Faking Your Way Through Uncertainty

Modeling can be an exercise in uncertainty.  

A model is expected to walk into a room and create beautiful art.  It doesn’t matter what’s in the room.  I rarely know what props, backgrounds, or lighting I’ll have, or what themes I’ll be expected to portray.  Oftentimes I’ve never even met the photographer or artists in person before, so I’m learning someone’s artistic process as we go.  

All of this adds a layer of unpredictability. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought: “This is great!  No, it sucks!  No, it’s great!” about my modeling on the very same gig.

I feel the same way about my other art too.  Almost every blog post, I hit the it-sucks-and-I-suck stage, while at other points I feel like the most brilliant writer that’s ever lived.  I’m convinced that all art is like this.  Every artist I’ve ever met has admitted to feeling the same emotional roller coaster when they are creating art.  They all go through the uncertainty, fear, dread, elation, and failure.  “It’s great!  No, it sucks!” seems to be our common mantra.

The quality of my work seems entirely unrelated to how I feel when making it.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that this mantra isn’t a comment on the quality of my work.  Blog posts that I’ve published in the “No, it sucks!” phase have gotten more likes and commentary than ones I thought were great.  Images I’ve gotten back from seemingly uninspired shoots have turned out better than ones where I thought I was on fire.  Time and again, I’m reminded that the quality of my work seems entirely unrelated to how I feel when making it.

So feeling dismayed about my work doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out bad.  But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to push through the “No, it sucks!” phase and make art anyway.  Uncertainty is demoralizing.  Creating is always a challenge, and self-doubt only makes it worse—whether or not it’s warranted. 

So to push through such doubt, I’ve had to learn how to cope with uncertainty.  I have found no better way than simply pretending that I know what I’m doing when I walk in the door, before I start, no matter my emotional state.   Put simply: faking it.

For me, the most uncertain gigs are often life drawing sessions.  When I’m sitting in the same position for twenty minutes, I have what feels like an endless amount of time to switch my opinion on the pose I’ve chosen.  Maybe the first few minutes I’ll feel elated—I’ll love that I created an interesting shape or negative space, for example.  But a few minutes after that, I may worry that the artists are losing interest, or the pose is too hard for them to draw.  A few minutes after that, well. . .you know how it goes.  It’s great.  No, it sucks.  No, it’s great. 

To cope, to fake it, I’ve developed a habit of moving gracefully into each life drawing pose.  I don’t just plop into position and shift around until I’m sure I’ll be comfortable for the next twenty minutes.  I specifically change my breathing pattern, tense my muscles, and gesture slowly before I sink into it.  I pretend like I’m swimming through peanut butter—every moment is deliberate and placed.  I even use motions that I’ve picked up from ballet.

Why do I bother doing this?  It doesn’t affect the final pose.  I would be in the same position if I just plunked myself down without all the fanfare.  But I’m convinced that it makes me look like I know what I’m doing.  I seem certain—even when I’m anything but.

This has absolutely nothing to do with convincing the people I’m working with that I’m competent.  It’s actually about convincing myself.  When I’m starting to swing over to “No, it sucks!” It helps nudge me back to “It’s great; I know what I’m doing.”  And if I’m still stuck in the doubt-wasteland, it keeps me trudging through.

It certainly doesn’t change the fact that making art is an uncertain process.  Nor does it magically make my art better—after all, how I feel about it doesn’t change how good it is.  But faking it gives me a nudge in the right direction when I walk through the door.