How to Overcome Self Doubt for Artists (Imposter Syndrome)

How Do Artists Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Self-Doubt?

Do you ever wake up and think you don’t quite cut it as an artist and that you aren’t the real deal? This is how to overcome self-doubt for artists and deal with imposter syndrome.

Artists overcome self-doubt and imposter syndrome by being open and sharing their experiences with others. Artists must be transparent, authentic, and genuine, with no pretensions. Above all, they should seek out good company for mutual support.

You can’t do everything on your own. We all need help and encouragement.

Let’s explore this further.

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Does this sound familiar?

  • It doesn’t matter how often you are praised you still have an underlying fear of being exposed as a fake
  • You don’t deserve to be recognized for what you do or what you’ve achieved
  • You feel like you’ve fooled people into believing in you
  • You’re not as expert or talented as people think
  • There are many more artists that are better and more capable than you.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Self-Doubt and Imposter Syndrome

Self-doubt is the price you pay for being creative, and fear of failure is part of the process.

Selling your own artwork means you’re seeking the approval of complete strangers, and that’s not an easy task. You’re almost inviting an unpleasant experience.

Let’s face it, you’re creating something completely new in this world. Your creation never existed until you made it happen. You dreamed up the idea, planned it, composed it, drew or painted it.

It took you hours, days, weeks even.

Then you present it to the world in the hope that at least some people will like it enough to want it in their homes. You can hardly do anything more insecure than that, can you? It would be stranger not to have feelings of self-doubt.

Of course, you have feelings of uncertainty, you’re vulnerable. It’s scary stuff.

Every time you put yourself on the line, there’s a chance you’ll be knocked down.

Even the most successful people experience self-doubt. Perhaps it’s even worse at the top. High achievers have high expectations to deal with, and those at the top have the furthest to fall.

But at the end of the day, they have the same fears as the rest of us. The same imposter syndrome.

Everyone shares in these anxieties. We all compare ourselves to others. It’s folly, we know it, and yet we can’t help ourselves.

False Comparisons Make You Feel Like an Imposter

I skim through Instagram and find such amazing work that sometimes I feel like giving up. Instead of finding inspiration, I often get dejected. Social media sites, and Instagram in particular, are unhealthy places.

I have to tell myself that comparing myself to a self-selected ‘best-of-the-best’ is insane. And what’s to say the images have not been manipulated? Even the most basic photo editor has an auto-correct setting.

And they don’t show you their failures, do they?

So why do I beat myself up? What’s the point? Yet I still do it, and almost on a daily basis.

Every time I set up my market stall and display my work, I have the same feeling of self-doubt, even after years of experience. The negative voice inside my own head wonders if this is the day that the public sees through me. It’s like I start anew every time and each day might be my last.

It doesn’t matter that I did well the day before and the day before that. It doesn’t even count that I’ve been selling this way for the past 20+ years, I still fear the worst. It’s the same thought pattern.

One thing is for sure, I’ll never take things for granted. I may come across as self-assured and confident to strangers but it’s not the case.

As soon as I achieve a goal I find that the posts have moved!

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Perfectionism Feeds Your Self-Doubt

I can never be fully satisfied and happy with my own work because it never meets my own expectations. I have the feeling that I don’t quite reach my full potential, and inevitably, I fall short.

I know what I could’ve done, I know what I set out to do, and it’s not what I achieved.

The public might be delighted, but their praise doesn’t change my unease. I hear the compliments and my inner critic replies ‘Yeah, if only you knew. I rescued that one’. Or ‘That was a happy accident and I could never repeat it’

That’s where my imposter syndrome kicks in.

Perfectionists are never happy.

Most artists go through something similar, but having said all this, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s all unhealthy.

There is a positive side.

Imagine the intolerable conceit of an artist who’s in complete agreement with their public praise. Who admires a self-satisfied big-head?

And where would you go if you reached your peak? Your art would stagnate and probably go downhill. Taking on new challenges keeps you on your toes.

There is something to be said for pushing yourself hard and trying to do better. Yes, you’ll screw up occasionally, but that’s no bad thing either. It keeps you grounded.

Perfection isn’t achievable, but striving for perfection is admirable. It means you’re giving it your best shot.

Anxiety and Imposter Syndrome

You’re only an imposter if you make out that you’re something you’re not. Open up about your motives, aims, and abilities, and people will respect you for it.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Your anxieties will reassure others who might be putting you on a pedestal. What you see as a failure in yourself might well be another guy’s idea of success.

You’re an expert to anyone who aspires to be where you are at. Just because you also aspire to be somewhere further along the line is not relevant.

You’re the best you can be at this moment in time. If others wish to follow along and enjoy that progress and find pleasure and inspiration in your hard work, it’s not fakery, quite the opposite, you’re being genuine.

Social Anxiety

If you accept that Imposter Syndrome is a type of anxiety it becomes obvious that anyone with social anxiety (whatever happened to shyness?) is going to be very susceptible to low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.

Art is a solitary pursuit and it comes as no surprise to discover that many artists are inward-looking and introverted. Being self-contained and focused is a positive consequence of being insular.

It only becomes unhealthy when you cut yourself off from the outside world. We all need help, guidance, and motivation and that comes from being around caring people.

Finding Support

I read an interesting article when I was browsing this subject and it relates to finding support from your peers.

The study revealed that reaching out to your friends and family members or people who are unrelated to your talents, is more likely to reassure you, than reaching out to your competition.

In other words, as artists, we may be better off not finding solace within our professional peer groups. Not for reassurance anyway. Interesting and slightly counter-intuitive.

In short, the way to deal with feelings of inadequacy is to step aside and put things into perspective. Acknowledge your feelings and accept them for what they are and don’t try to fight them.


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How to Overcome Self Doubt for Artists: Final Thoughts

Good news. Creative anxieties are shared by all of us, we are not failures, and a little self-doubt is perfectly natural. It’s part of being a human being.

We give ourselves a hard time and beat ourselves up for nothing. In my experience, my level of self-doubt is directly related to the amount of time I spend alone. Being an artist is a very lonely job.

One of the best ways to beat imposter syndrome, and the negative thoughts that go with it, is to find a communal workspace and feed off the positivity of other people.

We thrive in a positive environment, preferably one where we have our own workspace and can dip in and out for some company when we need it.

I know it’s not easy to find such a place. We have to make do with what we have and adapt to our circumstances.

When I look back at my past experiences I can see where my life changed for the better. It was when I stepped out of my comfort zone that good things happened, and the first step is the hardest.


Family of elephants. A pencil drawing by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Family Life’ by Kevin Hayler

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How Do Artists Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Self-Doubt?