Deep Thought Thursday: Doubt

If you haven’t read de Kooning: An American Master, you simply must! This Pulitzer Prize winning book was terrific. It told the personal and professional struggles of one of the 20th Century’s most important artists.

One of the most revealing quotes about de Kooning's relationship to his art was from someone close to de Kooning. She said:

He was always in doubt.

Do you doubt your work?

Is it better to be sure or to doubt?

Is it possible to be sure?

Carla Sanders nude drawing
©Carla Sanders

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30 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Doubt”

  1. Alyson, thank you for using my drawing today. I used to have a lot of doubt about my work, my ability, the value of what my work had to say. My experience of doubt is different now. I doubt my place in galleries and the formal art world. Doubt has it’s day with starting new work, till I find the zone. Doubt is dispelled by feedback I get from other people that my work touches them. Good question, uncovering doubt.

  2. Doubt is a huge issue for me as it relates to my work. Reading the de Kooning book was interesting because I could relate to those feelings. I don’t hang any of my own work in my house because it drives me just short of crazy to look at it; all I see is the need for correction/change/rearrangement. I recently received my MFA in painting and I have more issues relating to my work now than I did before I went back to school! I think it is a big reason I procrastinate (aka ‘blocked” lol).

  3. I don’t think I could ever be “sure” about my work as it pertains to how it will be perceived by the public but I am always sure that my work is created with my own personal stamp of approval. I am sure that my work is executed to the exacting specifications that I require for it to be pleasing to myself…….and hopefully my wife likes it too! =-)

  4. If I’m not doubting my work, then I’m not questioning it. If I’m not questioning it, then I’m not challenging myself and growing as an artist.

    I always have doubts about my work, and I feel that it’s a very necessary and vital part of the process of growing and succeeding as an artist.

  5. I agree with Mr. Bean.
    Doubt is part of the process. Doubt is our constant companion and should be embraced. It it how we push forward, explore and learn.

  6. The dance with doubt. It really is a balancing act.

    Because much of my work is commissioned, I am always thinking about what the customer/wearer wants. And do we ever really know that? So much is subjective that it is hard sometimes to ‘know’ rather than ‘think’.

    In an artistic business, there is much to doubt. Particularly, when moving between the art community and the business community. Networking is where I find doubt the most problematic. But if there isn’t any doubt in your mind then you are probably not taking enough risk to grow and learn.

    As long as it doesn’t turn into fear then I think doubt is productive.

  7. Oh, doubt, what a friend and foe you are!
    Recently I’ve shifted from primarily being a pastel-only artist to a mixed-media one, and was that a doubt filled moment! I was dubious about going through such a shift, although I knew that my art needed to progress. I doubted my skills and my ability to sell the new artwork. Doubt crept into how I held the brush, how much force I applied to the paint, everything. And yet I was able to step back for 5 seconds and say “What the heck – go for it!”
    I think that the artistic journey is filled with doubt, yet I started this journey with a leap off a cliff, and I remind myself of that whenever I find myself digging into the “doubt” hole: if I was able to make that jump once, I can do it again. And again…
    As to being sure, as long as I’m sure about a piece of art that I have completed, I’m okay with that. If I know that I have worked through a technique, or the image portrays what I intended (and perhaps even more), then that is what matters. As a relative would say, “I only gave birth to it.” What happens after, well, that is mostly out of my hands.
    Thanks for asking this question – and since I have some vacation time coming up, I’ll fill the beach time with de Kooning!

  8. Excited for de Kooning. I loved reading Christo, which was your recommendation too Alyson.

    If I was giving advice to myself 5 years ago when I was starting my jewelry business, it would have been to not let doubt slow me down so much. Make the piece or take the risk despite the fact that you doubt anyone will like it, doubt it will sell, etc.To move forward despite my doubt. You will likely be pleasantly surprised at your success.

  9. I’m in complete agreement with Zachary. I love my art but when it comes to selling it that’s where doubts creep in, along with a bit of anxiety and nervousness. I’m sure that’s normal tho…right?!!

  10. Coming from the perspective of a mid-life art student – I have more doubts than I care to list! I know it when I make something awful – but am never sure if something is good until after the test of time. I depend a great deal on peer and mentor critiques to help me with this.

    I think most artists fall into one of two categories: too much confidence or too much doubt… Blah, but I hate stereotypes!

  11. Laurence Olivier, arguably the finest Shakespearean actor of the 20th Century, had stage-fright, a form of doubt, all his life.

    I think doubt helps keep me striving to get comfortable with my craft. In turn it drives me to do better work. It never allows me to be complacent or completely satisfied. Unfortunately, it also causes a bit too much in white canvas fright for my liking.

  12. Anita L.Rodriguez

    I agree that doubt can be helpful in striving to do better paintings. It prompts questions and thoughts that I write down and perhaps wrestle with but anyway they’re out there, less bothersome, less “scary”. Sometimes my answers to those questions provide good ideas for written work. Of course, there’s the down side too – we can all name something that gives or has given us pause – and I suspect it never really goes away. People just get good at hiding/dealing with it.

