I hooked you with a strange title, right? Usually, it would make sense to seek out counseling to bounce back from the proverbial failure. However, I wanted to point out a little talked about problem - what happens when you've succeeded? And what if you never achieve that level of success again?
I believe that the idea of achieving success can cause as much anxiety and turmoil as the fear of failure.
I did a little sleuthing and found that in the world of Psychology, this is indeed a fact:
"Physical reactions to stress and to excitement are very similar. So, when we experience a traumatic event—such as a car accident or a school bullying incident—our body associates the fear we experience with the same physiological feelings we get while excited. Once we have been through enough trauma, we start to avoid those types of situations that trigger memories of fear. For this reason, [people] can tend to avoid excitement, and that can lead them to avoid success."
(Written by Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., M.F.T., who is a psychologist specializing in trauma and depression, and I stole her ideas here.)
So that's the science behind it. Now, for the real life experience:
I used to partake (too much) in the theater life. I went on auditions, performed in public, and basically, gave myself enough boost in cortisol (that's the stress hormone) to give myself panic attacks for years to come. I was also bullied in middle school and through that developed a healthy intolerance for mean girls. I say all that to let you know - I've had my fair share of humiliation and social trauma. It also set me up for a lifetime of doubting myself, regardless of the likelihood and rate of success.
I have to admit, in the weeks before my first show, "Woman, These Are Yours," at Free Range Brewing, I was wracked with doubt. What if no one shows up to the opening reception? What if they don't understand what I mean to convey? What if people see my art and leave in disgust? It's dramatic, I know. But I think these are all common thoughts racing through an artist's mind, come exhibition day.
The not knowing about the possible outcome had me overcome with anxiety.
On the night of the reception however, I was pleased to be proven wrong. The show was well-attended and my pieces were being sold. In addition - friends were showing up to support me and we had wonderful conversations concerning the show's theme. I would definitely call it a success!
Because the opening night was such a whirlwind, the next day felt fuzzy and overwhelming.
With the days and weeks following, the glow of that night's success had begun to wane. Sure, I was still being fed by wonderful comments and encouragement from friends, and finding that my work was steadily selling...but another fear started looming: What do I do now?
In the aftermath of a success, the joy of winning can actually have a reverse effect. Basking in the glory and adoration of a job well done feels good for a moment, or even a few weeks afterwards. But what happens when you feel you've tapped out on your creativity? That you've dried up your artistic stores? How could you ever achieve the same level of success again, much less exceed it?
DOES LIGHTNING REALLY STRIKE THE SAME PLACE TWICE?
It can, and it does. (Perhaps not speaking literally, but Creative Lightning knows no bounds!)
Here are some tips that I'm telling myself and would like to share with you in order to move forward, beyond the aftershock of the first success.
1. Plan a New Body of Work
What's better than a great body of work? Two.
I've already sat down to brainstorm and flesh out some new themes that might be of interest. In between commissions, I've been painting what I like, and have allowed that to spark new ideas. Sometimes, I'll make a painting and like it so much, I do a mini-series. This could blossom into another full series, as long as I don't lose steam. After I make several paintings that are cohesive, I organize my plans into spreadsheet form, to keep me on-task and motivated.
Outside of my own personal experience, you could apply it to your life by:
-Researching new topics of interest
-Allowing yourself the time and freedom to play with your art until you find that spark again
I've realized that certain subjects speak to me more than others. These are the topics that make me excited to create new art:
-Asian Cultures (mainly Japanese and Korean)
-American Folk Themes
-Legends, Fairtales, and Folklore
-Tigers / Crocodiles / Magpies / Bears / Rabbits
This list might seem incredibly random, but if you take a look at my Instagram, you'll find that I stick with the list pretty well. I make and choose work that resonates with me. Once you know what you like to create, make a list, and outline how to get from point A to point B (from no work to 20+ pieces you'd like to exhibit) and you're well on your way to another success.
2. Find Somewhere to Exhibit
If you've just had great success where you recently showed your work, find another venue that is similar and make a proposal. For myself, I noticed that the craft-beer scene is something I'm drawn to. I just exhibited with a brewery in my home town. Thus, I might be contacting more breweries in the future to collaborate on an art exhibit.
You don't need to stick with your cut and dry art galleries to get noticed or sell work.
