Monday, October 2, 2023

Dangerous Idolatry

I enjoy discovering new artists and being amazed by what they can do. The internet has been a magnificent blessing for the arts as more and more folks are practicing and sharing their work. In the old days, you'd find new artists by reading comics and browsing the bookshelves and magazines. Today you can find ten new ones a day and get bored before you run out.

Sean Aaberg amazes me.

The ones that impress me to the most often have copious amounts of work, including a seemingly endless series of sketchbooks in addition to their finished works. And I'm always blown away by that because that ain't me. I'm the artist over here with just a handful of sketchbooks, most of which are not full.

Erol Otus mesmerizes me.

Part of this is because I don't believe I'm obsessed with drawing. I love to draw, and I think about drawing nearly all the time. But I don't actually do it as much as I would like. Another part of the reason is that between 2009 and 2023, with maybe a year offset somewhere in the middle, I drew almost exclusively digitally. So I don't have physical drawings lying around from that period. I have thousands of PSD and TIF files*.

Raven Perez blows my mind.

But that's an aside, really. The point of this post is to talk about why envy is a potentially toxic shitty thing to do to yourself.

Brian Baugh makes me happy.

To be clear: it is good to look at the art of others, marvel at it, love it, and even express the very human "man, I wish I could do that!". This is not the problem, as long as you don't let it become one. That feeling turns dark when you look at their work and compare it to your work, looking for all the ways in which you are not as good as them.

Don't do this.

Evlyn Moreau enchants me.

It isn't helpful to anyone, most of all to yourself. You are not them. The strokes you make are yours. The drawings you draw are yours. You can never do what they do because you are not them.

Bud Root gives me funny feelings.

Also, they are not a representation of perfection. I don't care if their art is the most beautiful you've ever seen and it makes you cry and they have thousands of beautiful pieces and other thousands of pages of sketches. They are not you, you are not them. And you can only be you.

Joe Vaux kickstarts my imagination.

It sounds stupid to say it. Like a "duh" kind of moment. But you gotta realize how urgently true it is. You are an embodied individual tied inextricably to your own personal history and your own personal future, which has yet to be written. Focus on what you do. Look at their work, enjoy it, learn from, take from it what you feel will help you grow and feel more robust. But never do the math on who is better. That way leads only to dread and self-loathing.

Matthew Allison makes me want to get better.

*Honestly, to satisfy my lust for printed material, I am considering doing a "digital sketchbook series" where I collect tons of those drawings into a few print books. I think that could be super fun. 

Vaughn Bodé sings to my spirit.


  1. I'm guilty of this. I think more as time goes on which is weird because Id like to think I usually improve over time, rather than worsen, when it comes to bad habits. I think a lot of it for me comes down to the struggle I have to be creative and focus (whole other topics). I think it is especially that I see every other artist with their own style and I have never found one of my own, so I am stuck never living up to what my mind's eye sees in someone else's style? I hope one day to get past that. This is a crucial lesson - I am always overjoyed by the amazing hard work and skill of the artists I admire, never green with envy or begrudging them their "gifts", but I definitely lose sight of things sometimes and set bars I can never live up to.

    Also, you know Ill be in line to buy those books if they ever drop - I love physical media, I love your work, and I love supporting pals making great stuff.

    1. Yeah I feel ya. But you gotta lean into you and do what you do, which is amazing stuff! It is really hard to know what we want and what we can achieve in order to have healthy expectations. I don't want to say you should have zero expectations, because I feel like that might lead to other kinds of bad habits, such as not trying. But your expectations for yourself should align with your resources and abilities as much as possible. That's the hard part. We can't necessarily know or understand our own potential. We rely on others to demonstrate it to us by their reactions. But that is complicated by our resources and our mental states (do I feel like even trying today?). It's all so complicated and difficult. But if one thing is true, at least for me, it is this: When I just allow myself to dream and act on the dream, I feel so much better. Even if the outcome isn't anything like what I might have conceived.

  2. I recently saw a clip from an interview with Arthur Rubinstein (classical pianist, I believe) where he says that nothing in art can be the greatest, it is only different.