Faking It.

In Creativity and Inspiration, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, The Craft, Thoughts & Theory, Vision Is Better by David61 Comments

Ice Abstract, Peggy’s Cove, NS. 2012.

Every artist I know, particularly those who feel uncomfortable calling themselves artists, feels like they’re faking it. In those moments when I’m totally transparent and feeling brave,  I’ll tell you it’s one of the two fears with which I wrestle daily – the first that one day I’ll wake to find my muse has abandoned me and that I’ve shot my last good photograph, written my last decent sentence. The second is that one day everyone will all wake up to the collective revelation that I’m just faking it. The fear, at least the second one, is well founded.

Because I am faking it. We all are. We’re making it up as we go. That’s what creative people in any pursuit do. It’s not a part of what we do, it’s the very nature of what we do. We try new things, go where we’ve never gone, we do things for which there are neither rules nor established ways we should do what we do. In the process we make a lot of mistakes, fall on our faces, and – in the case of photographers – we make a lot of really bad photographs, the sketch images I often talk about, in pursuit of the good ones. The public, whoever that is, only sees the good stuff. We see it all: the crap, the dross, the chaff, and it’s often the flotsam and jetsam of the creative process that we get hung up on, forgetting that every artist creates the same waste as they chase their own muse. The more creative we are, or endeavour to be, the more of it – the crap, the evidence of our faking it – we produce.

It’s easy to look at an artist who fits our own understanding of what it means to have succeeded, and to assume they no longer battle these demons, but your view of any artist is as muddled as his or her own view of themselves. You see a photographer who’s made it. Published books. Worked for great clients. Created something for which they’ve received accolades or, God help them, awards. And you assume he no longer fears the knock, the one where they come to tell him he’s finally been fingered for faking it. The thing is, he fears it more. Because most often the artist – and I’ve yet to meet one so well adjusted that I can say there are exceptions to this – just sees his success as a string of flukes, hard work, and probably a little mistaken identity. It isn’t the artist faking it I worry about, it’s the one who thinks he isn’t.

Why I think this matters is because when we begin to see this as normal, as part of the inner life of the artist, we can stop beating ourselves up for it. We can take the proper place of the artist, which is a posture of humility before the muse, knowing we are dependent not on our gifts or talents or painfully waiting for inspiration from above, but on hard work and circumstance and the mystery of the creative process. We might never make it, even when in the eyes of so many we already have. Or we might already be there and never see it. I suspect it’s a little of both, depending on what day it is, because “to make it” is so subjective. For me the goal is not to make it but to be making it. To live a life of daily creation, where the “it” changes often. To every day find new ways to “fake it” and see if that leads to something beautiful, knowing that if the knock comes, the imagined accusers on the other side of the door can tell us nothing we’ve not told the world already and tried, every day, to own. We’re faking it. Of course we are. You should expect nothing else but that we do so honestly, intentionally, and with our whole hearts.


  1. Barb Kellogg

    So do you sit inside my head or something? Stop it!!! (No don’t. You’re a free motivational speaker and therapist all in one.)

    (btw, those Gobi impressions were awesome, and nice to see some abstract work.)

  2. Mark Olwick

    I think the only time someone would have a feeling of “faking it” is if their self-worth depended on the approval of others. Once you get past that and truly do your art for yourself, those feelings vanish.

    Just my perspective.

  3. david

    Mark, that might be, but I don’t know many people that manage to be that well adjusted all the time.

  4. Wesley Picotte Wilderness Landscapes

    I love this post, but would argue that what you describe is the opposite of faking it! It’s the real thing…how many quotes could I go to for this…

    How about Theo Roosevelt: “The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything.”

    Or Samual Goldwyne: “The harder I work the luckier I get.”

    Or Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

    And maybe this is what we do — show up for all of it, the successes and failures and the parts we need to figure out because we simply don’t know how we’re doing it…

  5. Pingback: We are all just “Faking It.” – and that may be why we keep making art. Looking for the moment that becomes real. | Wizwow's World

  6. Diana

    I totally get this! You said what I think about my photography, my writing, singing, whatever. That’s real inside my head, but as you so elegantly pointed out, it’s not the whole picture, and it’s folly to believe that it is. You have so much courage and honesty, and you helped another artist today. Thank you.

