Survival of the Art-est

It’s safe to say that art school has been the butt of jokes for years. We are all familiar with the cliché of combat boots and colored hair, and while pretty much right on the money, this narrative overlooks the rigors artists confront to conceive meaningful work. Even deeper, many of us creatives face the intimidation of our environment. In a microcosm of artistically-exceptional students, creatives must find our voices and be able to use them well.

As a transfer student to Emerson College, I am both amazed and insecure in classes. I watch students snap photos like National Geographic photographers while my photography experience is limited to grainy Snapchat stills. They reference Tarantino, I reference Totino’s Pizza Rolls. The comparisons we draw pile up until we feel unworthy of even the “starving artist” life. And for highly-skilled students, the pressure to create valuable work consistently can be overwhelming. How do we become less moody and more secure with our art?

1. Turn Intimidation into Inspiration

In order to grow stronger as an artist, you must be able to suspend the insecurities that this environment breeds and instead use your talented environment as inspiration.

Cris Ganges ‘20, a Visual Media Arts major, describes the creative environment saying it “drives me more, makes me want to work harder. It’s sink or swim—you can either get inspired by the talent surrounding you or crumble.”

He also uses role model David Fincher as an inspiration. After watching the movie Fight Club he became fascinated by Fincher. He says, with “[Fincher’s] style of directing it inspires me a lot to learn my craft and do film originally.” Ganges began pursuing visual media in high school and uses Fincher’s success “as fuel to master film.”

You cannot overlook the hard work that talented individuals have faced to achieve their level of knowledge and skill. These artists spend countless hours honing their skills and getting them to a professional level.

So don’t let other artists’ current levels scare you. Instead take comfort in knowing they were in your shoes at some point and you can reach their level with time and devotion.

2. Differentiate

Another way to combat the anxiety of the creative field is to identify what differentiates you as an artist. Being exposed to so many creative individuals allows you to understand the artistic landscape. Even more, this environment  lends itself to understanding your style and interests in relation to those of your peers. From there, you can identify a sense of voice within your work.

Jenna Jordan, an artist at Chapman University, describes her perspective as “natural beauty.” She explains, “Everything I do is an art form. What I enjoy most is appreciating things for what they are naturally.” Jordan encourages artists to embrace art as a lifestyle rather than an activity—from Instagram posts to personal style. She further urges creatives to “look for what makes you different rather than what is popular among artists currently.” In doing so, she says that she finds her voice and can use it in comprehensive ways.

Embracing your authentic self is key to differentiating your work. It is important to understand the creative landscape in order to focus on what type of work you do and where it can be best articulated. Don’t let other impressive work cause you to doubt your own style, but rather use it as validation that you have something unique to offer.

3. Collaborate

Finally, collaboration can be crucial in building confidence and knowledge in this competitive landscape. Ganges describes his experience working with a director on a short film, saying, “There were a lot of things that I disagreed with him on, but I gained experience. Starting out you need to collaborate with people to gain experience and learn how to work with others.”

In the modern context creatives must work together. The narrative of artists as disconnected from their world simply does not reflect our time. In order to reach your audience, you need resources and input. Even more, collaboration allows you to see from a different perspective and network with other artists emerging at the same time. Having a relationship with creatives now can be lucrative in the future, or it can help foster a new friendship with someone who relates to your position.

So, instead of being fearful of judgement, be open and active in creating collaborative pieces. This will build confidence and give you important feedback from peers, and you might just meet the next big success. Or even better, become it.

With role models to inspire you, a strong understanding of your voice, and collaborative experience to guide you, you can only gain confidence. Now go grow as a creative; only the strong survive.

Illustrations by Madi McCullough