“Comparison is the Thief of Joy”
Despite all my claims not to be into them, I’ve been thinking about this particular cliche for a while now.
Let me be clear. I compare myself to others all the time without the all-too-familiar self loathing. I read other artists’ blogs and constantly save their work on pinterest. I learn from their form; I aspire to their greatness. They make me want to keep at it.
But then there’s the other kind of comparison– the kind that makes me want to give up all together. How fragile some of my ideas are if they so easily crumble. When I say I love my house, I mean it. I get starry-eyed just thinking about it. It represents my struggles, hard work. It reflects my quirkiness. It is set right in the middle of a neighborhood I adore. The original hardwood floors are stunning. I often find myself wondering if it’s even real at all.
And then? I go on a playdate or two at someone else’s house, and I wonder if my house has any merit at all– if I should return the invite or maybe skip it since I’m embarrassed at my house’s lack of square footage or the height of the ceilings.
It happens most certainly with art, too. I hear of another artist’s success, perhaps that came more quickly and/or more intensely than my own, and I question the value of the very things that have brought the most joy to my life.
I’m not sure exactly how to sort through this particular brand of insanity, but that, of course, won’t keep me from trying. We could answer the cliche that started this post with a dozen others about focusing on what you do have or avoiding comparisons all together, but none of the trite answers I could come up with feel doable.
Except making art.
Art-making is agency. It is drawing lines and shapes on spaces that were once blank. My friend Donna makes pottery and says she is uninhibited by the process because no matter how bad her creations turn out, they were once dirt, and being anything is better than being dirt. In a beauty contest between a leaning coffee mug and a pile of dirt, the mug wins every time. (Her ceramics are beautiful. BTW).
So when it comes to comparison and its sneaky way of inviting itself in, making nice over coffee before raiding your house to pilfer what you hold most dear, I’ve decided upon this: I will continue to safeguard my joy with agency, knowing the root of confidence is always humility– doing something not because you’re great at it, but because it matters. I will transfer my energies from product to process. With fierce determination, I’ll keep moving my hands.
And, occasionally, I will pause to pay homage to my own progress, once again honoring process. Ironically, comparing old work to new work when hands have not been idle, creates rather than squanders joy.
Has comparison ever tried to rob you of joy? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.