Competence and comfort are the results of the repetition of an activity over a significant period of time.
In an age of endless self-promotion, this podcast has always championed the work involved in quiet competence. Being competent at something is what people will pay money for, so it is worth considering as an ambition.
Part 2 of our podcast conversation with the crew at Bolton Uni focussed on the feelings of self-confidence we feel as artists who intend to make a living by what they create.
It is often a lengthy process to create something from scratch, with lonely periods thinking, drawing, sculpting, moulding and painting objects which at one time didn’t exist and now does because of what you made. That all requires your brain, emotions and hands to be working as a team, and lengthy manufacturing processes that may be entirely driven by you alone can allow negative thoughts and feelings to creep in and undermine your own efforts.
That is what we examine in this episode.
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Unusually for us, we made a video version of our intro talk which ended up being as long as the original recording and so we put this up for your amusement if want to see us recording. The Bolton portion is just audio, however.
You don’t want to be complacent with your work, but neither should one be crippled by doubt; that can be self-destructive. As your ability increases through practice, your expectations grow, so you are likely always to feel less capable than you are.
That’s actually a good thing.
As artists, we should never think that our work is perfect or that we are as talented as we will ever need to be. That’s what keeps us going, continually improving, developing, expanding. It’s what keeps us feeling alive and vital. As we’ve said before many times, that doesn’t mean that we can’t think that our work is pretty good, only that we know it can always be better.
But how do we keep ourselves on the right track? First, work always as if you are working for someone else. For example, try writing a brief, and give yourself a deadline and parameters within which to work to help you maintain focus, and exclude everything from your brief that you don’t need to worry about. Also creating a pipeline for your work to follow will provide an external path of approval for your work – someone else will be telling you when your work is good enough and when to stop. Finally, when indulging in personal work, you have to impose your own limitations to remain focused.
Something can always grow, get bigger and more sophisticated, so endless anxiety about when to stop is something you need to expect and manage either through a self-imposed limitation or an external one that you cannot control. For example, have a friend or colleague act as an independent timekeeper or quality controller who can give honest feedback.
Know going in that you are going to make mistakes. We all make them at every level. Managing errors, learning from them, and not making the same mistakes (and making minor, less-costly, different) is one way of gauging your improvement and growth. School is where you should feel free from the burden of trying to be perfect.
For one thing, it’s not possible, and making mistakes is the only way to grow. Unfortunately, many tutors have forgotten how learning takes place. Learning a new skill takes numerous successful (and unsuccessful) attempts before it is locked in long-term (forever) memory.
Making mistakes in training is better than on a job as a less than qualified practitioner. Going through mistakes and resolving them is what gives you value. If you accomplish something easily, many others would likely do likewise. To find an error and overcome it has value. Working so that you never make mistakes slows your growth and will invariably lead to a mistake from which you may be unable to recover.
Working in a group can offer efficiencies with catching each others’ mistakes and helping to fix them, sharing the lessons as a group. However, artists often like working alone and may experience the same issues separated and not benefit from collective lessons learned. Working in special makeup or visual effects is not a solitary endeavour, so we strongly suggest you become comfortable working in a more social environment.
A reluctance to reveal your errors is often a handicap to demonstrating how you make mistakes. Break that habit now!
Contacting a professional out of the blue and asking for work is not likely to yield a positive result – in fact, we can tell you with a high degree of certainty it will not; however, asking for advice about ways to improve your work (insert images of your work here) and then following through with those suggestions is a very good way to get onto and stay on someone’s radar, so that when they are hiring, your name is likely to be on that list.
The practice of building confidence.
We have seen plenty of examples of talented people feeling overwhelmed by the idea of social media influencers, with many thousands of followers overshadowing their efforts. So what is the point, or how can I compete with that? After all, you will see literally the best in the world on social media, a comparison which is hardly fair upon which to make judgements.
Firstly, you have no idea how many attempts were made in order to create that post, whatever it is. DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF BY SOMEONE ELSE’S SUCCESS (OR FAILURE)! The number of followers or ‘likes’ that someone has is a hollow endorsement of quality.
Whilst it may feel like they have such a head start, attention and likes are not paying customers. The internet connects us like never before, a billion communities – tribes – of unique niches. You may have a specialised interest that appeals to a small audience, but if it is the right audience, then it may be the only audience you need. Battles With Bits of Rubber will never approach Joe Rogan’s podcast numbers, and that’s okay. Though, Todd does cry himself to sleep some nights over the number of followers Stuart has on Instagram.
A great many working professionals have a very meagre following on social media precisely because their work is mostly protected and discrete because of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), and they are not looking for mass appeal from as many people as possible. If you only need a few decent shows a year to keep your business going and make a living, then those are the only people you need to appeal to.
A scattergun approach to try and be in front of everyone’s eyes will not give you the result you are looking for, and there is nothing good about distorting yourself into a different shape purely in the hope of mass appeal. It’s a skewed value system.
Many of the followers of so-called fx influencers (it burns the fingers to type this) have no idea what truly good work looks like; to them, a pair of scissors in the eye held in place with scar wax is Oscar-worthy content. But that’s okay – to each their own.