  7. Kat Sloma

    Thanks for the reminder I’m not alone in this feeling! One of the best things we can do for ourselves is get comfortable with “faking it.” Basically I see it as recognizing fear, and then learning to ignore it so you can keep moving forward.

  8. Patti Kuche

    I am hoping to move on up from the “plodding” stage to the “faking” it and this is just the encouragement I need, thank you!

  9. Sharon

    Awesome post! I need to remember your words! I fear I am too worried about how my work is perceived, when I should really focus on the art of it. Thx for the reminder.

  10. Stacie

    Oh, this is so perfect.

    I live my life knowing that I can’t control the weird serendipity required to make a really good image and I’m constantly worried that everyone else knows how to do it on command and will find out that I just keep shooting and get periodically lucky. At least, I think I get lucky but that’s a whole other neurosis!

  11. Gary Dowd

    I’m not faking it. >wink, wink< No, really. The comments are as much fun – and true – as the post. Good stuff, as usual, David. Thanks.

  12. Annie Richardson

    Thank you for this. Thank you for sorting out and putting words to the worries of my soul. I especially love your ending. “Live a life of daily creation.” great inspiration.

  13. Zachary Long

    Thanks for this, really struggling with it lately. I’m currently in the “my work is total crap” phase of self-worth, but apparently I keep getting hired. As much as I hate myself I deep down know it’s good for me to never settle and get lazy.

  14. Augustine

    Couldn’t agree more. Like so many others here I struggle with “faking” and being my own harshest critic only adds to the struggle. Thank you for the revelation that I am not alone.

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  16. Sagar

    David how the hell you know everything about me. Are you some kind of magician ?

    You are amazing :)

  17. Pingback: Faking It. « National-Express2011

  18. Duncan Fawkes

    I said to my wife ‘I want to be a landscape photographer’. She said ‘you ARE a landscape photographer’.

  19. Melissa

    The last time I saw my accountant I told her I was pretty sure I was just making this up as I went along and somebody was going to figure it out pretty soon. We all needed this one David. Thanks. I feel a little better now.

  20. Deborah

    “For me the goal is not to make it but to be making it. To live a life of daily creation, where the “it” changes often.” Thank you for this. You have helped changed my perspective in a very positive way.

  21. Brad Wilson

    We may never make it, but I still think we should keep trying to do it right.

    I started life out as a visual artist and I remember being frustrated as I worked hard in my drawing and theory classes, while others just cruised through because “they don’t do representational art”.

    My problem with that attitude is not only the lack of discipline, I also wonder about the art they are producing. If they can’t paint a decent still life, how do I know the final piece is indeed the product of their mind’s expression or a fluke?

    While I’m just a hobby photographer, I take the principles of photography seriously and make it my job to learn them instead of relying on the accidental success. As you might imagine, I’m not big on post processing.

    I realize you are encouraging people to not lose hope, but for some reason this struck a chord in my brain that was slightly different. Sorry for going a little off topic.

  22. Jean H

    My soul thanks you from its depths, David! Here I had been thinking this fear was part of my bipolar disorder! Then, at other times, I think it is equivalent to the stage fright all good performers feel before they perform and thank God for it. But I get stuck in the first again more than the second which is why I have recently adopted this saying by Bill Cosby as my signature on those forums that use one — “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”

  23. Author

    Brad – Give this another read. I’m not talking about excellence of craft, for which I hope regular readers will already know I am a strong advocate, but I’m talking about the inner life and doubts of the artist as they wrestle with, and define, success. Eventually, yes, it would be nice if, as Mark Olwick pointed out, we stopped comparing ourselves, but I think that’s a point on our journey that takes time and remains, even with time, relative. When I say that we’re faking it, I mean to say that we have our own path to create, and none other. As for going off topic, I’m pretty digressive most of the time, so no one around here will fault you for that. :-)

  24. Sandy

    Thanks for, as others have stated, “seeing into my thoughts” and addressing in such a clear way the struggle many of us feel inside. While many of us work hard to develop the technical side of our craft, many times the creative side is the creme de la creme that is so difficult to achieve. Technical prowess has it certain merits however, for me, I find that I am constantly struggling with creativity. The more pressure I allow myself to feel, the less my mind has creativity.

    Thanks, from one who feels the creative struggle and comparison game intensely, for your words of encouragement.

  25. Russell

    Wise words, David although of course, it’s not just artists who suffer this. Self-doubt is yet another facet of the lives of quiet desperation that Thoreau identified most of us living.