Breweries, cafes, restaurants, libraries, city hall, the Post Office - you'd be surprised at how many public places and privately owned businesses would be open to collaborating on your art. They need to beautify their space and you need a venue to sell. Get networking, y'all! If you don't currently see art being sold in these places, maybe try and talk with a manager or owner to feel out a 75/25 commission split on showcasing your artwork. 100% of the questions you don't ask are never answered. Translation? Just ask! At least when the answer is Yes or No, it's a firm fact, not a question mark looming over your head.
Now that you know what kind of budget and work goes into preparing this kind of exhibit, you're also better able to present your ideas with confidence and concrete numbers. This tip should include the sub-categories:
A. Know Your Audience
B: Know Your Location.
Personally, I tend to sell better to young, very hipster, artsy communities. My art is not necessarily well-received in traditional art galleries funded by an aging population. That's ok with me! My art can't be everything to everyone. Knowing your audience, their demographic, and which location pockets hold that Art-Exhibiting Gold is key.
I loved collaborating on the last show with my sister A.C. O'Dell. She supplied the poetry and we both fed off of each other's creativity. If there is another artist that you feel shares your creative vision, why not make something together? Either a show that features both of your art, or go deeper and make each piece a hybrid of your styles. Wonderful things can happen when you collaborate!
One way to start collaborating is to get vocal about other artists' work. You might be of the mindset that it's every woman for herself out there in the art world, but thankfully - this is false! I've found that by lifting up and encouraging talent where you find it, it can be heartwarming and create a sense of community. Wouldn't you rather walk a lonely road with a friend or two by your side? Don't go it alone.
Look on Instagram, Behance, Facebook, or even Google search other artists that you think have a similar style or vision as you - and reach out to them with your collaboration proposal.
Collaboration is not only great for sparking creativity, but having another artist with you, or a group for that matter, can get your foot in the door with a gallery. Most of the time, galleries are open to hearing group show proposals, and more willing to showcase groups first, rather than an unknown (to them) solo artist. It's tough for galleries to take a risk on a solo artist, but it's better to present a cohesive body of work of a group of people with a shared vision.
Collaboration is just spilling over with good reasons and great ideas - so find a buddy and get to making good art!
4. If You Need to, Take a Break
It's been over a month since the show opened for me. Since then, I've been plugging away at commissions (work that is always welcomed), but other than that, I've been in a lull.
I could get frantic (which is what I'm tempted to do) but instead, I'm taking each day and focusing my energies are something other than art. Go out and see a movie; meet a friend; ride your bike; eat delicious food at a restaurant you haven't tried before; go to a museum; clean your house; Distract your mind with non art things, and you will almost always become inspired.
This is because the problem-solving part of your brain doesn't stop working, just because you're focused on something else.
In all this "SUCCESS! FAILURE! MAKE IT! MAKE NEW THINGS ALL THE TIME!" competitive atmosphere, it's smart to be gentle with yourself and heed the signs. Feeling aggravated that you're just not coming up with the next genius art idea? Take a break. Your mind and body will thank you.
I like to dabble in several kinds of creative hobbies. I grew up sewing, so when I'm feeling antsy with my paintbrush, I pull out my sewing machine and throw some squares together for a quilt. I used to do a lot of songwriting. I wanted to get back into that, and yesterday, I came up with the bones of two songs. I feel refreshed and also have a sense that the creative wheels are churning in the background.
5. Explore a Totally Different Kind of Art
This is piggy-backing off of the previous tip. I mentioned that I dabble in other creative outlets. However, when it comes to art, watercolor is my main squeeze. It's what I know and love, and am constantly trying to improve.
I recently discovered digital art - which happens to be totally intimidating. I entered a little graphic design contest and it forced me to explore vector art. It might be surprising to find that your vision can translate into different mediums, be just as effective, and yet be refreshing to you.
Also recently, I entered an art competition, hosted by a well-known American beer company. I had in my mind what needed to be painted, but I knew watercolor wasn't going to cut it. This piece needed something more concrete, like oils or acrylics. So, I bought a canvas and went to work crafting something truly special for this beer art contest. Would you believe it - I WON! Y'all, I was floored. I'm a watercolor artist, but my little acrylic-on-canvas took home the prize. Aside from feeling incredibly humbled and grateful to have won, it made me want to seriously reconsider where I was placing my artistic efforts...?
Just kidding, watercolor. You're still my main squeeze ;-)
Afraid of success? Don't be. Life is full of successes and failures, and you're bound to get a healthy dose of each. As long as you've got these 5 principles (in some way, shape, or form) in your mind, you're sure to keep rolling and continue making the art you love. Happy Art-ing, Y'all!