Artist Therapy: Choice

Artist Therapy Posts: Where we face the feels all artists struggle with.

We live in a capitalist world, and we thrive on options. Our entire economy is built on choices. We do everything we can to “keep our options open” as long as possible. We champion freedom and often that means freedom to choose from a dizzying amount of options. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Your desire to keep as many choices as possible is getting in the way of doing your best work.

There’s something called the “Paradox of Choice” and it’s been proven in scientific trial — the more options we have to choose from, the less happy we are with our decision. Check out this TED talk on the topic. When there are more than two or three options to choose from, we tend to obsess over the options we didn’t take. Anyone who’s tried online dating apps can tell you that people find it harder to commit when there’s “always more fish in the sea”. Social media has made us crippled by FOMO.

Now this isn’t a blog about dating, this is a blog about art business. You know our most popular blog post is on this very blog? “SOS! I Can’t Find My Style” You know what one of our most frequent topics on Dear Art Director is? Style. You know why people can’t find their style? Because they can’t stand to close off options.

Even though we hear over and over again that you need to be consistent to have a successful portfolio, some of us can’t stop ourselves from trying to be a jack of all trades and styles. We don’t want to close off any avenues. Experimenting is fine — and a critical part of the process — but part of successful experimentation is discarding options as you go. Some of us forget this necessary step of narrowing down.

Eventually you need to commit to something. (In dating as well as in art.) It doesn’t mean you have to stay with the same partner style forever. It doesn’t mean you can’t grow and evolve. But you need to focus in order to create a portfolio that will help you break into the industry you want. It’s a fine-tuned laser, not a wide-angle flashlight, that will help you get your foot in the door. And the first thing people argue is that they don’t want to be pigeonholed — but that is actually an upper-level problem. When you are struggling to get any work you shouldn’t worry that you’ll get too much of the same work. That is a problem for the next level. And once you have your foot in the door and have some good relationships with clients, then it’s safe to start experimenting with style again and start evolving again.

Commitment to a style and/or industry makes us more efficient, it makes us less anxious about FOMO, and it saves us from decision fatigue. As artists we need time to hone our craft. We talk constantly about the 10,000 hour rule. And it is much more efficient to become a master in one thing at a time, rather than spread your 10,000 hours over 10 different things. Choice can be attractive, but it is commitment that will get us to our goals.


3 thoughts on “Artist Therapy: Choice”

  1. This is such good advice and something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I am 100% guilty of trying to pursue too many different directions and not focusing. It’s time to commit, get focused, and make some stuff!


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