What To Do When You’re an Artist and You Feel Like Sh*t

Frank Rodick
8 min readSep 25, 2018

Way back in 2013, I googled “self-esteem” and here’s what I got from a site called Psych Central:

Have you wondered about what self-esteem is and how to get more of it? Do you think your self-esteem is low? Do you know how to tell? Do you know what to do about it?

Self Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder / Egon Schiel, c.1912

We’ve been gnawing on this bone for a long time. Writers have churned out mountains of books and articles on self-esteem. It’s made careers and filled thousands of therapy hours. Television heads and bloggers have droned on about it. Torrents of anxieties and adorations, they all whirlpool around the holy grail of liking ourselves more.

But for all the wringing of hands, the burning of cash, the talking and the toil… the search has come a cropper. People aren’t wiser or happier for it. Except for maybe the advice peddlers. They’re richer anyway.

But what about artists? Now there’s a career where getting your self-esteem pummelled is pretty well the norm. When artists aren’t being ignored completely, they get steady parades of rejection notices. Aside from those, the attention you do get — unless you’re a commercial success (not many of those) — often takes the form of rancorous questions and insinuations about the utility, if not very point, of what you’re doing. And speaking of money, unless you chose your parents wisely or you’re a star (a small club, like I said), there’s the matter of never having enough of it.

With all that to navigate — with all that to look forward to — wouldn’t at least an itty-bitty injection of self-esteem be helpful for the proverbial struggling artist? Instead of long days and nights of self- and other-inflicted beatings, mightn’t a shot of I’m-okay-and-sometimes-even-a-little-bit-better-than-that be just the thing to spur artists on? Wouldn’t liking ourselves a little more help us push out a few more lines, verses, pictures, or notes?

In the second volume of his My Struggle memoir/novels, the writer Karl Ove Knausgård begs to differ:

If I have learned one thing over these years which seems to me immensely important, particularly in an era such as ours, overflowing with such mediocrity, it is the following:

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Frank Rodick

Photo-based artist whose work is exhibited and collected internationally. He writes about art and creativity, fog and mirrors. See frankrodick.com.