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Artists and self-sabotage

Artists and self sabotage on ARTiful painting demos by Sandrine Pelissier
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Artists and self-sabotage

As Artist and individuals we know we are afraid of failure, but more surprisingly sometimes we are also afraid of success. Artists are no strangers to self sabotage, and it can be seen in a variety of situations.

You might also like: A complicated relationship…How do artists feel about their own work

Here are a few examples of self sabotage, I have been guilty of some of those and have witnessed some with other Artists. Sometimes the best thing that can happen is an unpleasant remark that makes you realize you are self sabotaging like when someone told me “Why are you trying to sell portraits of your children? Is your business plan to wait until they are grown up, earn a living and can buy the paintings from you?” While it is not entirely true that no one would buy portraits of my children; they for sure were much more difficult to sell than the landscapes I am painting now. I still paint their portraits occasionally but now I know I am painting them for myself, not in the hope of selling them. That remark made me think that I would have to put myself in the customers shoes so to speak and picture what I would like to hang in my own home if I were to buy a painting.

artists and self sabotage

I did paint many portraits of my children, I still do paint them occasionally.

Self sabotaging Artists might:

  • Filling an application or submission and forgetting to stamp it or mail it.
  • Working very hard on a painting and then be careless in the last stages of varnishing or wiring it. Damaging it while hanging it.
  • Always starting new projects but not finishing them, or having trouble considering finished any painting
  • Being at your own opening or a group show opening but looking inaccessible by looking unhappy, reading a book, knitting or looking at your cell phone. Being unfriendly to visitors.
  • Not making it easy for customer to buy your paintings by forgetting to put on prices.
  • Setting up prices way to low or way to high.
Self sabotaging artists
Photo by Anna du Bois
  • Painting subjects that you know objectively have a very low chance of ever selling, like frightening or depressing subjects. Of course, I don’t believe that all Art has to be pretty, but if your goal is to sell to typical customers, you have to consider what they will want in their homes.
  • Waiting for everything to be perfect before starting something, like waiting for the perfect moment when everything is quiet in your life to paint or waiting for the perfect website or the perfect newsletter before publishing it. We usually learn from our mistakes, so even if  what you do is never perfect , you learn how to improve while doing it. Perfection might never come…
  • Painting something that your audience can’t understand, for example with text in a foreign language and no explanation about the meaning or translation.
  • Making it politically difficult to show your work by for example adopting the style of a cultural minority that is not yours.

Have you witnessed examples of self sabotage in other Artists or in your own experience? Share your insights.

4.5/5 - (2 votes)

Comments (48)

  1. Kimberly Stelly

    I’m am definitely guilty of self sabotage – it has been a difficult process for me to work through. I spend too much time planning, too little time painting. I will spend days cleaning and organizing, and finally realize I am avoiding painting all together. I tend to get lost in learning technique and art history, which can become another avoidance tactic. I am not quite sure that I agree with the last two examples in your article, but I do agree that an artist must work to identify their audience, if they intend to sell their art. I believe that art, like anything, is a balancing act.

    1. It is great that you could identify the need to organize/clean and over-think as a kind of procrastination. Being aware of it is already a step towards changing it.

      Yes, I also believe artists must find their audience and a way to connect with that audience. Art without an audience is still great as a way of self expression and maybe healing but after a while, most artists will look for an audience to share and react to their work. Some artists still want that, but at the same time are making it very difficult. I am not saying they must create for their audience, but rather identify what they want to share, or how to share it so that they can connect with the viewers.

  2. Sarah

    Joining an art group who have a different subject with a tutor each week. The second week a two stage tutorial in acrylics, a portrait. The first week the under painting, sarcasm from a member of the group making me doubt myself having never worked in acrylics. Corrected what they thought a mistake and almost ruined the portrait. Next time my attitude was I’ll go with what I think.

    1. Yes, I think you are right, it is important to consider other’s input but sometimes you can feel you know what you need to do with your art 🙂

  3. KIm

    Interesting article. I see myself in some of these…

  4. Eileen

    Over the years of delving within, one of the bottom lines I have come to, as I met the inner judge, the perfectionist etc., has and is to realize that these inner voices are voices of the mind. They are not who I truly am. Then I see myself as the one beyond those voices. And then I create the inner space for those voices to come into that space, as I Witness them, again saying to myself that these are beliefs and thoughts of the mind, they are not who I truly am. As I settle into that deeper knowing, realizing that they are voices, I DECIDE to gently yet firmly let them go. Like opening a door and letting their energy flow out of my body. I keep doing this until, I feel settled and centered within. Then I give love to myself.

