You Are Not Your Art

One of my coaching mentors used to say that she couldn't separate business coaching from personal coaching. “It's all personal,” she would say.

Julie Anderson talks with a viewer about her work.
Julie Anderson talks with an arts patron at exhibition opening.

If you read enough business motivation, you will come across attempts to help coach you through rejection and criticism with some form of the following.

“You are not your business.”
“You are not what you do.”
You are not your work.”

This sounds like it would be helpful to remember, but is it possible? Artists tell me all of the time how hard it is to market their work because it's so personal.

Deep Thought

Is it possible to separate yourself emotionally from your art? If so, does something have to happen to get to this point?
Which of the following is truer?

  • You are not your work.
  • Your work is not you.



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15 thoughts on “You Are Not Your Art”

  1. (What happens if I give the wrong answer to the security question?)
    In order for me to complete a work it has to be part of me. I don’t have to emotionally distance myself from it to let it go. When a child leaves home to continue her life, her parents do not have to emtionally separate themselves from her. They just have to accept that they will have to love her even when she lives far away. If we can do this with our human children we should be able to manage with our art works even if there is a pang of separation. The art that leaves me is giving joy to someone. This is something that makes me proud.

  2. I believe that my work always reflects a part of me, that said , I believe that a piece if art work does not represent the fullness of who I am , body and soul. It I is a window into who I am at a moment in time. A body of work can give greater insight

  3. There’s absolutely no separating “me” from my art. I take such great joy in creating and paint rather frequently. I’ve always figured my talent is a gift. So when I sell a piece, I know it’s going to someone who can value and appreciate that gift….filling me with happy (and making more room for new pieces). And the circle goes around. Quite satisfying.

    1. I so agree with you Diane! When I create it is because “it just wants out”. I work with joy and anticipation,can not wait to see if in reality the piece will be as good as what I imagined.And yes, I also think that I have been given a gift to share. My Art is part of me.Sending pieces out into the world is exactly what is supposed to happen.If a piece is around longer than I thought it should be, it just has not found the right owner yet.Rejection for a venue simply means that my work is not the right fit for that particular place.

  4. Some of my work is too personal to sell. It’s so personal, that if someone wanted to buy it, I’d find that kind of weird. But it’s not all like that, some of it is more sale-able.
    My more personal work, I’m happy to show in not for profit or alternative spaces, where there’s less emphasis on sales anyway.

  5. One of the great joys of life is having someone respond so deeply to my Art that they pay me money to have it hanging in their own environment. My Art currently draws upon my garden for inspiration so, creating & selling my Art, hosting garden tours & studio tours, writing about my garden and my Art are, for me, all about sharing my creative vision. The intention of sharing is an integral part of my creative process.

  6. For me…
    I am my Art and I am my business.
    From a corporate perspective one can make statements that separate us from our business.
    The hallmark of an entrepreneur is their passion and connection. That connection is key
    to creativity.
    From the prior comments they seems to be a consensus in this direction. What is difficult for
    Artists in their journey is confidence in themselves and so a difficult balance is remaining sensitive
    And having a hard enough shell yet remaining open to outside opinions and critiques.

  7. Neither is true.
    My art is me. It will survive me and go on longer than I ever will. This past year, when faced with Stage 3 Breast cancer, unable to paint, let alone hold a pencil or get out of bed, the only part of me that screamed to stay alive was the artist (and okay – a little bit of the mommy and wife). Robbed of the ability to express myself meaningfully was the most painful aspect of living this nightmare. I know for certain, my art is me.
    How do I separate the business aspect? Oh, that’s so very, very easy. Good gallery representation.
    My job is to express, to make, to create, to send a little piece of me fearlessly out into the world so that others may see some of themselves and our world and perhaps with any luck, learn to become more human.

