Who’s Your Competition?

Your peers, your contemporaries, the people who are biting at your heels, reminding you that all is fair in art and war?

"Middle Ground: A Conversation in Stone" (2018) by Sophie Drouin and Rachel Sager “Middle Ground: A Conversation in Stone” (2018) by Sophie Drouin and Rachel Sager

These people have a kind of power over you, as the creative person. They inspire you. They make you envious. They make you regret not doing the work that led to their realization of a good idea. Sometimes, they speak a new vision, but with your voice, which is another problem entirely and more difficult to address. If your work can mistaken for anyone’s but your own, you may need to read this three times and do some serious introspection. But, in the big picture, these people serve a purpose. We, all of us, are motivated by the forward motion of how the world and time operate. If we don’t keep moving, we will be left in the dust, forgotten.

"Rustication as Religion" (detail) Private Collection of Ashley Judd

“Rustication as Religion” (2011) Private Collection of Ashley Judd by Rachel Sager

But I argue that the more real and lasting competition is you. More specifically, you, yesterday. Or you, last month. The you in 2009 has more power to teach the you this morning than any competitive colleague.

For those us who have chosen to walk the earth with the artist sign around our neck, building a body of work becomes a clear way to check our bullshit meter. If you are an artist, you are always adding to that body. If you pause for too long, your conscience will be sure to remind you in subtle but painful ways that you are wavering from the path. It’s not an easy road to walk.

"Rustication as Religion" (detail) Private Collection of Ashley Judd

“Rustication as Religion” (2011)

Some months it may feel like you’ve moved backwards on the path. But that’s one of my favorite parts about being an artist. After those heart-wrenching times of inaction, along comes a momentum that motors you forward so fast that you’re not just making up for lost time; you actually create new time by how fast you eat up a creative idea and spit it out into gold on the substrate.

"Rustication as Religion" (2011 - detail) Private Collection of Ashley Judd

“Rustication as Religion” (2011)

But back to you being your best competition. I really like this way of thinking because it encourages you to directly improve from the inside out. As opposed from the outside in, which is what happens when you look to the artists around you for inspiration. I’m not saying that looking to other artists for learning is bad. Not at all. We all do it. I’m saying that as you do this, always keep looking back at what your body of work says to you today. And about you.  The you who built that nice landscape can now be the you that has the power to create a landscape that transcends that first landscape in five different ways.

“Middle Ground: A Conversation in Stone” (2018) Piece #7 by Rachel Sager “Middle Ground: A Conversation in Stone” (2018) Piece #7 by Rachel Sager

What a wonderful and terrible way to make a living. You are your best chance and your biggest liability. Your most important competition is staring at you in the mirror. Look into her eyes and be brave enough to see the messy, insecure, and layered palate of brilliance that looks back. Anything less is shadow art.

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