    1. Very well said Eileen. I like your analogy of opening the door and letting go instead of trying to fight 🙂

  5. Eileen

    Over the years of delving within, one of the bottom lines I have come to, as I met the inner judge, the perfectionist etc., has and is to realize that these inner voices are voices of the mind. They are not who I truly am. Then I see myself as the one beyond those voices. And then I create the inner space for those voices to come into that space, as I Witness them, again saying to myself that these are beliefs and thoughts of the mind, they are not who I truly am. As I settle into that deeper knowing, realizing that they are voices, I DECIDE to gently yet firmly let them go. Like opening a door and letting their energy flow out of my body. I keep doing this until, I feel settled and centered within. Then I give love to myself.

    1. Very well said Eileen. I like your analogy of opening the door and letting go instead of trying to fight 🙂

  6. natalie Rostad Desjarlais

    l began. Any time that I was successful in those 15 years of marriage, there was ALWAYS a penalty to pay. Now that I am 3 provinces away, nestled in the mountains and living with only my brain injured daughter, my pets and my art as a life, I am quite peaceful. Yet, everything that I do to reignite my career seems to die out in the end. I would like to know how to get my confidence back and be free of the fears that maligned me in the first place.
    Anyone out there who can relate to having a spouse that resented you through your success, I would love to hear how you dealt with it. I refuse to quit working, yet working for a nickel an hour is getting to be too painful as the result of almost half my working years sacrificed.`Q

    1. Hi Nathalie,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Yes I think it is still quite difficult for some men when their spouses shows some success, financial independence or too much confidence. I think in the end, it shows insecurity on the partner side, because they feel threatened by you.

      I am lucky as my husband has always been supportive of what I do and we give each other a lot of space: I don’t get much involved in what he does and vice versa, but we still ask each other for advice occasionally.

      Trying to make a living with a creative career or making art is not the easiest or shortest way, it took me many years to be more than just break-even. If you can split your time between launching your art career and a job that pays more regularly, that might be a good compromise?
      In any case I wish you all the best for your future art making adventures.

  7. natalie Rostad Desjarlais

    l began. Any time that I was successful in those 15 years of marriage, there was ALWAYS a penalty to pay. Now that I am 3 provinces away, nestled in the mountains and living with only my brain injured daughter, my pets and my art as a life, I am quite peaceful. Yet, everything that I do to reignite my career seems to die out in the end. I would like to know how to get my confidence back and be free of the fears that maligned me in the first place.
    Anyone out there who can relate to having a spouse that resented you through your success, I would love to hear how you dealt with it. I refuse to quit working, yet working for a nickel an hour is getting to be too painful as the result of almost half my working years sacrificed.`Q

    1. Hi Nathalie,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Yes I think it is still quite difficult for some men when their spouses shows some success, financial independence or too much confidence. I think in the end, it shows insecurity on the partner side, because they feel threatened by you.

      I am lucky as my husband has always been supportive of what I do and we give each other a lot of space: I don’t get much involved in what he does and vice versa, but we still ask each other for advice occasionally.

      Trying to make a living with a creative career or making art is not the easiest or shortest way, it took me many years to be more than just break-even. If you can split your time between launching your art career and a job that pays more regularly, that might be a good compromise?
      In any case I wish you all the best for your future art making adventures.

  8. Hillary H

    Sandrine, Thank you for your wonderful blog posts. You are very generous and inspiring with your knowledge and spirit ! I always look forward to reading ,especially when my self-sabotage seems to be “in charge”.
    Hillary

    1. Thanks Hillary ! Yes don’t let it be in charge 🙂

  9. Hillary H

    Sandrine, Thank you for your wonderful blog posts. You are very generous and inspiring with your knowledge and spirit ! I always look forward to reading ,especially when my self-sabotage seems to be “in charge”.
    Hillary

    1. Thanks Hillary ! Yes don’t let it be in charge 🙂

  10. Lois shukes

    I’ve paid for your class but still haven’t started. 1 1/2yr ago we were flooded And lost our house and studio. I finally have a space and some supply’s but can get in gear. Everyday I say I’m going to start tomorrow but don’t. I just need to get moving. Love you work. Soon I hope, soon thank you. Thanks Lois

    1. Hello Lois. Well a flood is certainly a big disruption and I am happy to hear that things are starting to get back to normal. Take your time and I will be happy to give you feedback whenever you want to start the class assignments.

  11. Lois shukes

    I’ve paid for your class but still haven’t started. 1 1/2yr ago we were flooded And lost our house and studio. I finally have a space and some supply’s but can get in gear. Everyday I say I’m going to start tomorrow but don’t. I just need to get moving. Love you work. Soon I hope, soon thank you. Thanks Lois

    1. Hello Lois. Well a flood is certainly a big disruption and I am happy to hear that things are starting to get back to normal. Take your time and I will be happy to give you feedback whenever you want to start the class assignments.

