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Use Great Art for Inspiration Not Comparison

Don't Give Up
Image courtesy of Jonny Hughes

One of the most disappointing things I see is when an artist posts a link on Facebook or Twitter to someone else’s beautiful artwork, and comments “I’ll never be this good, might as well give up now”, or something to that effect.

It’s easy to compare our work to that of other artists, but it’s also a fruitless and demotivating exercise.

Your Taste Is Why Your Work Disappoints You

There’s a famous quote by Ira Glass, in which he says:

“… For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”

(for the full quote, and to watch the interview with Glass, click here)

As an artist, you have a taste for a certain kind of art, and you know that you want your art to be like that, but there will inevitably be a period where your own art just fails to live up to your artistic taste.

You keep looking at art you like, and you keep producing art which doesn’t live up to it, so it’s understandable that you might feel disappointed in your own work.

Change Your Mindset

Personally I love browsing the work of other artists, especially ones who are ‘better’ than I am. I find it very motivational to look at a masterful painting and think that if I continue to work hard and practice, I can produce work as good as that one day.

Rather than comparing our work to that of others and thinking they are better than us, we need to change our mindset so that we can find inspiration in great art, and use it as something that we can work towards.

Collect Inspiring Art on Pinterest

I’ve always been in the habit of using this strategy whenever I feel uninspired to paint. If I flick through an art collection of an artist I like, or browse some artists’ sites on the web, it won’t take long until I find something that inspires me to paint again.

Recently, I’ve started using Pinterest to collect a whole bunch of inspirational art all in one place.

Using Pinterest, whenever you stumble across a piece of art you find inspiring on the web, you can ‘pin it’ to your board on Pinterest, and it will be added to your page for a quick hit of inspiration whenever you need it. Here’s my Art I Love board, so you can see how it works.

Art I Love on Pinterest

My 'Art I Love' board on Pinterest. Scroll down for instant inspiration!

You can also follow other people’s boards, and re-pin any of their pins to your board if you like them.

Just be sure to always pin images from their original source, and to credit the creator of the image in your description.

Compare Your New Artwork to Your Old Artwork

If you really need something to compare your artwork to, a more healthy approach is to look at the art you were producing five years ago, and see how much progress you have made.

Here’s an example of my figure drawings when I was just starting out (left), and just a couple of years later (right), I was getting much closer to a style that suits my taste.

Life Drawing Comparison

Comparing old artwork to new for inspiration

As long as you have been practicing regularly, you should find that your current work is much more to your taste than your old work.

Let your own improvement be an inspiration to you, rather than constantly comparing yourself to others.

If you still find yourself demotivated because you think your work sucks compared to some other artist’s, you could try Becka’s suggestions for how to escape the comparison trap.

Do you get inspired or depressed when you look at great works of art? How do you avoid comparing your work to others’? Tell us about it in the comments below.

5 Comments on Use Great Art for Inspiration Not Comparison

  1. Lisa Wilder says:

    Love this, Dan. And it’s every bit as applicable to anyone as to artists. Comparison can very quickly kill your creativity, inspiration, and motivation. It can be downright soul-crushing. But as you’ve pointed out…one simple shift in mindset can completely transform it.

    • Dan Johnson says:

      Thanks, Lisa. It definitely seems to be something a lot of people struggle with. I think it’s a kind of perfectionism, where people are demotivated if something doesn’t turn out exactly the way they would have liked.

  2. Alison Grootveld says:

    Unbelievable, it’s as though your post was written for me. In the last two weeks, I have been looking at art, completely motivated and at the same time totally depressed that mine will never be as good. It feels quite wonderful to hear that I am not alone is this. Your post is helping me feel more relaxed about the art process. I look forward to reading more on your blog. Thank you Dan!

  3. Emma says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this although I am guilty of comparisons myself, from time to time. I agree that the journey of creating art, and growing and improving is what matters. I can see from my old life drawings, and more recent ones, that I have improved, and that’s with minimal practice and tuition. So that gives me hope. Thanks Dan!

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