  26. Tom Kostes

    For many years, I was a full time ceramics artist/craftsman. When I was just starting out, (seems like a lifetime ago) I was teaching at a small, but good art school, definitely feeling like and impostor. There was a well known and accomplished potter in my town that always had his “nose up in the air” and was quite aloof, made me feel really inferior.

    Turns out he taught, earlier in his career, at the same school. One day I came across one of his early works and guess what, it was just as bad as mine! That made me feel a whole lot better and certainly more hopeful of ever achieving something worthwhile in the future.

    Sounds silly I know, but we are all children of the universe and if we work hard, with sincerity and devotion to our craft, some of the grace of the parent can’t help but rub off on us.

    Work hard and have fun and be insecure and wonders will happen!

    Plus we all here know full well that Mr. duChemin is no impostor….. 😉

  27. nate parker

    How bout that- just yesterday I blogged about “feeling like an interloper” and talked about the same thing. I was watching a Sally Mann interview previously that I quoted from “Each picture up’s the ante, every time you take one good picture the next one has got to be better. …the thing that subverts your next body of work is the work you’ve made before”.
    It’s a long learning curve!

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  29. Joolz

    Thank you David! Your honesty always touches me. As usual, I thought I was the only one – and never would have guessed you were also subject to these thoughts! <3

  30. Rog

    Great insight to an issue I resolved long ago for myself… almost along the exact lines you express here. I hope many others will listen! Whenever I do an art fair, I inevitably get the question, “was that photoshopped? To which i reply a hearty, “OF COURSE! And so is every other photo here that was taken by a digital camera.” This opens a great conversation about art and creativity as a photographer. I always want to share what I saw, not just what was there.

  31. Carolyn

    Rog said (comment #47 above) “I always want to share what I saw, not just what was there.” – LOVE THIS!
    Thank you Dave for a great article!

  32. Chester

    Reminds me of Amanda Palmer’s Commencement Speech to NEIA’s Class of 2011. I really needed to read this tonight as I started freaking out about having no clue what I’m doing. Wonderful article.

  33. Charmain Hendrikse

    Resonates quite well with art historian Robert Hughes: “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize”

  34. Carolyn Potts

    Love your honest drawing back of the creative curtain. So true!!

    In my career as a photo rep, I had the privilege of seeing the whole kit and kaboodle of the creative output of many of advertising’s “star photographers”; I can tell you for a stone cold, hard fact, the “big name photographers” had just as many crappy and off-target shots as anyone else.

    But the other thing they had–-that not every photographer has–- is a persistence and a willingness to take creative risks, over and over and over again, until the muse blessed them again. Those images went into their portfolios and I got to trumpet them as creative geniuses because I knew it was true; they had what it takes to keep going through the valley of their doubts.

    Because I repped so many photographers, I was fortunate to have a broader perspective on the creative process than a single photographer usually has. I saw ALL of my artists go through it; I knew that the photographic dross was just part of the process to get to “the good stuff.” When you’re all on your own, it’s harder; you sometimes think it’s just you that’s faking. It’s not!

    Talking a ‘star’ photographer “off the ledge” when they hit a long creative dry spell, came with the territory. :)

    So keep going. And going. Humbly. And with gratitude and hope. IMHO:It’s the only way.

  35. Author

    Brilliant contribution, Carolyn, and one I hope my readers will see. Thank you. I’d give anything to hear some of the stories of star photographers and ledges. I’ve had ledges too but not the good sense to let them remain metaphorical. :-)

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  37. Kionda

    Needed to read this. It’s the thought of faking it that’s holding me back in many ways. Sharing this at once. Thank you so much for writing this. ?

  38. Melissa Reed

    Eh. I don’t know if “faking it” is the best way to put it – I feel where you are coming from and I know I struggle with the same sentiment, but I don’t feel like I am “faking it”, I guess I just feel like I am trying to find my way in life and my pursuit of artistic endeavors. I definitely feel lack of confidence at times, but not that I am faking it per se. I think the thing that keeps me going is the fact that what I’m doing is attempting to be true to me, and my art, and self doubt is normal, insecurity is normal, and at times debilitating but I wouldn’t call it faking it…as long as there is sincerity in what you are doing. Just my 2 cents… :) Hope all is well with you!

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