  8. A person who cannot let go of their artwork is not a professional. This is not a criticism. It does not make them a “bad” person – just an amateur. And I use the word amateur based on its true origins : “lover of the arts”.
    But lover of the arts does not necessarily mean one who has the wherewithal to be a working professional. Rather those painters who cannot let go are like parents who cannot let go of their children. Are they afraid that the children (artworks) will not survive on their own? Are they afraid of being embarrassed by them?
    Also, the environment must be considered : we live in a self-esteem rather than a self-respect era. This has caused us to be afraid viewers will judge “us” based on what they see in our artwork rather than judge the quality of an artwork’s statement – thus the symbiotic connections we seem to have with our artwork.
    The concept of not letting go of artwork is a by-product of the 19th century when artwork creation both entered the realm of gallery representation and in equal measure became the “pastime of ladies” left at home while the emerging middle and upper middle class “real work” was being done by the men who went off to their “professional places”. England is a good example of the extent of this adopted concept as to be taught to paint was considered to be “what well-heeled young ladies did”. . . at home. . .
    Prior to this new evolving era, where the visual arts enjoyed a more “democratic” and mundane existence, painting and sculpting were considered craft-based commission professions where “some “ shone as artistic greats and others earned their living assisting in the studios or ateliers of those greater than they. BUT, even these lesser recognized creators were respected professionals who did not treat their work as extensions of themselves. Creating artworks is what they “did” – not something they “were”. The results of their creativity and effort reflected their competence as painters and sculptors – not their “being”.
    All this being said, a professional is one who is not afraid to allow their “offspring” – once completed – to have their rightful say. Once it has been “raised” to a level of independence an artwork must speak on its own To exist as potential “art”, artwork must be given a chance to be something in and of itself. Otherwise, as a dependent extension of “us” it does not have nor will it ever have value.
    And so. . . which of the following is truer?
    You are not your work.
    Your work is not you.
    Both of these statements are more than correct – in the context of professionalism.

  9. As a working artist I feel separate from my work. Years of painting and some illustration experience, have helped me to develop a critical eye towards my work, where I constantly look at what I’m doing in terms of whether it works or not. In my professional life I feel super ate from my work.
    But. As a person? Well no. Outside of the professional context the lines are blurred more. As with every other artist my work is personal, so if someone I meet doesn’t like my work it is unlikely we would ever become good friends. My work comes from the depths of my imagination so if someone doesn’t like it they are effectively saying they don’t like a part of me.

  10. My art is a reflection of part of me……….a part that finds expression through visual form. I am therefore making that rarely exposed part of me vulnerable to criticism and rejection by sending out a piece of art into the public sphere. I have found that it takes a lot of positive feedback for that part to feel validated and confident , and even then it doesn’t take much for those feelings to get knocked back! When one is marketing a product, i would suggest that one needs to feel very positive and confident about the worth and quality of that product. If one’s confidence is at a low ebb, then it is hard to focus on the business aspects as wholeheartedly as one needs to.

  11. In January all three of the pieces I submitted to a show were rejected. In February two of the three (different) pieces were accepted.
    After seeing both shows it was clear that the rejection was not of me personally, nor was the acceptance. The work did not contribute to the cohesion of the first show and the work fit in beautifully with the “look” of the second, and one sold in the first week. The jurors of each show did not know me; they simply looked at the work and made their choice based on something that was out of my control.
    My work is certainly a reflection of me but it isn’t ME, and the observer/buyer isn’t paying any attention to who I am. They are looking at my product. If I like a piece too much to let it go, I keep it. Do the work and let it go.

  12. I would have to say that not all of my work is 100% me. Much of my commission work is a collaboration with my clients and often becomes a product of both their taste and input as well as my own talents and ideas. Now the personal artwork I do for myself is 100 % me and if every person on the planet were to love it then I would not be pushing the envelope at all and there would be no reason to continue. I think when it comes to developing thick skin artists really need to stop and realize that they will never be able to be all things to all viewers and if they could the end result would not be so great. The key is finding your audience, one that really gets you. It can be a hard journey.

  13. I don’t know how a person can create something and not have it be a part of themselves, or at least have it say something about them. Making art and letting it out into the world is probably one of the most vulnerable things a person can do, it exposes us. It can’t help but hurt at least a little when someone rejects your art, I don’t see how it can’t be personal at some level, that is your creation, but as Rebecca says above, that person just isn’t your audience, just move on and find the person that is, there are always plenty out there.

  14. While my work is part of me, it is only a part. My work isn’t all of me. (the mathematician in me says my artwork is a subset of me)
    I am so many things other than my art. I revel in my geekness, my academic side, my love of typography, my knitter and sewer, my gamer, and my ever hopeful green side that thinks I can keep a plant alive. (I can’t, I really really can’t.)
    Of course these things might influence how or why I create images.
    I’m one of those artists who finds it strange that other artists are so emotionally invested in their art. Yes I love it and am proud of it and revel in the process, but I also have an awareness of the personal nature of images. Rejection is only personal on the side of the rejector. It isn’t to their taste or needs. That doesn’t diminish my connection to the work, or mean I won’t find somewhere or someone else who will want it.

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