Friday, August 10, 2012

On choosing to be where you don’t belong

Yesterday I went off a little bit on Twitter about blog posts written by two people, who are both intelligent, accomplished women and nice people. They were writing about “Impostor Syndrome” – the sense that, against all external evidence, they are frauds and do not deserve their accomplishments and success. 

They wrote in the context of being invited to a prestigious and exclusive invitation-only conference (with, y’know, Nobel Prize winners and best-selling authors) and feeling that they didn’t belong.  This made me so mad and sad that I actually sat at the computer, typing furiously while tears ran down my face. You were chosen. They invited you. You got to go. They wanted to hear what you had to say.

After a little sleep and some reading I feel a little more empathy. It must really suck if, after years of hard work and achievement, you still don’t feel like you deserve what you’ve accomplished.

I guess I do not suffer from Impostor Syndrome, for which I am grateful.  I am, however, an actual impostor. I think perhaps it’s both better and worse.

No, I’m not an impostor in the identity-theft sense. If anyone cared to track my movements over the past 40 years, they probably could with little difficulty.

I am an impostor because I am trying to do things for which I am not, strictly speaking, qualified. I am a professional artist of over a decade, but I have no background in art. I have taken two classes, intro to drawing and intro to painting.  I have never been invited to join a gallery. The life of the “real” professional artist, with a few galleries and shows every year or so, bears little resemblance to mine.

In the past few years, my greatest success has come in science-based work. My background in science, since my high-school years in the late 18th century, has consisted of reading books and blogs.

I have a degree in political science (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, etc., thank you, thank you) from 20 years ago. If I chose to try to work in that field, I wouldn’t have much luck either, because I never used a statistics package. Political science was more theoretical then.

So I made up my own thing, and I am trying my damnedest to make it work. Selling on etsy has been a wonderful thing for me, both in terms of enlarging my audience and making some money, but it has also cut me off even more from the mainstream art world. Galleries don’t want to work with artists who sell directly to the public – they want to do that for you. That’s how it works. I made this choice, and in many ways it has been a good one for me, but I have to admit to myself that there will always be people – many people – in the art world who look down at an artist who sells her work herself. I was not worthy to be chosen. I had to choose myself.

Obviously, I don’t belong in the science world either. I got a kick-in-the-face reminder of that this week. After being asked to attend a real, serious, scientific conference and give a presentation about my work, I got an email to say that, after all, the budget wouldn’t stretch quite that far, but I was welcome to come on my own tab (for reference, I have grossed $50 in the last 7 days).  A lot of science people like me, they cheer me on, they buy my work - for which I am so, so grateful - but I'm not one of them. I never will be. 

So – to sum up – I am a “science artist” running my own business. I have no background in art, science, or business. I chose this. I’m making it up as I go. I feel comfortable that I deserve what measure of success I have had. But I am an outsider. An impostor. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s really, really hard.

1 comment:

  1. If it makes you feel any better, lots of conferences in my field are asking all speakers to pay their own tabs. Not that I'm unsympathetic to being upset by the change in policy. Merely pointing out that everyone at the conference may be in the same situation.

    Hang in there,