  13. I think every artist struggles with doubt, or so it seems, over each individual work. I know when I had my first solo show I wondered if anyone would like my work and to my surprise I sold more than I ever expected. And I’ve had gallery owners and fellow artists affirm my work, which is encouraging. But with each painting the doubts are there- Is it finished?…Is it what I expected?…Is it good enough to sell? But for me those feelings push me on to do better and try to be more creative.

  14. Thank you for such a timely discussion as I have been suffering from a lot of doubts of late such as; What people will think of my work? Will they understand it? Will fractal art ever be accepted into the mainstream art world? Should I even be trying to establish this art genre in the public arena? Like others have said here I too have days where I doubt my abilities as an artist but I think doubts really do help us grow artistically. It is nice to know I am not alone in this respect. I shall certainly try and find de Kooning’s book.

  15. Picasso said “Art is a leap into the dark.” It seems to me that that requires a great deal of trust and a suspension of doubt. I much prefer to joyously create and to let everything else fall into place as it sees fit. If, however, you are working primarily for others’ approval or to attain some imagined place in history, then doubt and uncertainty more or less comes with the territory.

  16. Artists have a way of looking for answers that will serve them through books, speakers and , and , and. That seems to be in the nature of what we do; composing from the inside out. It’s a solo flight and I applaud everyone out there in the arts that have the tenacity to overcome doubt when it looms and the endurance to out run it’s haunts.

  17. I too love what Robert said.

    There have been times however where doubt has been paralyzing. The growth comes when I push through that to get to other side.

    Since I feel the art is so personal, it’s would probably be impossible to not feel a little doubt and fear every time we put something out there. At least that’s my experience.

    Great topic!

  18. I love “the dance with doubt” – great image. And I agree with so many who feel that doubt is an important and often beneficial force for an artist. I would use another word rather than suspending doubt – am not sure how to do that. I just need to push through it – and because there are different kinds of doubts sometimes that requires something gentle, and sometimes something stronger.

  19. I share an open studio with a very talented realist painter. I am not at all a realist with my bright colors and folk art type subjects. The visitors to the studio love and understand his work, they telll me my work is colorful. Recently a friend asked me to do some artwork for a project. I was terrified until she said, You are talented and I trust you to do what you think is right.” And she agreed she knew my work 🙂 That was the most liberating comment. Somebody else’s approval. I think it has a lot to do with our personal histories.
    Great topic for artist discussion.

  20. Thank you for the book recommendation. Carla your work is lovely!

    Doubt has been a companion of mine for many years. However, the more mature I become as a person and as an artist the less it has a voice in my life. It has a small place in the background of things as opposed to being up front.

    Perhaps it is fine to have doubt but it is the what we do with it that matters.

  21. There is no reward without some degree of risk. Risk and doubt are good friends, but friends where one (doubt) can sabotage the other (risks, both big and small). I say F$%& it!. I say never doubt yourself and always go with your instincts (yeah, yeah…I know this may sound very cliche, but oh well! lol).

  22. The de Kooning books is the best book I have ever read, and that includes Proust and many other greats…

  23. All: I loved reading your comments. I hope this shows that you’re not alone.

    Marie: Wow! That’s saying a LOT. But I agree that “de Kooning” is way up there on my list of favorites.

  24. This discussion really resonated with me. When I am in The Zone, or passionately committed to the subject/content of the series I am working on there is no time for doubt. BUT, when a series is over and I know I need to keep working to keep momentum going somewhat, doubt can drive me crazy. I have this constant internal dialogue going on- until I remember to take a deep breath and say to that doubtful voice, “Thank you for sharing, no go sit down.” Right now, that voice is pretty loud and persistent but I try to remember that doubt is part of the struggle, part of the process, accept it and keep going. Great to read everybody else’s comments.

  25. I have been dealing with the doubt issue for quite a long time. Only now within the last six months have I become stronger and more confident at dealing with it. Still, there are days when it really gets me down. It’s very encouraging to me to know that all artist’s deal with it on some level. And I am taking to heart the truth that so many have pointed out here. Without doubt, there is no challenge, no motivation to grow. That is an creative truth to live by! Great by!

  26. I have been dealing with the doubt issue for quite a long time. Only now within the last six months have I become stronger and more confident at dealing with it. Still, there are days when it really gets me down. It’s very encouraging to me to know that all artist’s deal with it on some level. And I am taking to heart the truth that so many have pointed out here. Without doubt, there is no challenge, no motivation to grow. That is a creative truth to live by! Great topic!

  27. connie solberg

    I think that the subject is well covered by Elisabeth Gilbert in her TED talk ( We can be paralyzed by our fear, or we can “do our dance anyway”. Time and experience will eventually give us the indicators we seek. But we have to have conviction that without doing what we do, we will be incomplete. The “saleable” part is what can kill our momentum…. but who ever knows that answer?

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