Are you a victim of your own expectations?

Do you find yourself feeling so frustrated with your artwork or your creating habits that you feel powerless to create? It could mean you are a victim of your expectations.

I can relate to this. Sometimes I want to create, but I don’t know what to make, have no idea where to start, and so I end up doing nothing at all. Since my cancer diagnoses, especially, I find I’m feeling this more often.

I wanted to paint something, and for lack of anything better came up with this idea to fill a butterfly with flowers. It isn’t a great artwork, but it ended up being a very good practice session in watercolor mark making.

I think – and this is my opinion, I have no formal education in psychology – that my frustration stems from my own expectations. I want my artwork to matter. I want to create something wonderful, something that people will find inspiring or beautiful or meaningful in some way.

I only recently realized that expecting this result every time I pick up a pen or a brush is extremely unrealistic. Art, like everything else, gets better the more you practice. In order to create even one work of art that might be as wonderful as what I expect, thousands of hours of practice are needed.

And when I set myself up to expect unrealistic results, I deny myself the pleasure and learning experience that comes from practice. I set myself up to fail.

I’m almost ashamed to show this watercolor of an elf girl. However badly the eyes came out, it was good practice in mixing flesh tones and I had fun with the excess splattering.

Sometimes it’s a matter of comparing myself to other artists, watching my favorite YouTubers easily create something beautiful. However, from my own experience I know that it can’t be real. They aren’t showing us the number of practice pieces they had to make in order to get that perfect shot. They aren’t showing us the different ways that piece of art looked like during the trial and error process.

I have to remind myself that it’s not real, that it takes longer than an hour’s video to make anything worthwhile. After all, a knitting project takes time. Writing a story takes time. Even baking a cake takes time! Why should creating artwork be any different?
And why do I feel like such a failure when I can’t live up to that expectation?!

The Victim Mentality

I’ve thought about this for awhile, and I’ve done some research. I found out that I blame myself when I can’t produce artwork that meets grand expectations, that I’m feeling like a victim. And that, no matter what the cause, is unhealthy.

I also discovered that it can be resolved. You don’t have to feel like a victim, especially when it comes to blaming yourself for failing your own expectations for your artwork.
Here are five of tips that I believe can help:

5 Tips for Reducing Expectation Frustration
  1. Take ownership of your wants. If you want to make art, acknowledge that you want to create and that the process of creating is what makes you happy, not the outcome. Then just do it! Pick up anything, a pen, a pencil, a brush and paint – and make that first mark. Doodle, if you feel so inclined. I find doodling to be tremendously relaxing. It clears my mind so that other ideas can arise.
  2. Stop blaming everything and everyone for your frustration. Blaming includes “I don’t have the right supplies and/or time”. If creating is important to you, if you really enjoy it, you won’t let anything stop you. Having only a few minutes or having to use alternative supplies might even inspire you to do something totally unique. What a boost to your creative ego that would be! Why deny it the opportunity?
  3. Be kind to yourself. When you are blaming yourself or other things for your problems, you’re actually increasing your own suffering. When you tell yourself stories about how everything in the universe is stopping you from creating, you’re adding to your frustration by making it a “life’s out to get me” scenario. Tell yourself to stop it and give yourself a hug instead. It’s not your fault you can’t have everything. It’s life. And it’s okay.
  4. Practice gratitude. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have or do, focus on what you’ve got. I’ve got a great studio, for example, with a variety of art materials and different places to create. I am extremely grateful for this. Switching my perspective and honestly acknowledging my gifts is a good way to get out of the victim mentality. For example, just picking up my favorite colors of watercolor paints or holding a new pen is enough to make me switch my perspective into something positive.
  5. Finally, my favorite tip is be aware of your own sense of powerlessness and frustration. Once you figure out why you’re frustrated and “can’t” create, it’s easier to fix it. You might start by making a list of why you feel you can’t make something, then follow up with a list of things you CAN do to get closer to what you want. For example, I often feel like I can’t start a project because I have no goal in mind. I don’t know where to start because I don’t know what I want at the end. A good way to get out of that situation is to make a list of things I can do right now. I can draw a portrait, or sketch my room, or make a doodle using every watercolor paint I own. Or I can create a list of goals: learn how to draw a better portrait, discover what happens when I mix paint colors, doodle for five minutes then try to make a picture out of the doodle.
    I like that last tip because I believe the best way to get out of the victim mentality is to DO something about it. Get out of the mental fix and make it physical.

What do you do when you’re frustrated with your artwork? Do you tend to set high expectations and then feel like you can’t get started?

This watercolor wasn’t too terrible. In retrospect, I should’ve added a background, but it was good enough for my own bathroom wall. It still was well-spent practice time.
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