Let's talk about jealousy.

February 21, 2013

being jealous of brad leining's poetry prowess at Small Art

I have been jealous. 

In fact, when I was experiencing a Year of Unfortunate Depression, I was very jealous. People all around me were just doing things! (The nerve!) They were making action look simple. They were making art, collaborating, and writing smart things. Meanwhile, I was feeling very stuck

Even before that time, I experienced the jealousy. I applied for several grants that I didn’t get. And, when I did get grants, I was an anxious mess during my creative process because I was setting unrealistic expectations (‘I must reach the peak of amazingness before 30.' and other such helpful statements). Even though it was often subconscious, on some level I was thinking:

I'm jealous of them [fill in any number of names...]
....because they have supportive collaborators and artistic communities.
....because they got the grant.
....because they have a job that brings in a lot of money for them to make their art (or- a trust fund!).
....because their art is more accessible. or definable. 
....because it doesn’t seem like the process of making art causes them anxiety.
....because they know all the right people to make things happen. 
....because they have a great education (maybe even an MFA!) from a place where they met a lot of contacts and learned all of the Important Things.
....because they are really great at remembering dance phrases. (Ha.)

Wahhhhhhhhhhh. That’s a lot of negative crap to be holding onto, right? Here's the thing: most of this thinking actually had little or nothing to do with other people and their achievements, and everything to do my perception of reality. The encouraging thing is that my thinking has shifted, and it's made my life much more enjoyable and my creative work more satisfying. 

Here's what I learned:
1. Voice your demons to other creative humans.
When I was feeling really stuck, Ben insisted that I start asking creative people I admired out for coffee. This scared the shit out of me, so I started with Jen Scott (if you're scared of Jen Scott, you should pretty much just give up on human interaction, because she's the nicest). It was great, and it led me to interviewing a good handful of artists. These artist chats have been incredibly reassuring (we all share a lot of the same struggles!), and also informative. People have shared great resources with me! Which brings me to the second thing...

Jen recommended that I read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, which felt like it was written just for me. There's endless good stuff in this book, but a couple points that Pressfield makes are:
  • Stop over-identifying with your art. As in, you and your art aren't the same. If it sucks, it doesn't mean you suck. Stop taking it so personally (note: taking it personally is not the same as caring).
  • Do The Work. Show up and do the best creative work you can with what you've got, every single day, without expecting a pat on the back, the end.
  • Defining yourself in terms of a hierarchy (hello comparison!) is fatal. Really. Stop it. Just do YOUR THING. There is room for everyone.
Wrapping my head around the 'there is room for everyone' thing was huge. I realized that no one else was trying to steal my Laura Holway candy. In fact, they didn't even want my candy. Huh.

3. Become a Jealous Curator.
The Jealous Curator is Danielle Krysa, a graphic designer and visual artist. She was dealing with some serious jealousy, so she started a blog that showcases the artists she's jealous of. In the process, her jealousy turned to admiration; she's really inspired by what's she's jealous of.

This is what happened when I started helping other artists make their work. Through this blog, Small Art, and my creative consulting work, I've been surrounded by a whole heap of creative badasses that inspire me every day. Nothing has made me less jealous or more excited than cheering for other people who are making their art. It's been truly amazing. And, my own artistic challenges have made me a better cheerleader. Which brings me to...

4. Empathy, baby.
The magic of going through what a buddy of mine refers to as Dark Times is that it opens up your heart to other people and their struggles. Being an artist is so damn vulnerable-- even if you practice Steven Pressfield's principles religiously. I've had so many people confide their insecurities to me this year. And, each time, it shocks me a little. Wha? But you seem so sure! Hopefully our own challenges make us kinder to one another, and in turn easier on ourselves.

6. Ask for what you want. 
I interviewed actress Candy Simmons, and she reminded me to ask for what I want. It seems simple, but it's amazing what happens when you ask-- or when you decide to start taking action. Are you feeling lonely and in need of collaboration? Ask. Want to write about dance? Ask Ira Brooker at Minnesota Playlist. Want to figure out how to show more of your dance? Ask Laurie Van Wieren. Do you want to see more of a certain kind of performance? Make it. Do you need a job that offers you more flexibility for making your art? Find it. 

I look at the above list of jealousies, and I have to laugh a little. I actually don't know anyone who has been handed a ticket to artistic security and brilliance. Do you? The people I know who make good work do it by showing up and making small brave steps that get bigger when put together. They do it by creating what they want to see more of in the world, and probably agonizing a little in the process. And, there's room for all of us to do this. 

So...are you immune to artistic jealousy? 

[Come see some people I admire enormously at Small Art-- held in my living room March 2.]


  1. Thanks for sharing this. All true, all good.
    If you see me championing someone or their work there's a solid chance I've felt that jealousy towards them.

  2. I kinda feel like you wrote this just for me. I go through waves! Constantly! It definitely helps me to talk to other artists...we are not alone and that's huge. This was a great post, so thanks for sharing!

  3. This is great to read, Laura. Comparisons are so insidious, particularly since it's a habit of mind that is reinforced constantly by the outside world--as if creation is some sort of zero sum game, where there's only a finite amount of awesome stuff to be made! That's why I especially love your advice to just keep doing your thing.

  4. Glenda- you so clearly hit it on the head when you suggest the absurdity of there being 'a finite amount of awesome stuff to be made.'
    Casey- I think that when we vocalize our thoughts to other artists, we can catch our faulty thinking. I say that we should collaborate with the people we admire-- I always learn a lot in the process.
    And, as you know Levi, championing someone else's work has this strange way of twisting jealousy into something healthy.

    I love hearing your thoughts-- thanks for sharing!

  5. thank you for saying THERE IS ROOM FOR EVERYONE! we need that message to spread in our little twin cities art community. i sometimes feel like it is not the general sentiment (are people afraid of seeing new things?). and thank you for saying all the other things. because you are RIGHT and SMART.

  6. This is great - Jealous Curating is very much a game-changer. I've been trying to adopt it more lately and it changes the way you think about your own stuff. I also love the concept of asking for what you want. It's stupid how long it's taken me to learn that.

    1. Yes- it seems so obvious to ask for what you want. But, BAM! It's good stuff.

  7. Hi! I just came across your blog today and I love the positivity here! I'm not an "artist" artist but I am a general creative type and aspiring curator and there are so many gems here - will be following for sure! xoxo chelsea at http://nowismagic.blogspot.com

    1. Thanks for commenting, Chelsea! Now IS magic (I love that). And, 'artist' includes all creative people. I'm glad you could find some good stuff!

  8. thanks so much for including my site in this post laura! i think you and i have been in the exact same place... and it sounds like we're both finally finding our way out... phew! xo

    1. Thanks, Danielle! And thank you for starting your site. The idea of using jealously in a positive way has been such an inspiration. And yes-- I see the other side!



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