Fond Memory of an Anxious Moment

I’m an artist. Not a professional, by any means. I lack confidence in my own work, which I’m sure is a common trope amongst creative types.

About four years ago, my local art gallery asked for submissions for a regional art exhibit. I had just made a really poignant piece detailing life with a chronic illness, and even though it was larger than the allowed size for submissions, I asked if they would accept it anyway. There was some awkwardness about it, and the board agreed to accept the entry even though I sensed they were unhappy with breaking their rules. I also found out about that time that the rules were in place because this was a competition- with cash prizes. I pulled out of it last minute because of the embarrassment and anxiety, but they offered to hold onto it until the next show where its size did not break any rules, and I agreed.

One of the board members pulled me aside and told me that he would like to critique my painting in person at the next show. I was honored that a professional artist such as himself was interested in offering his opinion on my work, but terrified because I had seen his paintings before and knew how good he was at his craft.

My anxiety started eating at me, telling me that he was going to completely obliterate what little confidence I had. I was terrified that when I received the critique, I would have my muse so shaken that I might never paint again. He gave off such a charismatic and confident presence, I was absolutely certain that he was going to really pick apart my work in the most condescending way possible. I now know that’s not the kind of guy he is at all, but at the time, I didn’t know him very well and I was working under the assumption that most, if not all professional artist types, were ruthless.

Instead of turning down his offer for the critique, I told him I welcomed any advice he could give, which was true at its core despite my fears. I left the galley that day afraid that I might never find the courage to go back in and face him.

Days went by and I still ruminated over the upcoming critique. We hadn’t scheduled a date and time to meet or anything, but I knew it was coming at some point. During that time, I couldn’t find the creative energy to do anything artistic at all. I would look at pictures of my paining and obsess over mistakes I made on it, techniques I could have applied to improve it, imagining what he might say about it. I was petrified. Peak anxiety.

I decided to just stop thinking about my art altogether. Que sera, sera, and all that jazz. I knew ruminating about it would only exacerbate things.

Weeks passed, and even though I knew my painting was now displayed in the new show, I still had not gone to see it yet, nor had I thought much about the impending critique. I could feel my anxiety flare up when I considered it, and I opted to push the thought away rather than confront it.

Finally, after quite some time had passed, the funniest thing happened to me. I got a random urge to visit the new community garden that was just built downtown. I got on my scooter (I’m legally not able to drive due to impaired vision, but I have a badass electric tricycle I get around on) and went to check it out. It’s about a ten minute ride from my house.

It was hot that day, so after I got to the garden and admired the hard work my community had put into it, I was thoroughly thirsty and ready to rest in some air conditioning. My favorite cafe was just a couple blocks away. Coincidentally, the art gallery is right next to that cafe. From where I parked my scooter, I could see the “open” sign displayed outside the gallery doors.

It was at this point that I realized I had bamboozled myself. I came all this way, a trip I don’t often make, and the gallery is right there. I had no good excuse not to stop by. I knew I had to. I had subconsciously led myself here.

I felt a sly smile streak across my face and I thought “alright, universe. I’m going to get some lunch and have a drink at the cafe. If the gallery is still open when I come out, and if by chance he is there today, I will accept the critique and get this over with.”

I had lunch, trying my best the entire time not to ruminate on the terrible things I was certain I was about to hear about my painting. I took my time, somewhat hoping the gallery would close before I finished my food and drink. It was a bit of a cop out, but I could let myself get away with it.

When I finished at the cafe and went next door, the gallery was still open. I looked through the wide glass windows and could see my painting displayed prominently right in the middle, the first thing anyone would see coming into the room. I felt honored, but very anxious. Imposter syndrome was hitting me hard at this point. I gathered my courage and pushed open the heavy wooden door, eliciting the ringing of the bells attached to it.

One of the gallery board members came into the gallery room to greet me. We exchanged pleasantries and she complimented me on my work. I was flattered, but I admitted to her that I had been feeling a lack of confidence in my art lately. Exacerbated, she said “oh, get over it” and smiled at me. I smiled back and laughed and told her I was trying. I didn’t ask if the board member who wanted to critique my work was there. Instead, I thanked her for greeting me and went about admiring all the other pieces on display.

A few minutes later, there he was. I swallowed my fears and greeted him when he came into the room, doing my best to put on my most confident energy. He said he had to talk to someone in the other room for a moment, but when he was finished he wanted to talk with me about my painting. I told him I was looking forward to it, but inside my anxiety was going wild. I even entertained the thought of slipping out of the building while he was distracted, but I knew that would never work out. I distracted myself instead by continuing to look at the other submissions.

I heard his footsteps come back into the room, and I met him in front of my painting. At 48” tall and hanging up on the gallery wall, my canvas held the weight of a massive monolith looming before the both of us. Its presence in that moment felt imminent and destructive, I was sure I was about to meet my end as an artist.

“I was so mad at you when you pulled this from the show, because you would have won,” he said much to my shock. Without giving me a chance to let that surprise show, he went on to just shower me with compliments. Things that I had feared he would pick apart turned out to be positive aspects that he touted on with so much praise that I felt like I had slipped into an alternate dimension entirely.

All that time ruminating… stressing… letting my anxiety fester and putrefy within me… and I had been wrong. The fears of being found out as an imposter were suddenly lifted. I felt validated. I’m sure I was beaming as I listened to him. I felt like I could fly, burst into tears of joy, and just explode into confetti all at once.

He gave me a couple pointers for execution of a technique I suspected I had done poorly, but he did so in a way that gave me hope instead of tearing me down.

Then, he gestured around at the other works of art in the gallery and told me that what he liked most about my piece compared to many of the other pieces on display in the gallery was that it had meaning. He told me that the way I composed the piece and used symbolism really conveyed the message I had intended to convey.

He shook my hand, told me he wanted to see more from me, and left.

I was absolutely thrown for a loop. I looked back at my painting after he had gone, and thought about all the time I wasted feeling anxious about it, picking apart everything I was afraid I had done wrong with it. I remembered being so disgusted by it at one point that I couldn’t even look at it without becoming anxious and depressed. Now, looking up at that proud monolithic canvas, no longer looming with malice, but with a quiet strength, I felt relief.

I finished up my tour of the gallery and headed home, acknowledging that my anxiety had not only been completely wrong, but destructive. I spent all that time- WASTED so much time too afraid to do anything creative, I felt really silly looking back on it.

That was an important lesson for me to learn, and a memory I will always look back on fondly.

Thanks for reading! I originally posted this elsewhere online years ago. I was looking back on this memory recently and decided to track down the old post and republish it here on my blog.


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