artistic expressions can broaden your understanding of art and reduce comparison triggers.
Learning how to manage comparison as a source of inspiration instead of insecurity is an ongoing process. I hope that the strategies and tips here help you find more joy, creativity, and inspiration from others’ work, and renewed confidence and discovery in your own work.
If you want more support with mindset issues for artists, I have a free resource “Anxious Artist’s 1-Minute Mindset Shift” that teaches a simple technique to shift yourself out of anxiety or overwhelm, so you can get back to making your art.
It outlines a 3-step process for shifting your body and mind out of that stuck place of anxiety and overwhelm. There are also bonus journal prompts!
Signing up for this free download places you on my mailing list, where you’ll receive weekly news from me about art, anxiety, and living a creative life with more ease. I’d love for you to join me!