The Half-life of the Artist’s Curse

I was recently watching one of Mark Carder’s excellent Q&A videos on YouTube, in which he discusses the phenomenon known as ‘the artist’s curse.’

The artist’s curse is a problem some artists (including me) suffer from, where upon completing a painting, they are unable to completely separate themselves from the painting process, and thus unable to properly appreciate the illusion of reality that the painting conveys.

On countless occasions (probably more often than not), I have finished a painting, and stepped back to view the ‘big picture’ only to find that all I can see are ugly, messy paint strokes, and everything looks slightly wrong.

It’s hard to explain fully, but basically the painting never looks right, and I can’t appreciate it in the way that others can.

It’s not permanent

What I’ve noticed however, is that this perception fades over time, and if I look at one of my paintings a few weeks or months after completing it, I will often find a new sense of appreciation for it.

Most recently this happened with a small (5×7″) sketch I did of a rhino:

Rhino painting by Dan Johnson
Rhino painting by Dan Johnson

Immediately after painting this I thought it was terrible. Not quite bad enough to throw away or paint over, but just not as good as I intended.

So I put it on a shelf and forgot about it.

Then I found it again last week while I was tidying up, and when I looked at it again, I felt totally different about it, almost as if it wasn’t the same painting I remembered.

I don’t know why this happens. Maybe it’s a case of forgetting about the struggles you went through in the painting process, or maybe it’s something else.

But if you ever suffer from the artist’s curse, don’t dwell on your paintings, thinking they’re not as good as you would like. After you’re done, immediately put them to one side where you can’t see them, and wait a few weeks.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you take a second look.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever struggled with the artist’s curse, and if you’ve found my method, or any other, to be an effective way of managing it.






4 responses to “The Half-life of the Artist’s Curse”

  1. Tania Staneva Avatar
    Tania Staneva

    Than you so much for writing this post! I recently started painting and get such positive feedback from friends and acquaintances, I almost can’t believe the awe on their face when they look at something I’ve painted. It’s not like I don’t like my paintings, but I don’t seem to be able to appreciate them the way other people do. I have found that taking pictures of them with my phone, and looking at the photos later on instead of the actual painting helps me see it in a better way, and is especially helpful when I am trying to figure out how to finish a piece, or find a way to make it look better 🙂 just thought I’d share.

  2. Judi Avatar

    I knew waiting a time before making a judgement (with new eyes) was important, but I had forgotten. Thanks so much for the desperately needed reminder.

  3. Amy Becker Avatar
    Amy Becker

    What if even after quite some time, months or even years, the painting is looked at and found utterly irredeemable?

  4. John MacCallum Avatar
    John MacCallum

    Yeep this happens to me in almost every painting. Some paintings I did not like when finishing turn out to be some of my greatest work. I learned to be aware this. I put the painting against the wall while it drys and move on to the next one and try not to look at it for a couple weeks . I always like them after a few weeks especially when I have forgotten about them for awhile.

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