Impostor Syndrome, Confidence, Skill, Effort, and Greatness in Arts

There are many different metrics to evaluate your own artistic output, and it seems like some of them lead to more satisfaction than others. It seems the way I evaluate my art is vastly unrelated to external opinion; I value my own above that, and the standards I refer to seem to keep raising asymptotically as my abilities expand. I can’t say I’ve ever been completely satisfied by anything I’ve made. And it has a big impact on my confidence in my own work and my willingness to share it.

Yet, in the arts, it appears the relationship between effort, investment, technical skill and appreciable outcome from an arbitrary viewpoint seems to be very loose. What might take someone an instant to create could resonate strongly with me, while it’s creator may reject it because they perceive their own effort insufficient for their production to qualify as art. On another end of the spectrum, extreme technicality and skill can be completely uninteresting just as it can be fascinating.

So, my question is: how do you judge your own art, and even art in general, with regards to skill and effort? How did you gain confidence in your craft?


Imposter syndrome is unfortunately common in the Arts. I think a lot of it is partly because our art all contains part of us in some way - so if someone is unkind, it’s hard not to see it as a personal attack. It takes a huge amount of courage to even show work to others, IMO!

I guess for myself, I judge my art in terms of intent and concept. What was I trying to do with and how successfully have I achieved my goal? If I’m not entirely happy with it, then how might I improve? I’ve found following Johns model for structured reflection particularly useful in that regard. It’s a form of guided reflection originally formulated for nurses, but can be carried across to any discipline. Another benefit is that it stops me from being too harsh about my own work - rather than seeing something as “success vs failure” I see all work as being part of a process.

When I first started showing my work, I also sought out more supportive places first to get used to receiving feedback and critiques before showing them to more critical audiences. I’m also pretty mindful when I’m giving feedback to people for that reason; I always remind myself to respect the amount of effort someone has put into their work and their courage to show it to me, even though I might not always appreciate the end result [which is okay! not everyone will like everything!].


I’m the WORST at this in all elements of my life.
Will be interested in the discussion here.

1 Like

I respect craft but don’t worship it…

My belief system is a scramble of idiosyncratic bits and bobs of various spiritual and philosophical ideas, but one great constant for me is the idea that the creativity isn’t mine, I merely channel it…

My job is to get out of the way and let whatever you want to call it flow through me…

Practice and theory can help or hinder that flow depending on many other factors… like the psychedelic thinkers said “set, setting and dosage”…

I find the work most interesting when I’m surprised by it, which happens most when I don’t fully know where inside myself it came from…

This is a big part of why I mostly gave up writing structured songs with words and started mostly doing instrumental improvisation…


I judge my music very very harshly, and suffer greatly for that. I’ve come back to a 1 minute long WIP track after maybe 5 years and think “Why did I not like that?” because I realise it sounds great. I’m also terrible for writing a 4 bar bass line, listening back to it, thinking “that’s shit” and ditching it. In reality, it’s 4 bars, how can it be terrible? But I get frustrated and disillusioned and leave it… Or I’ll spend an hour trying it with different sounds, still frustrated, still disillusioned, and then leave it, and think I’m shit, and feel bad. Procrastination hiding behind a search for some unachievable perfection.


I think part of maturing as an artist is really, truly, honestly, coming to terms with the fact that you will never be completely satisfied with what you do. Just the other day I saw 60 Minutes interview Paul McCartney and he made it very clear that he still doesn’t have total confidence in what he’s done.

I think it’s natural to have a skepticism when people praise your work, because as the person who made it, you’re kind of in on the secret of the process, and maybe you don’t consider that process all that special, or maybe the thought creeps in that “anyone could do this.”

I find the secret is avoiding comparison, and to maybe reexamine why you are doing what you’re doing in the first place. I sure as hell am not making the music I make for financial purposes- ambient music isn’t exactly hitting the top 40 anytime soon. So why do I do it? I like to think it’s just because it’s what I like to do and it’s what I’m good at. I don’t feel entitled to any sort of success. I make the work because I enjoy the process, put it out in the wild and it’s out of my hands. If people enjoy it or feel inspired by it then that’s absolutely awesome, but I truly don’t consider that the end goal. The old cliche of “its about the journey, not the destination” rings true here for me.

Another tip is maybe to shift perspectives on those elements of your work you maybe consider weak- perhaps it’s those things, those little mistakes in the recording, or whatever else, that make your work special and unique to you.

It’s certainly a lot to think about.


The weak or “wrong” elements are what make the work unique and beautiful in a wabi sabi sense


I think it’s very easy to equivocate the metric-based/gamification aspects of sharing art (or really, sharing anything online) like “number of likes” with its value. Whereas, if I take a step back, my own experiences with some piece of music or art or something that was really impactful may not be transparent at all. Like an album I listen to repeatedly or something on a physical, non-tracked medium. Not to mention that a lot of the things that I really like/am interested in creating realistically don’t have a lot of universal appeal.

I find it helpful in my personal music making journey to set goals and focus ideas that are more creative (and not too ambitious!) rather than like metric-optimizing. Stuff like “collaborate with artists in other mediums”, “release an album and plan a release show”, “figure out how to take nice videos and start a youtube channel”, etc. The promotional stuff can fall in place surrounding that stuff (and hopefully the goal was not so lofty that that stuff becomes a real chore).

I feel like working on and releasing things I’m not necessarily 100% proud of is a necessary part of my artistic practice, as I think it helps to allow me to move forward. Not to mention, releasing helps you learn the things that are important to you (as the creator) to spend time and focus on so that you are satisfied with the work.