  12. Anna

    While wanting to become competent enough to produce art just for myself and the house, a lot of the sabotage applies to we dabblers as well. Paint has to reach the canvas regularly, mistakes will be made often. Fear has to somehow be set aside so production can take place. I don’t know why, but it was easier to sit on fear and anxiety when I was working then it is now to get busy with the watercolors during a leisurely retirement!

    1. Yes, I find very interesting what you are saying about being busy at work and retirement. My kids are teenagers now and my life if very busy right now but I sometimes feel that this business is feeding my creativity more than if I had all my time to paint.

  13. Anna

    While wanting to become competent enough to produce art just for myself and the house, a lot of the sabotage applies to we dabblers as well. Paint has to reach the canvas regularly, mistakes will be made often. Fear has to somehow be set aside so production can take place. I don’t know why, but it was easier to sit on fear and anxiety when I was working then it is now to get busy with the watercolors during a leisurely retirement!

    1. Yes, I find very interesting what you are saying about being busy at work and retirement. My kids are teenagers now and my life if very busy right now but I sometimes feel that this business is feeding my creativity more than if I had all my time to paint.

  14. Heather

    I recognise myself in so many of these points. I am a naturally creative person, and always have a few projects on the go. I rarely finish them. I constantly experiment, and pick up different styles, I can never settle on a particular style. I have never exhibited. I would love to sell my art but I am massively introverted, the thought of having to communicate verbally with people terrifies me! I find that side exhausting, I just want to be at home, doodling.
    Thanks so much for this blog. I have only just discovered your beautiful work.

    1. Thanks Heather for you honesty.
      I think experimenting and trying new styles is not necessarily a bad thing, it is part of the learning process and might make you a more accomplished artist in the future.

      I can emphasize with the introversion part of your comment and I believe it is quite common for Artists to be introverted. I also would rather doodle in pyjamas rather than attending an opening on any day!

      Putting your Art out there, especially if you made it with all your heart, is difficult and puts you in a vulnerable position. For sure you will have an audience that will connect with your Art, then you will have people that are indifferent or who don’t like it. You also have to remember when you exhibit that you are not forcing anybody to look at or buy your art, people who like it can enjoy it and people who don’t like it can just ignore it.

  15. Heather

    I recognise myself in so many of these points. I am a naturally creative person, and always have a few projects on the go. I rarely finish them. I constantly experiment, and pick up different styles, I can never settle on a particular style. I have never exhibited. I would love to sell my art but I am massively introverted, the thought of having to communicate verbally with people terrifies me! I find that side exhausting, I just want to be at home, doodling.
    Thanks so much for this blog. I have only just discovered your beautiful work.

    1. Thanks Heather for you honesty.
      I think experimenting and trying new styles is not necessarily a bad thing, it is part of the learning process and might make you a more accomplished artist in the future.

      I can emphasize with the introversion part of your comment and I believe it is quite common for Artists to be introverted. I also would rather doodle in pyjamas rather than attending an opening on any day!

      Putting your Art out there, especially if you made it with all your heart, is difficult and puts you in a vulnerable position. For sure you will have an audience that will connect with your Art, then you will have people that are indifferent or who don’t like it. You also have to remember when you exhibit that you are not forcing anybody to look at or buy your art, people who like it can enjoy it and people who don’t like it can just ignore it.

  16. Faye

    I can put my hand up for self sabotaging….several times on your list

  17. Faye

    I can put my hand up for self sabotaging….several times on your list

  18. jaci

    yes i have matched a few of these self sabatoging comments to myself… and i do them quite frequently… is there help out there ? or in here… 🙂

    1. Well, being aware of self sabotage is the first step, then I am not sure about the subsequent steps 🙂 Maybe finding the reason why?

  19. jaci

    yes i have matched a few of these self sabatoging comments to myself… and i do them quite frequently… is there help out there ? or in here… 🙂

    1. Well, being aware of self sabotage is the first step, then I am not sure about the subsequent steps 🙂 Maybe finding the reason why?

  20. Emma Taylor

    I am primarily a portrait painter and was commissioned to work on 2 pictures of double portraits. The idea being a ‘bulk’ purchase, my customer received the first picture happily but decided to not have the second picture after all. I lost out badly as a result. I will try not to under sell my work again.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Emma. I also had a bad feeling when discounting too much my work once and decided to not do it again. Anyways it is not fair to your regular customers to give too much of a discount.

