Or, how the labels we give us create out artistic reality.  I am a landscape artist. Does that mean I can’t paint anything else?  It does if that’s what I believe.

Henry Ford famously said, ‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t,  you’re right.’  Have you noticed what mental barriers are stopping you from achieving your painting goals? I was recently confronted by mine, once again, when I organised and attended a workshop on painting wildlife. My ‘I am a landscape artist’ got into my head in an unhelpful way.

There is some evidence to say that when we say these things out loud – when we tell someone else what we are or are not – the reinforcement is even stronger. The stories we tell ourselves about our own capabilities are such a big part of the results we get.

We give ourselves labels, and those labels have implications: 

  • Label: I am a figurative artist
    • Implication: therefore I can’t paint abstracts
  • Label: I paint portraits
    • Implication: so I’m not good at landscapes
  • Label: I am an oil painter
    • Implication: I don’t work in watercolour
  • Label: I’m no good at drawing (I own up to this one)
    • Implication: My sketching is no good so I avoid doing it
  • Label: I am a landscape artist
    • Implication: so I can’t paint portraits or animals

The reason our labels have an impact on our artistic development is that, when we believe them, they provide us with part of our identity. Our identity strongly influences our habits so when we believe that we don’t, or can’t do something – we avoid doing it. And the more we avoid doing something, the stronger the belief becomes. So when I tell myself and others that I am no good at drawing, and that makes me avoid sketching, I deny myself the time and dedication to get better at drawing.

There are so many ways we can develop our art. Ideally this should be a conscious process of deciding our direction and the way we will approach it. If we simply allow our labels to define what we avoid doing, we aren’t making deliberate and considered choices about our development.

My suggestion:

  • Write down the way you describe yourself as an artist. (Start with the words, “I am….”)
  • Is this true? Is this the limit of your artistic aspiration?
  • What would you like to be saying about yourself as an artist?
  • Try writing that down as it if were already true
  • Consider how that would change your artistic process or your behaviour

Now make that change to your label. When we do that, suddenly all sorts of new subjects, styles, and mediums are less daunting.
I am an artist who mainly paints landscapes – and sometimes also abstracts, wildlife, still life, and other subjects.