I think what constitutes “progress” as an artist is another hard one to figure out. Again, I feel it is hard to separate that one from metrics. If I try to think about this from a more “artistic” perspective, it is hard too. Like, when is it time to let go of a comfortable part of your process and explore something new vs. honing your craft and making improvements upon what you already know? When is an album (or whatever) complete? Etc.


This is one of the rough things for me. I know I write music for my own tastes in an area out beyond “here there be dragons”. I put almost no resources into marketing it. I don’t rely on it for income or validation. And yet, I put so much effort into the thing, and am mostly proud of it, so it’s hard for it not to sting a bit when it goes basically unnoticed by the world. It’s irrational but I can’t stop it.


Really well put together. It feels to me like this is a matter of «lacher prise», of contemplating, just letting things be as they are, leaving expectation behind.

Many interesting thoughts have emerged from this already. I think I’ll have to let it sink a bit deeper before I formulate a worthy response.

1 Like

I had a revelation within the last year: music is simple.

I know, I know. Reductio ad absurdum. But hear me out! Every culture has it. We learn it from childhood. The rules are far less complex than the rules of spoken or written language.

By which I mean to say, we got this! We got this in our bones! We got this like Row Your Boat and Twinkle Little Star!

What, you’re trying to change music? You’re trying to make history? Well good on you for having that chutzpah. But you’re gonna get down on yourself if you aren’t the next JS Bach?! Go easy!

Almost every bass line is nearly the same. Every drum pattern ever played is already in a MIDI file somewhere. You are unlikely to fundamentally alter western common practice.

What does that leave us with? Your emotion. Your experience. It’s unique! You are the expert in that. Nobody is better. Nobody can take that away from you.

Use the same 12 notes the rest of us have and tell us a story we have never heard. It can be about any old thing, as long as it’s true.

Not sure how to start? Go find a song you like and learn how to play it. Just get that song in your bones. Now stop that and try again with your new song. Still don’t got it? Rinse and repeat 10,000x. You’ll get it somewhere in there.

But nobody is gonna hand you a seal of approval the first time you succeed. That’s probably the hardest part. You gotta know what it means to arrive at your goal. You gotta have that clear in your head.

I just realized I typed all of that as if I was ringside at a boxing match. I guess that makes you Rocky Balboa, tiger.

You got this.


notes to self re “the thread”

There are no Grand Architects, only catharsis and its fragmented archive.

Disentangling yourself and your work will improve both.

Love is labor.

hope this helps (us)


I feel like this really ties in with the «what would it take to sound new» thread.

I’ve definitely been guilty of trying too hard, of trying to reinvent the wheel. I’ve dug deep into psychoacoustics in hope of uncovering a new way of conceiving harmony, without even bothering to look into music theory. I didn’t find anything revolutionary, but I did find a lot of powerful tools for thinking about harmony and sound, and just maybe theoretically a weird corner of sound that hasn’t been explored much by current synthesis and manipulation methods.

Hypothetical weird sounds

Using wavelets to decouple periodicity from spectrum according to the duplex theory of pitch perception. I wish I could even know how that sounds, but I haven’t set foot in the world of DSP yet.

That didn’t yield any music by itself. But I absolutely can’t deny it was enjoyable, or that it significantly added to my understanding of sound. There was something quite stubborn about it, about wanting to figure everything out without looking at what was done by the people before me. Something about a worship for science too, about disregarding what can be done only without hard facts.

I’ve also disregarded a lot of things because they were common, «too repetitive», not complex enough… And I now see it was a pretty dumb attitude to hold. The fun part of it is that I get to discover music I didn’t allow myself to like in the past, music that I actually like.


decoupling periodicity from spectrum is a key component of the Mangrove “formant” out ^-^. In some ways, so is, like, done-to-tears subtractive synthesis as well.


That is super cool! Audacity is cool! This is a great example of why. But it’s almost never what you think it’s going to be when you got started. The ignition just gets the engine going, you run on the cylinders after that…

And it seems to have brought you to a place where you have an even deeper appreciation of the sublime in common things.

That’s a very valuable insight!


True, essentially anything implicating formants decouple periodicities and spectrum. What I have in mind is some kind of additive synthesis where you are summing windowed phase-reset sine waves, where the periodicity of the windowing isn’t related to the sine’s frequency. This would allow you to do some weirder stuff if you set the window periodicity as some arbitrary function of frequency. But it’s true you can achieve a lot of cases with just bandpass filters, pulse trains, sine waves and amplitude modulation.


oh man, yes! I would love to turn this idea into a Max patch!!


I’d love to hear that if you do. I still haven’t dove into Max!

1 Like

Thank you for your kind words!

1 Like

Long time lurker, first time posting. If this doesn’t belong here or maybe somewhere else please delete or move. I learned a lot here and really need to get this out of my system and I hope I get some perspective maybe: I’m a designer, I do stuff like graphic, web and interaction design. For me, design is mostly a combination of aesthetic (my own preferences and ideas + my clients) and purpose (there is a problem that needs solving and I get hired by a client to solve this problem by applying the knowledge I have). I don’t need to be 100% satisfied with the outcome as long as the client thinks his problem is solved. After all it is a job. I love doing it but it really helps me that there are milestones and a goal and people who tell me what they like and what they like to have changed. But with art it is different. This is stuff I just want to do for myself but I can never overcome the feeling that everything I do and even think is pretentious and pointless. Not worth being written down in any way. How do you deal with this? How do you convince yourself that your thoughts and feelings are indeed worth being put into art, whether it’s music or poetry or anything else. How can you learn to appreciate your own work for yourself? I don’t wanna come across as whiny or anything but this is something that troubles me quite often and I don’t seem to overcome this which leads to me not doing as much for myself as I’d like.