  21. Emma Taylor

    I am primarily a portrait painter and was commissioned to work on 2 pictures of double portraits. The idea being a ‘bulk’ purchase, my customer received the first picture happily but decided to not have the second picture after all. I lost out badly as a result. I will try not to under sell my work again.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Emma. I also had a bad feeling when discounting too much my work once and decided to not do it again. Anyways it is not fair to your regular customers to give too much of a discount.

  22. KIm

    Interesting article. I see myself in some of these…

  23. Dearbhla Egan - McArdle

    I found this article really useful and could relate to many of the points you made. I am inclined not to be a very motivated person anyway (I suffer from episodes of depression) and can find a myriad of reasons not to work. I do find that it is difficult that I do not have a space in my home that is dedicated to painting. I do all my work at the kitchen table with the result that myself and my 8 year old daughter end up eating on two tiny corners of it. I can’t guarantee that some of the ‘red’ in my paintings isn’t tomato ketchup!! Still, if there’s a will, there’s a way. I have just recieved my first commission for three paintings of ‘imagined flowers’ based on some paintings I did from the tutorials that you so kindly provided. Don’t worry, they are nothing like your beautiful paintings. Anyway, at this rate we will be eating off the floor! Thank you Sandrine. I love your newsletters. Dearbhla, Ireland

    1. Thanks Dearbhla for your comment:0
      Yes I think a dedicated space in the house, even if it is just a small table might help, you will feel less like you are taking over the eating space.
      I am very happy for you and the commissions. this is great! Keep up painting 🙂

  24. Dearbhla Egan - McArdle

    I found this article really useful and could relate to many of the points you made. I am inclined not to be a very motivated person anyway (I suffer from episodes of depression) and can find a myriad of reasons not to work. I do find that it is difficult that I do not have a space in my home that is dedicated to painting. I do all my work at the kitchen table with the result that myself and my 8 year old daughter end up eating on two tiny corners of it. I can’t guarantee that some of the ‘red’ in my paintings isn’t tomato ketchup!! Still, if there’s a will, there’s a way. I have just recieved my first commission for three paintings of ‘imagined flowers’ based on some paintings I did from the tutorials that you so kindly provided. Don’t worry, they are nothing like your beautiful paintings. Anyway, at this rate we will be eating off the floor! Thank you Sandrine. I love your newsletters. Dearbhla, Ireland

    1. Thanks Dearbhla for your comment:0
      Yes I think a dedicated space in the house, even if it is just a small table might help, you will feel less like you are taking over the eating space.
      I am very happy for you and the commissions. this is great! Keep up painting 🙂

  25. Diane O

    I can relate to most of these self-sabotaging behaviors!!

    As for the comments people make… it truly amazes me the inconsiderate and just plain insulting remarks people will make regarding the artist’s work. That is why we artists need the thick skin to withstand those remarks and contemplate what they’ve said in an objective manner, yet still remain sensitive enough to be able to create our work. It’s a tough, tricky balancing act! The hope is to get something useful from the rude remarks by adjusting your perspective, which may help guide you into a more positive and productive path regarding the creation or selling of your art. As long as you don’t let it shut down your productivity, which I tend to do sometimes!

    Thank you. Helpful article 🙂

    1. Thanks Diane:)

      Yes I agree artists need to develop a thick skin as you are in a vulnerable position when you share what you made, especially if you made it honestly trying your best, and there will always be people to take that advantage to try to put you down.

      On the other hand I also think that as artists who are trying to sell original Art, we sometimes need to listen and take some of the remarks in consideration, even if they can seem mean, especially if they are recurring.

      It does not affect my productivity as I see every painting as an opportunity to improve and learn something, even if they don’t sell, or if they go to the recycling.

  26. Diane O

    I can relate to most of these self-sabotaging behaviors!!

    As for the comments people make… it truly amazes me the inconsiderate and just plain insulting remarks people will make regarding the artist’s work. That is why we artists need the thick skin to withstand those remarks and contemplate what they’ve said in an objective manner, yet still remain sensitive enough to be able to create our work. It’s a tough, tricky balancing act! The hope is to get something useful from the rude remarks by adjusting your perspective, which may help guide you into a more positive and productive path regarding the creation or selling of your art. As long as you don’t let it shut down your productivity, which I tend to do sometimes!

    Thank you. Helpful article 🙂

    1. Thanks Diane:)

      Yes I agree artists need to develop a thick skin as you are in a vulnerable position when you share what you made, especially if you made it honestly trying your best, and there will always be people to take that advantage to try to put you down.

      On the other hand I also think that as artists who are trying to sell original Art, we sometimes need to listen and take some of the remarks in consideration, even if they can seem mean, especially if they are recurring.

      It does not affect my productivity as I see every painting as an opportunity to improve and learn something, even if they don’t sell, or if they go to the recycling.

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