What We Have In Common with Michelangelo

240px-Rome_Sistine_Chapel_01I have a friend who is a scenic artist. She’s smart and incredibly talented, and has worked on films starring big names like Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Kevin Bacon. She can transform any surface into an artistic illusion; marble… rust… any patina imaginable. So you can imagine my surprise when she recently whispered to me that she’s afraid of being “found out” – that people will realize she has no talent. 

The more I talk to people, the more I realize that my friend isn’t unusual. Very few people in my creative circle have been blessed with real confidence in their talent. (Though a few acquaintances, I have to say, have egos that far surpass any ability they claim to posses… but that’s a post for another time.) The writers, artists, and musicians I know downplay their skills, question their worth and express their insecurity regularly, often as though they’re asking me to protect a dark secret they’re harboring – that they’re just not that good at what they do.

Michelangelo, when asked to paint the Sistine Chapel, wanted to avoid the commission altogether. One of his arguments was that he was a sculptor and that he had no experience whatsoever with frescoes. Forced into acceptance, the artist toiled on the famous ceiling for four years, writing to his assistant, “I am no artist – please come and help me.”  My God! Can you imagine what the chapel may have looked like if Michelangelo had never attempted to paint it? Imagine the cultural, artistic and historic loss.

Does insecurity help or hurt the creative process? Depending on the level of insecurity and the character of the individual, I think it can do either. Self-doubt can, of course, inspire us to grow as we perfect our craft or examine a flaw or skill that needs improvement. Self-doubt can also inspire introspection that provides subject matter for our art. But when allowed to grow, it can paralyze us, causing a lack of productivity. It can generate an envy of others that causes us to imitate instead of originate. Self-doubt can halt the creative process in its tracks.

The next time you are about to create something and you hear the voice of self-doubt, remember that you’re in very good company. In fact…  you’re in the company of some greats, too. Below, you’ll find a few quotes (and even a piece of advice) from other artists who have struggled with self doubt – and we all know what became of them!

“I still have pretty much the same fears I had as a kid. I’m not sure I’d want to give them up; a lot of these insecurities fuel the movies I make.”  – Steven Spielberg

“I always have a curious sort of feeling about some of my things – I hate to show them – I am perfectly inconsistent about it – I am afraid people won’t understand – and I hope they won’t – and am afraid they will.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

“I still believe that at any time the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” – Mike Meyers

“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.” – Michelle Pfeiffer

“Sometimes I wake up at night and go, ‘Oh, damn! Here we go again! What were they thinking? They gave me this role; don’t they know I’m faking it?” – Renee Zellweger

“Just dash something down if you see a blank canvas staring at you with a certain imbecility. You do not know how paralyzing it is, that staring of a blank canvas which says to the painter: you don’t know anything.”   – Vincent van Gogh

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