What are you feeling?
For some artists, the sight of another person winning an award feels like a shot in the heart. You may experience a variety of emotions: anger, sadness, fear. Jealousy might overwhelm you. Underneath it all there’s the sense that this person shouldn’t be winning. The praise shouldn’t be going to them. It should be going to you. To make matters worse you may say to yourself: “I’m so far away from what I want and where I want to be. I’m a failure.” It’s a painful place to be.
Comparing ourselves to others is a dangerous game. And once we start, it sometimes feels like we can’t stop. We play the scenario over and over again and find ourselves wanting. This may be particularly true during awards season, when winners are ‘crowned’ publicly and repeatedly.
What can you do about being overwhelmed by these feelings?
Try one (or all) of these strategies to cure your awards season jealousy:
Recognize that awards shows and contests are essentially money-makers.
Almost all of them have entry fees that go to the sponsoring organization. Anyone who wins an award can charge more for their services after the fact. Film companies, theatre companies, and artists love the publicity – which might result in a larger take at the box office. Imagine: if you had an award that you gave out, it would likely be a way to bring in cash (and attention for your organization) no matter how else you marketed it to others.
Recognize that evaluating art is always subjective.
You can’t compare one piece of art to another. Well, you can, but unless the pieces are focusing on the same subject matter and trying to do the same thing with the same resources, it’s a meaningless exercise. “Best” is a random construct. Best painting. Best play. Best performance. Best picture. Even though people do it, there’s nothing scientifically accurate about suggesting one piece of art is better than another. It’s a matter of opinion – in the same way that your “favorite meal” is not a scientific comparison of one meal over another, it’s simply the one that you enjoy most. If everyone on the planet voted for “best meal” you could tabulate a winner, based on popularity, but that wouldn’t really prove what the “best” meal is.
Recognize that the least objectionable choice often “wins”.
When I volunteered for a state arts council and we awarded money to artists, often the votes were split. Some wanted to reward radical work and some wanted to reward work that was modest and grounded. The committee couldn’t agree on the extremes and often the winning votes went for the work that landed in the middle. The work that “most people” agree on got the big prize. That doesn’t mean it was the most amazing choice – it may have been the one that was easiest to vote for.
Recognize that winners are voted-for not ‘anointed’.
There’s a misconception that awards are given to those who deserve them. But that’s not the case. Someone who gets the most votes is the person who gets the most votes. That doesn’t mean they are the most valiant, lovely, intuitive, talented, brilliant or hard-working. It isn’t about being fair or getting what one is due. It’s just the way the vote turns out.
Recognize that some voters haven’t seen all the choices.
This is a tricky one, but I know from experience that not everyone takes the time to see every entry in a contest. While it may be ideal that all voters watch, read and experience every piece in a given category, that’s not always the way it happens. Some people vote for friends, or artists they “like” instead of watching everything. Some vote based on the “buzz” of a given piece (or the massive publicity campaign that proclaimed the greatness of a given project). Even if a contest wants each voter to see everything, they can’t force everyone to comply.
Recognize that the world is big enough for many thriving creative people.
Every day, across the planet, an artist wins something. It would be absurd to assume that an award winner’s victory takes something away from you. Your artistic path can be long and varied. Your unique work can make an impact regardless of who else is out there doing well. Believing anything else suggests that the art world is a very small place without room for multiple successful artists. Look around! As you observe other artists thriving, realize their very presence disputes the theory that success belongs to a select few.
Recognize that your best response to any challenge or issue is to do your work.
While I always encourage people to feel their feelings, I draw the line at getting lost in an emotional vortex of sadness and worthlessness. The best response to everything art related is to create more art. Isn’t that what you’re on the planet to do? Do it. Get yourself together and move on to the next adventure. Create your work in the unique way that only you can.
As you watch awards shows this season, use these suggestions to move beyond the idea that someone else’s win is a loss for you. Showing up for the work is what matters most – don’t let your emotions or anything else, hold you back from that.
If you need cheering on, you know where to find me.