Artist Therapy: Trust

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

Trust. It’s a pretty big topic, and honestly one that seems to have gotten fairly “woo-woo” recently. I blame The Secret. But let’s not throw out the baby with the Magical Thinking bathwater, because trust is a critical part of being an artist.

First let’s define terms, because just like the difference between jealousy and envy, trust very easily gets confused with faith and hope. Let’s check in with the dictionary:

Trust is “an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something”

Faith is “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof”

Hope is “to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment”

Let’s break down the differences:

Trust is a reliance, Faith is a belief, and hope is a desire. Reliance sounds a lot more scientific, right? More of a math equation. If you do X and Y, then you get Z.

Faith is a belief, and as you can see everywhere in the world (especially on the internet), people believe a lot of things that have no proof. I’m going to do my best to keep this apolitical and nonreligious, so I won’t dwell too much on the many things humans can convince themselves exist without proof, but the existence of Flat-Earthers gives you just one example of where faith can go off the rails.

Hope is a desire. Well, we all desire things that we don’t really expect or believe or work towards in a real way, right? A desire with no threads back to reality, even the most tenuous threads, can’t even qualify as a goal, and maybe not even a dream. Let’s call it a…wish.

So, it’s clear to say that Trust is the quality that starts off the most based in reality and facts.

Let’s look at the second half of those definitions:

Trust is relying on abilities, strengths, facts, of a definite thing or person. If not outright proof, then at least some observed precedence of some effect that has happened before (and, you trust, will happen again).

Faith specifically calls out the fact that by definition it’s not based on anything in quantifiable reality. So it’s…hard to judge whether your faith is ever really rewarded because you had faith. Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe not, but I think I’d prefer to have trust in my abilities or in others, not just faith, wouldn’t you? They call it “blind faith” for a reason. Trust in someone, or in yourself, feels a lot more secure, doesn’t it?

Hope is a desire, so it is based on emotions, and the fulfillment you expect from that obtainment is also an emotion. And fulfillment of desire has a tricky way of being a moving target that keeps backing up as we get closer to it. For example, consider the person who expects that losing 100lbs will solve all their problems and they’ll magically be happy, but are discouraged to find out, after the grueling (and still very worthwhile) ordeal of losing that weight, that they still have bad days and still have struggles to overcome. That might make them feel worse than they did before losing the weight.

Just as with the first half of the definition, trust is the most soundly based in fact. You are expecting a result that has happened before, and if the same conditions are met, the result should happen again.

A few weeks ago I made my annual pilgrimage to IlluXcon, the fantasy art convention in PA. I do a lot of portfolio reviews at these kinds of conventions, and a lot of artists at different stages in their careers are there asking Art Directors and more established artists for any advice they can get, and as the end of the con nears, you can feel the panic among the less established artists to cram in as much advice as possible, from as many sources as they can grab a few minutes with. There’s a tipping point in everyone’s careers where you go from the person asking, and start becoming the person being asked (whether you feel qualified or not). And when we all get together to talk, the people who-are-more-commonly-asked-than-asking compare notes on a lot of the younger artists, and we realize most of us are giving the same advice. It boils down to:

Make as much art as you can that you Care about, and Share it as widely as possible.

Simple right? But it’s hard for people to accept advice that simple. Artists get grilled for some magic brush or technique. Art Directors get grilled about what one site it’s best to show your work on, what magic kind of email formatting isn’t ever going to get eaten by spam filters. People are looking for the magic answer, not the same old thing they’ve heard a thousand times before. To call up the weight loss metaphor again, it’s exactly the same as the popularity of that new fad dieting trend. No one wants to hear that getting in shape involves cutting calories and working out regularly. It’s boring. It’s not new information. It’s not some secret formula of lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Yet 99% of people who have gotten in shape and stayed that way have eventually embraced cutting calories and working out regularly.

Why are we so reluctant to trust, yet so quick to have faith and hope? Because trust is hard. Generally the things you can trust come more slowly. They are gradual. They aren’t miracles. They seem too simple to work. We try them for a week, then we lose consistency. We get dazzled by the miracle story we hear and want to put our faith in that instead.

Look, there’s nothing inherently wrong with faith and hope, but those both leave you passively waiting for the universe to give you what you want. It’s great to hope for things and have faith in people, but trust is the one of the three that feels like you’re making informed decisions, where the power is much more in your hands:

Faith is ordering an Ab Roller© and hoping you’ll see a six pack while you continue your diet of cheeseburgers.

—>Trust is tracking your calories and working out 3 times a week, no matter how discouraging it can be before you slowly see physical changes.

Faith is joining the hot new social media platform and hoping your fanbase will blow up.

—>Trust is making work you care about, sharing it on your existing channels, and going back to make more work while your fanbase grows slowly and organically.

Faith is doing work for free hoping for good exposure.

—>Trust is donating work to a nonprofit that has a huge following that commits to specific amounts of shares on their channels.

Faith is buying the same pencil sharpener as Allen Williams and hoping your graphite pieces will suddenly start to look like his.

—>Trust is getting up every morning and drawing for half and hour before work, even though you feel like you’ll never get any better, and wait for the tiny improvements to add up little by little.

Every successful artist will tell you the same thing as every fit person who once struggled with their weight: It’s about trust. In the process, in yourself, in the advice you teachers and mentors give you.

Start separating these qualities in your mind. Do you have faith in something? Do you hope something will happen? Or do you trust it will? Taking a moment to figure that out before you wish for something is the first step on the right path to obtaining it.

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4 thoughts on “Artist Therapy: Trust

  1. Your definition of faith is narrow. In your examples you portray faith only as a belief in something even though contrary evidence is obvious.
    It would be more accurate to say fallacious logic or bad reasoning, or if you are stuck on using faith, it would be more accurate to include with it a descriptor like ‘bad faith’ or ‘erroneous faith’.
    Also, consider truth, faith and hope, as well as logic, and other types of discerning rarely work separately. We typically use these together – which is essential for sound discernment.

    • Clint, I am only going by the definitions in the dictionary. Faith’s definition specifically says lack of proof, not contradictory proof. I agree that “bad faith” would be the term if you were putting your faith in provable lies of some kind. And I have no beef with people having faith and hope. Those are wonderful things to have. But you need trust. If you only have faith or hope, you’re missing the concrete foundation that will get you through the boring training and practice stages that mastery in any skill requires.

  2. I really appreciate the breakdown of these three words since colloquially I tend to interchangeably use them all the time! As always, your articles elucidate something niggling in the back of my brain. Thanks, Lauren! 🙂

    I think the challenge with Trust in your work building an audience organically and gradually is that self-doubt is such a loud presence in your day-to-day life as an artist. As an emerging artist, you only see that artists before you have gone on to build their careers vs some haven’t. You don’t always see what took them there until you gain more information by being in the field and talking to people. I certainly had to start out with Hope/Desire, then some Faith, to even create art, pursue it as a career and build a community to bounce ideas back and forth with. I gained Trust over time as I gained more experience. But wow! Trust, Faith, and Hope sure all feel the same when you start out!

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