Remember, in Artstation and Instagram, you see the finished and finalised work, which can be toxic without revealing any of the processes of how they got from Point A to Point B. The final product which hides the process which led to it isn’t always so valuable.
Any field you can think of will have its heroes and experts who are better than you, so don’t let the existence of those expert practitioners be the reason for you not getting involved. Instead, let that be your inspiration!
To quote Wikipedia, Dunbar’s Number “is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number)
How it pertains to us in a world of infinite connection is worth investigating. When you compare your efforts to the vast amounts of comparisons online, where you are sizing yourself up against the very best in the world, it can give you a bad result.
The comparison you need to make to improve your work is your work yesterday to your work today, not somebody else or their work.
If I offered to race Olympian Mo Farah, there is a good chance (like, a 20000% chance) that I will lose against him, because he is one of the fastest humans alive. I don’t get to wander up to him and constantly ask for races against which I will lose, and if I did it would not help me improve. Yet this is what happens when we endlessly compare ourselves to the worlds greatest through social media. Pick a topic, you’ll find someone amazing at it online.
Seeing a great piece of finished work is never the whole story; you don’t get to see how they got to this point or what they have sacrificed or don’t have in their lives by comparison. It isn’t a ‘zero-sum’ game, where one’s ability means you will be prevented from achieving it, or even more.
Look at what you are doing well, as your skills may be at their greatest in areas you have not considered yet. Staying passionate and communicating your ideas will help you to find your path, even if it is easily seen early on. There are so many paths and occupations, and we are limited by what we think constitutes the entirety of career paths.
‘he77ga’ (https://www.instagram.com/he77ga) has some amazing rapid sculpt videos. Seeing people at work in real-time is different from quick turntable edited videos. This work is great and it can inspire you, but to acquire the skills takes bit-by-bit work. These skills are not shown in quick videos, so look for tutorials by people who work at a pace that suits you. We strongly recommend Maddie Scott Spencer – check YouTube and you’ll see what we mean.
Complicated things are often layers of simplicity stacked on top of each other. Your task is generally to determine the order of simple tasks, make a schedule and begin chipping away.
If you know what a brick is, you can understand what a wall is.
A house is just an extension of that concept.
If you didn’t understand what a brick was, as houses get bigger, then they would become overwhelming and complicated, when in fact they are just multiples of something simply rearranged. (This was another of Ricks cool quotes from the podcast. We liked it a lot!)
Arrogance (where openness to learning has been closed off) v Confidence
Appreciate the vast experience those who hire bring to a meeting or interview. They may be so deeply experienced and can spot what they need from applicants who may not even be aware they possess the right stuff. Confidence comes from trying and learning how to learn. Recognize that none of us will ever truly know everything there is to know about what we do.
The best we can do is to keep learning, keep trying. We’ve talked many times about our comfort zones.
It is relevant here: we want to work smarter, not harder, but if something is very easy to accomplish, then it’s time to push yourself outside your comfort zone again if you want to grow your skill level and knowledge base. This never stops being the case – living breathing artists are pushing, growing and recovering from their efforts constantly.
Social media and its effect on people has a lot to answer for with what seems to be a worldwide effect on self-confidence and esteem. An awareness of that and a sensible exploration and pushback is a reasonable response to examine what it means for you personally, and how you could take back more control of it.
A podcast we highly recommend is The Blindboy Podcast. A musician and podcaster, he talks refreshingly and extensively about the history of art, culture and mental health. Blindboy uses an ‘Internal locus of evaluation’ to separate his own self-worth from how other people express their opinions of him – both good and bad.
He wears a mask made from a plastic bag on his head whenever he is performing in public, but there are good reasons for this. He doesn’t wish for himself to be part of the spectacle, so he can leave a stage and become as anonymous as any other person in a crowd. He doesn’t want to be famous.
As he says “It’s not really anonymity at this stage… It’s privacy. I don’t want to be noticed in public because I’m a Z-list Irish celebrity and that is a very cringy existence to be carrying around with you in your day to day life. It’s not really anonymity at this stage… It’s privacy. I don’t want to be noticed in public because I’m a Z-list Irish celebrity and that is a very cringy existence to be carrying around with you in your day to day life.”
We think there is something valuable in his desire to work hard and provide good value without also seeking to yourself be the subject of attention. It is about the work, not ‘you’.
Check out his take on things here: https://www.dailyedge.ie/rubberbandits-explains-the-plastic-bag-3702939-Nov2017/ and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2upjXGeT4M
This study into the use of social media and mental health issues may be of interest, again something Blindboy made people aware of ironically (or necessarily) on Twitter. It’s called “An exploration of the link between adult attachment and problematic Facebook use.” See it here: https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-018-0245-0
One of the major players in the move towards exploiting an individual self-awareness as means motivate the to buy things was Edward Bernays, considered to be the first to combine psychology into modern advertising – be was referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations”. Rather than selling an item by telling people what it did, he used psychology to help people realise inadequacies and attach the solution to this in a product or service.
An excellent documentary exploring this guy is ‘The Century Of The Self‘ by Adam Curtis. See it on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnPmg0R1M04 or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mojw7DIpu1k
Quote from donclesconforms video upload:
“The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses.
He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires. Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts to eroticising the motorcar.
His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses.
By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile. It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.“
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