Why Comparison Is Killing Your Creativity & Potential
Picture this: you are scrolling through your Instagram, looking at the beautiful work created by other artists, the aesthetically pleasing shots of their sketchbooks and the funny, creative ideas that are scattered throughout.
And then you look at your own art Instagram profile. Your heart sinks. Yours seems to pale in comparison to the vibrant creative minds that you follow. Your number of followers and likes are a teeny, tiny fraction of theirs. Your feed doesn’t seem that aesthetically pleasing or put together as theirs.
Sound familiar? Well, that was me. As an artist, this is something that I struggle with a lot. Comparison is such a human thing. We all look at the people around us and wonder why we cannot seem to either look like them, act like them or create like them. When I realised that I was in this endless cycle of comparing my artwork to others, I was determined to kick this habit. Why? Well, it was not doing my creativity any favours, and here’s why:
It robs the joy of creating.
Comparison takes all the fun out of the creative process. If you keep looking at what someone else is doing, you will lose focus on what you are creating. Your creative work will end up being attempts to outdo the work of everyone else you are comparing yours to. Your drawings may end up being stiff, your writing stilted, or worse, poor imitations of who you are comparing your work to.
Now that’s not that fun, isn’t it? When I was still obsessively calculating my Instagram likes, I found that I was not as excited to create as I did when I first started drawing. I felt like whatever I made had to meet this standard. It only gave me pressure in my creative process and I ended up disliking anything I made.
It never ends – there’s always someone else to compare to.
Sadly, this cycle of comparing yourself to others never ends. Once you feel like you’ve managed to get better than your current subject of jealousy, you’ll stumble upon someone else’s work which is more interesting, better or more unique.
The number of talented artists out there to discover is endless, especially in this age of social media. If it wasn’t the way this artist uses colour that makes me green with envy, it would be the way this other artist comes up with ideas. I found myself not being motivated to create at all — if all the good art has already been made, why should I bother?
The cycle of comparison never ends and is a very tiring one.
It closes your mind to the possibilities.
I find that when you compare your work to someone else’s, you end up focusing on how to create work like theirs. It closes your mind to the possibilities of what you can create that is unique to you.
When I was looking too much at what popular artists were doing, I found that the things that I created art about ended up being similar and bland. This does not mean that creating content on similar topics is bad, but I really needed to dig deep and create work centred around topics that I am passionate about and can give my own unique take.
It’s like comparing oranges to apples – creativity is different from person to person.
Think about this. If a group of creatives were given the same subject to produce work on, each one will have a different spin on it. It is difficult to compare whose artwork is better. Sure, there is the matter of one’s skill but that is something that people can always strive to work on. Everyone has their own strengths.
Okay, so now we know why comparison is bad for our creative work, but what can we do to overcome it? Here are some ways:
1. Don’t push it away.
Those feelings of envy or comparison should not be shoved into a drawer in your brain. Acknowledge them. Ask yourself: What about this person’s creative work makes you feel this way? Is it their skill in the craft? Maybe it’s the way they can present their work on social media? Is it the awards or opportunities they get? If you can identify what makes you want to compare yourself to them, it will help you see yourself and your feelings objectively.
What you can do: List down on paper or your notes app on what you are envious of regarding this creator’s work. Reflect on how these aspects of your work compare to them.
2. Study them, maybe even befriend them.
Sometimes, the need to compare your creative work to someone else’s may be a sign that this is the kind of work you want to make. I like to examine this artist’s work and ask myself: What is special about this to me? If I can observe their techniques or the way they translate their ideas carefully enough, I might be able to incorporate it into my creative practice too.
If you have the option, one can also turn these people into your collaborators. Reach out to them. Get to know them. When they become your friends, instead of being jealous of them, you will find yourself being happy for each work they make.
I am part of a community of artists myself. It is called Art Prof. All of us tune into live streams done by the teaching artists on YouTube, share knowledge and critique each other’s work on discord, and even participate in art challenges together. Immersing myself in a community like this helped me develop a healthier mindset towards my work and even celebrate the accomplishments and creations of my fellow artists.
What you can do: Looking at the list you made in step 1, try to find ways to examine this creative’s work more closely. Then, take note of how these creatives managed to achieve these things. Example: for visual artists, it can be examining their art or even better, watching their process videos. For writers, it can be reading their writing and highlighting the parts you loved.
3. Take a break from social media (or anything that triggers you).
Another thing I would recommend is to steer clear on what sets that comparison habit off. For me, it was social media. So, I made the effort to limit the amount of time I spent on Instagram and even unfollowed those artists that I compared myself to. It helped me to focus on my own work and build my own confidence in what I do.
What you can do: Identify what causes you to compare your work to others or when does it happen. Then, come up with ideas on how to either limit or get rid of these factors.
4. Realise that your work is equally valid.
It took me a long time to realise this truth: there is room for my work. Whether I want to share it with others or keep it to myself, it is valid. My ideas and my creative process are unique to me. Nobody has my life experience, my story or thinks the same way I do. It may seem a little far-fetched, but I did my best to remind myself of this fact and build my confidence in the process.
What you can do: List out what you do not like about your work. Then, write things to counter it. Example: I initially wrote that I did not like how I kept using the same colours in my artwork, then came up with a list of colours I needed to use more in my art.
Comparison is a normal thing to do, but I am sure that with some reflection, awareness and taking the steps you need, you will be able to overcome it.