On Confidence

Has everyone heard of the Big Lie Theory?

We all have days where we feel more ignored than a busboy at Hooters. Some days, “confidence” is merely a crossed-fingers hope that no one lifts the hem of our flowered muumuu to reveal the flesh-toned girdle beneath.

But confidence is important in the Art world. How does one differentiate oneself from the vast number of people who can put pen to paper or digital tablet with relative facility? How do you channel that extra oomph, that something that says, “My work is worth it; LOVE ME!”

I’ve never been good at projecting confidence. Frankly, I’m just happy to be in the room. That’s how I write my artist statements and market myself. I can’t do it any other way. But some people can.

I’m going to use my son, age 8, as Exhibit A.

Jack in April, 2009e

Jack in April, 2009

Jack's Art Gallery Exhibit B

Jack’s Art Gallery Exhibit B

He created a miniature art gallery a while ago. There’s an art supply store on Granville Island that sells these tiny 1″x1″ canvases and little wooden easels. I bought him some. He colored them all with felt and then made a little catalogue price book. He priced his wee 1″x1″ art higher than mine. One piece is listed at $3000.

Jack's Art Gallery Price Book

Jack’s Art Gallery Price Book

An older relative came by and wanted to buy a Jack Original for $5. Jack adamantly – and rightly – refused: sorry, but it’s $3000, he said firmly. She gave him the $5 bill anyway. Jack put it in his gallery with a label: “GEANT $5 BILL, $5000”.

(Holy shit: who taught him Pop Art?)

Not much later, he and I went to the dollar store to get red dot stickers. I got standard stationery filing ones for my portfolio; he got fancy little shiny foil award ones for the price books in his gallery because he decided he needed to give his paintings award stickers. He went through his tiny price books affixing little blue-ribbon stickers and writing, carefully, things like “2004 award winner” above them. I had to laugh: every single painting won an award.

I am fascinated, of course, and think it cute and charming as any parent would when their progeny exhibits such genetic reassurance. Except I can’t say I’ve ever been as confident as him, at least not that I can remember.

What I want to know is: we seem to be born with this innate confidence in our worth as creative beings so why do we lose it? Which brings me to my second example, Exhibit B.

Hm. I don’t want to actually name the artist. I came across him advertising in the Craigslist Artist community section.

I was astounded when I first clicked on his website. He’d posted a bunch of reviews from publications such as “Art Financier Gallery” and “Art New Veau Magazine.” The reviews use adjectives like “meaty,” “sublime,” “protruding color,” and “vital.” They describe the works as speaking “to the depths of the human soul and spirit” and universally claim that we’re just lucky he’s alive on earth to give us such beauty. I’m paraphrasing, but I’m not exaggerating. I thought, wow, this guy must be really good and famous.

He’s not. Go ahead: Google those two publications I mentioned. I don’t think they exist, but it doesn’t matter.

Fake reviews? Fine. He also has a “Legal” section that states he gets to interview any potential buyers to ensure that he approves of them owning his work, that his work will be kept in pristine condition, out of direct sunlight, and that they cannot sell it for seven years. If they try, hellfire will rain down in the form of a thousand lawyers. I exaggerate, but not much. It’s positioned as an adoption process, not an art sale.

His biography picture is a flash-in-a-mirror type of picture that might befit certain other areas of Craigslist. The photographs of his work are terrible. The work, itself? He has such sincere conviction, much like my son (and the quality of their art? Similar. That’s all I’m gonna say) that it makes me step back and go: not bad. I wouldn’t go as far to say opposite of bad, but not bad.

Without getting into metaphysics or Tony Robbins or Jungian definitions of the self, I can only say that whether it’s the Craigslist guy or my 8 year old son: beauty and art are not just in the eye of the beholder but the voice of the creator as well.

I’m not sure whether there’s a point, a hinge, a fulcrum, where suddenly we drop that confidence and tell ourselves, “Oh, who the hell was I fooling?” I don’t know if it’s a matter of “settling” or – worse yet! – growing up.

All I know is I wish I’d held on to that eight-year-old confidence. So my conclusion is simply: don’t be afraid. Be eight. Create.