“I want to be the best at what I do!” This is a sentence that you might hear from many people in different aspects of their lives. Whether it’s for work, hobbies, or sports, being the best often means trophies, prizes, and the accolades of an adoring audience. But, being the best is fleeting, too, and a short lived thrill that ends in disappointment. This is because your expectations are created by and compared against other people. When it comes to art, the idea that you need strive toward some high ideal is a false narrative. Authenticity is what makes your effort truly worthwhile and satisfying.
In this article, I tell you why you shouldn’t try to be the best. Rather, I encourage you to be authentic because it’s better for the long game.
Bare, naked pewter
Let me be transparent for a moment, laying bare some thoughts about artistic expression. But, let’s be specific about the kind of art we’re talking about: miniature painting. And, indeed, painting miniatures is art, despite its categorical assignment as a “hobby” in many circles.
Pewter, plastic or resin miniatures or scale models often start bare and naked. Your job is to paint them in a way that you see fit. We want our effort to look good. This is a very challenging task, as this requires you to pull a lot out of your library of skill and knowledge. You need to know about color, composition, contrast, and all those other terms that we hear about.
Painting miniatures is not an effort to be taken lightly. It’s hard work. This is because including technique, we must have the personal desire, motivation, and fortitude to place ourselves into painting those models.
Whether you’re painting Warhammer 40k models for a game, or that cool sculpt you 3D printed, you’re in for a challenging time. The commitment is usually hours upon hours of sitting in a chair with a paint brush, paints, and what-not other supplies. And, because we are human, we place an extraordinary amount of thought into trying to reach some preconceived “standard”.
What is art? How to use criticism
Starting at the top. The problem with making art, including miniature painting, is that it’s inevitably going to be judged. Whether we do it to ourselves, or allow others to judge our work; we are judged. And, this judgement is the catalyst for things like anxiety and self-doubt. Of course, it is up to you whether you feed into these negative emotions when you’re in the creative process.
One way to overcome any problem is to define the first cause. When your car breaks down, you take it to a mechanic to find out what is causing the issue. Once they dig around, they tell you that a part is broken.
In this case, we want to make art but often find it hard to keep going, stay motivated, or we don’t see the purpose in it. Again, painting miniatures is a part of this. So, let’s broadly define art as best as we can.
While the definition of art is difficult to pin down, I would define art as a creative expression of human thought. In this sense, art is defined by its creation and not the final result or product. This means that the value in any given piece of work is how much you put yourself into it rather than what others think about your skill level.
This can be a hard lesson to learn, especially when you’re new and trying your best. There’s a big difference between wanting to improve something in an effort of self-betterment than being fixated on how others perceive it.
Here’s an application. If you have been criticized, it is best to take the criticism as a way to improve your work. Criticism should never be taken as a sign that you are inferior. This is true for any creative activity, including painting miniatures.
The problem with achievement
Intrinsic motivation is the key to doing anything meaningful and long-lasting. What does this mean? It means that you must be motivated by what you find interesting about your work rather than how it will affect others’ opinions on the subject.
Of course, there is a sense of pride that comes from doing something well and having others enjoy your work as much as you do yourself. But this isn’t enough for sustained motivation. Your expectations will inevitably be crushed when you are inevitably compared to others.
It’s an unfortunate reality in the art of painting miniatures that there will always be someone who is better than you at it, whether they’re a professional or simply more experienced in which techniques work best with certain colors and materials.
With this knowledge, then, why do people chase being “the best” instead of being authentic to their own preferences? Well, trying to reach an externally set standard is much easier than learning more about yourself. The idea of being the best implies a measuring stick that you can see and potentially reach.
Whereas, trying to find your authentic style or approach in whatever you’re creating is much more difficult. Sometimes it’s more painful, because you realize that being “you” doesn’t match what you think is good. You have to recalibrate what you want, who you are, and how to get to there.
What is authenticity?
Being authentic means doing what you love. You should take pride in your work. You can always improve what you think is lacking in your work, so authenticity also means being willing to do that. But, the key is to always return to the idea that you’re making something you love.
How can you be authentic in painting miniatures? Well, to follow on this idea of creating with your passion as a priority, you should know why you are painting minis to start with.
There is a difference between trying to improve for improvement’s sake and improving because it leads to a better expression of yourself. Trying to be better for the sake of being better can cause frustration when people can do things better than you even if they have not been doing them as long.
One of the biggest problems with painting miniatures is there are so many ways to achieve the same “look”. You have a lot of techniques that work and all of them can work well depending on the style you’re looking for.
If your primary goal is to improve, you’ll always fall short because you’re pursuing an every changing concept. How do you know you’re improving, or tell when “you get there”? Instead, I find it more enjoyable to do what makes sense and brings pleasure from within.
Okay, what does it take to be more real in your creative work?
Don’t be afraid to explore
What’s important is to explore and experiment with your work in order to see which techniques and materials match up best with the ideas that excite you.
Sure, there are always going to be people who can outdo others when it comes down exactly how much detail they’ve captured or whether their color choice is more striking, but this shouldn’t make a difference in how you feel about the project at hand.
You should be excited to create something because it’s what feels right and natural instead of trying to prove yourself against other people who might do things differently from your own perspective.
It’s not easy for everyone to get into painting miniatures because it’s such an exacting and demanding hobby, but if you’re willing to put in the effort then you should feel confident about your own ability without worrying too much about how well someone else is doing.
The false heap you climb
It does not matter so much what other people think of something that has been created from a place of passion. Try not to rank people against one another. This will lead to disappointment.
Instead, focus on what you do well and don’t try to compete with others who do things better than you because there will always be someone who is better no matter how hard you try.
Whether you’re into painting miniatures, writing blogs about your passions and hobbies, or simply doing what brings joy to others around you; it’s important to remember that authenticity trumps being at the top of whatever heap you’ve decided to climb.
It takes a lot of courage to be authentic because there will always be someone who can do something better than you no matter how much time and effort you put into it.
You have to love what you do and embrace your own abilities while being willing to improve yourself in a way that leads towards greater authenticity rather than just looking better or trying be more perfect.
There will always be someone who can beat you at something, but this shouldn’t stop you from pursuing what makes you happy.
You should always strive to be the best version of yourself instead of trying to compete against others who are different from you in their own ways.
The paradox and problem of the miniature painting contest
There are miniature painting contests that you can enter if you feel like comparing your work with others. Contests are often the best way for getting honest and true feedback for improvement, but this is not for everyone.
I and others do so, because we enjoy the skill and creativity that go into painting miniatures. A miniature painting contest adds an extra incentive to push your boundaries and skills.
Sure, there are people who want to compete to simply “win”. But, I think if you are entering for the sole reason of trying to win, then it’s not really about your artistic expression anymore.
It is true that some need validation from being declared “winner” at something by someone else. Maybe specific contests are where this need is fulfilled, and I think that’s okay (unless it comes at the expense of diminishing others).
Though of course, I think it’s better to focus on what you can do, rather than trying to compete against others who are completely different from you. You have your own skills and abilities that are unique in their own way. You should explore them without being too concerned with how well someone else does things.
To be authentic in art, try everything.
You should paint miniatures because it’s what brings you joy. This is because all of the time and effort that goes into painting miniatures takes a piece out of you, which means your priorities should be to do things for yourself first before worrying about how well other people are doing things.
This is how I think of it: The best way to figure out what you’re good at is to try everything. To be authentic, do what you love and don’t compare yourself to others.
Have you been working too hard to be the best? How do you keep from falling into the trap of always competing with your art? Let me know how you’re trying to be more like yourself in all you do.