I’m a creator.
I’m doing everything right.
I’ve executed my idea to be novel, interesting, and it even has heart!
I shared my creation with everyone I know and on all the sites I know of.
I gave it my best effort, and then some.
It is my best work yet.
And if all is that is true…
…am I not getting the attention I deserve?
If the above sounds familiar to you, you are definitely being affected by art envy.
Although there are many types of jealousy, envy and resentment, I want to address a specific subset of artists:
Artists who are proud of their work, yet don’t get the recognition they want.
I have found that the best way to deal with envy is by understanding the causes and conditions behind it.
As the envious artist, at times, you can feel like a little gem, waiting to be discovered. And the world is focusing its gaze as a spotlight upon a sea of pebbles. But your gem is buried, barely visible. Sometimes the spotlight hits pebbles that are mere inches away. But alas, it doesn’t seem to touch you at all. Why is this so? Who the hell is directing this spotlight?
When will it be my turn to shine?
We live in an age of global media, so the sea of pebbles is actually a vast ocean now.
We have the internet to thank for the ability to share our stuff with the entire world. There are now hundreds of thousands of audiences, viewer bases, and niche communities, ready to accept whatever creation you got.
As a result, the world wide web has raised our chances to hit it big! All it takes is a couple well-timed shares for a piece of content to go viral. Superstars are being made out of regular artists every week.
The downside: If anyone can be a “winner”, then it can seem like everyone is a competitor. And media sharing sites support this way of thinking through the use of:
- Number of Likes
- Number of Views
- Number of Comments
- Daily, Weekly, Monthly Best
- 5 Star Rankings/Reviews
- and more.
It can be hard to shake off the idea that your creation is being quantified into a metric, which is how computers like to sort things out. As a programmer, I don’t blame ’em. I honestly can’t think of any other way to deal with so much data.
Why care about views so much?
With all of these statistics, it becomes incredibly easy to compare my art to someone else’s. No intense critique or review of the art is necessary. Because, I can simply ask: Does my artwork have more X than that artwork?
And if it does, I get this feeling that my art is more significant. The more attention it receives, the better I feel. It is basically like being praised in person.
A Sense of Lack
So it is no wonder that we’ll end up envious when another person’s creation is seemingly low-quality yet gets more eyeballs. This “I deserve more!” feeling is even reinforced by others:
- “Amazing, awesome, etc..”
- “Why doesn’t this channel have X more views?”
- “This video deserves more views!”
It is also self-reinforced. You put so much effort and time, unseen by the world. Time including planning, thinking at night, and daydreaming. Researching, drawing, and making the product as best as it can be.
And then you kick yourself in the ass by comparing your monumental efforts to someone else’s Pokemon reference that gets ten times the attention.
Art Envy has DEADLY CONSEQUENCES
A yearning for the limelight can seem harmless. In many cases, it is what motivates a lot of great work. But left unchecked, it becomes a very unhealthy mindset:
- Demotivated to do any new projects – What’s the point if my efforts are not getting a return?
- Spending time looking at other people’s numbers instead of working on what you love.
- It just plain old feels crummy. You feel like you’re not as good, or valuable as that person.
- Worst of all: You lose appreciation for that person’s art. You can’t fully enjoy it, even if thousands of others loved it.
Art envy hurts both the creator and the consumer. The creator’s efforts to form a connection to you, the consumer fails. And you, as the consumer, fail to benefit from the creation. Everyone’s time is wasted in a transaction involving envy.
Obvious to diagnose, difficult to treat.
I think we’re all self-aware enough to realize we are jealous, envy, or whatever when it’s happening. We already recognize that, “Yes, it is a bad thing”, and, “Yes, I shouldn’t do it.”
Yet, the envy seems to strike us at seemingly random times. I believe it’s because envy relies on being unexpected. No one gets worked up over an Olympic sprinter beating them at a race.
So a crucial defense against envy is realizing that you have unrealistic expectations. The fact that you only got X number of views shows that. Reality is telling you that you got the number of views you literally deserve, whether it was by skill or by pure chance.
The hard part is bringing your expectations to match reality.
For example, let’s consider the reality of releasing a video. As much as I’d like it for “the quality of a video to equal the quantity of views”, it has been shown that view count is affected by dozens of factors unrelated to the content.
Here are just a few:
- Time of the day, week, year, century, decade the video hit the front page.
- How fast the internet was for the viewers watching the video at the time.
- How bored the viewers were before watching the video.
- Whether the viewers had something more important to do than like, comment, and share a video at the time.
Notice that these are all factors that were out of the creator’s control, yet my envious self says they “didn’t deserve it”. One could extend this logic even further, and claim that the creator’s in-born skill and talent was out of his/her control. But then we enter the “Determinism vs Free Will” debate and that’s too interesting to talk about.
Here are some other ways to deal with art envy:
- Focus on loving the art process, instead of the end results.
- Art is not a competition. There is not a limited supply of appreciation for art. People can like more than one thing.
- Focus on serving your friends and fans who already like your art.
- Try to leave a positive comment on art you envy (this is super effective).
No Jelly Mode for YouTube
In my quest to slay art envy, I coded up a style plugin that hides all statistical information (views counts, likes) from YouTube. It makes browsing YouTube nicer, since I can’t compare myself to others. Download and install it here.
There is no cure!
There is not one person on the planet who is 100% free from the feeling of envy.
It is an insidious feeling of deprivation and resentment, that creeps up on everyone. Myself included.
And even though I am less envious nowadays than I was before, I still get those green eyes. And when I catch myself sighing about other people’s success, I try to forgive myself.
Envy is not evil, it’s just a learned habit that’s not optimal.
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