Avoiding the Comparison Trap as an Artist

Hydrangea Painting by Su-Sing Chow from his book Flowers of the Four Seasons: A Manual in Chinese Brush Painting.

You Are Completely Unique

It is important that as an artist, you begin with this simple understanding. You are utterly unique and this uniqueness is beautiful and precious. No other person has the same combination of talents, gifts and experiences. All of this contributes to your unique point of view. Therefore it should be your goal to identify, embrace and develop this uniqueness and express it.

The Role of Comparison

Often times we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves negatively to others. When we see ourselves our view is often clouded by our insecurities. When we look at others we only see what they are willing to show to the public. Most of us have learned how to present the best parts of ourselves for others to admire. This is really an unfair comparison.

It is important to realize that we can appreciate things we like about others without spinning it as a criticism of ourselves. When we look at art that someone else has done, we can see their choices and qualities. We can reflect on whether these choices or qualities intrigue us and to incorporate them into our own art.

Done in this way, comparison can be a wonderful tool for inspiration and artistic development. This is why people form art communities like our OASlife Facebook Group.

Both this goblet and mug are beautiful in form and function. Both can be celebrated without criticizing the other. Their qualities can be compared in a way that increases appreciation for both.

What About Competition?

I have seen a trend where the mechanism of competition is used to stimulate communities of artists.

We see this very much in the ballroom dance community and we see it in fine art as well. In the ballroom dance world, competitions have been organized. The industry has centered itself around the idea of "DanceSport" as a way to focus the effort of people who love ballroom dancing and package the activity to better appeal to a mass audience. You can see this with shows like Dancing with the Stars and it is the hope that ballroom dancing will one day be recognized as an Olympic sport and find a larger audience the way figure skating and gymnastics have done.

There is, however, a major trapping when you try to make a competitions out of art. Other true sports like basketball or baseball are essentially competitive games so it is natural to organize them as competition. Art however is something different. Art is not a competition. All art can be celebrated without the necessity of deeming one piece of art better than the other or one artist as superior to another. In fact, if artists are able to really focus in on their uniqueness and express it through their art, the results usually defy comparison or competition.

So as artists, should we avoid participating in these activities? Should we avoid submitting to exhibitions where art pieces are ranked and ribbons are awarded? The answer is really up to the individual artist. I can tell you as a dancer, participating in competition is one of the most powerful ways to motivate and structure improvement. When I am competing, my technical abilities improve as much as ten times faster than when I am not competing.

I am, however, very careful about how I participate in competitions. I take great care in making sure that the competition framework is serving my development as a dancer rather than the other way around. I choose the frequency of events and the category of competition very carefully to allow myself to development meaningfully between each competitions rather than competing so much that I am tempted to constantly shortcut my development in an effort to be presentable for the next competition.

The same applies to art. Committing to an event or exhibition can motivate you to produce a body of work. It can help you progress from practicing to painting and it can give you some perspective on how your art is received by appreciators. These things are very valuable especially to artists in their early stages of development. They are also valuable promotional tools for artists and can encourage developing artists to bring together their appreciators into larger groups to the benefit of everyone.

Practical Tips and Tools

  • Practice looking at yourself in the mirror and making note of five things that you appreciate about yourself
  • Be unique, be yourself and be patient as you engage in your development
    • Be willing to copy others as a path to your own uniqueness. In Chinese painting it is an accepted method of development
    • Allow the spontaneity of the brushes, paper, and approach of Chinese Brush Painting to lead you to your own unique style
  • Whenever you give a compliment refrain from turning it back as a criticism on yourself. For example, "I love your ability to control your moisture in your paintings, it is something that I really struggle with."
  • Learn how to receive a compliment with a simple "thank you," as opposed to offering a deflecting piece of self-deprecation. For example:
    "You are a wonderful artist."
    "Oh, thank you, but I'm not that great."
  • By all means participate in exhibitions and shows but prioritize your development as an artist rather than the awards or competition aspect of such events.

We are all uniquely precious parts of an infinitely beautiful Universe. When we embrace of the unique beauty of who we are, we participate in the glorification and expansion of the Universe.

Happy Painting!

Facebook Group - OASLife

A wonderful way to connect with other like-minded artists is through our OASLife Facebook page. You can receive feedback on your paintings, be inspired by other's paintings and flourish as an artist! 

If you're looking community to inspire and challenge you in your unique brush painting journey, this is it!

Join our OASLife Facebook Group


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