‘DEAR MAZ; Correspondence with creatives; a series of emails seeking support and guidance from someone who has been there…

Dear Maz

I have always been interested in art and have been painting seriously now for about 10 years. When my husband, son and I finally settled in a European city I took the opportunity to take a degree in Humanities with Art history and then went on to study for a Masters; and then I decided to start painting again. I did loads of online courses and joined a popular online artist’s networking group. I managed to get a great studio where there were about 40 other artists which was great, and I started exhibiting quite regularly. I was selected to participate in a prestigious exhibition which attracts all the wealthy (of which there are quite a few in this city) and I managed to sell quite well. I also have work in a nice gallery and exhibited in a gallery in France last year.

So, this all sounds quite good, doesn’t it? I think my problems are with imposter syndrome, and a lack of validation and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s something that we just have to accept and live with?  The jury that selected me for the major expo were in two minds as clearly my style wasn’t really their thing, and this has always bugged me, even though I did quite well. I get the feeling that my work is a bit ‘old hat?’ And every time I sell some work, I have an initial feeling of euphoria but that always turns into doubt!! About what?? I think it’s that I assume they (the buyer) can’t know anything about art! That’s just wrong, isn’t it?

Sorry for the ramble.

Best wishes,


The photograph shows the authors studio, with several works in progress. Hanging on the wall and stacked on the floor

Work in Progress, the Artist’s Studio. Maryanne Hawes

Dear Liz,

Your email, far from a ramble, is nothing short of completely relatable and beautifully human. You have summarised the path of the artist; often winding, with many an apparent dead-end, potholed with moments of exhilaration and periods of self-doubt. This is the core of the artistic experience, enriching as much as it challenges. This, my friend, is The Work.

Firstly, let’s acknowledge the courage and resilience you’ve demonstrated. Ten years of dedicated painting, coupled with a rich background in humanities and art history, is a formidable foundation. The experience you’ve gathered, achieving recognition through exhibitions and sales, is a testament to your talent and dedication. Isn’t it interesting then, that you have found yourself dwelling on the teeny tiny flecks of negativity that might otherwise have floated past? I’m not judging – we all do it- we are literally wired with a negativity bias that taught our ancestors to give more weight to negative experiences than positive ones. For them, paying attention to potential threats could be a matter of life or death. For us, it’s a potentially debilitating mindset that feeds into the resistance to producing our best work, causing us to question our talent and accomplishments, hindering our ability to confidently continue the creative process.

Could you think back to some of those positive moments, when you’ve received heartening feedback, made a sale, or achieved a personal milestone in your art career? Can you print out some photos or print off a text or email or even comments on instagram, and pin them on your fridge or in a journal that stays open on your workspace? This way your achievements and successes can and will not be ignored!

Imposter syndrome is a pesky spectre that haunts many of us in the creative fields. It’s an insidious feeling, gnawing away at the joy of our accomplishments. You ask, is this something that we just have to accept and live with? I think yes, acceptance is part of the answer. But we don’t have to give it permanent house room in our head.

In Stephen Pressfield’s ‘The Artist’s Journey’, he says ‘the artist on her journey confronts no foes that are not of her own creation… She has created them mentally. She can defeat them the same way.’  How would it feel to see it not an indicator of inadequacy but rather a sign of your deep commitment to your work, and thus neutralise the power of the imposter syndrome?  Every artist, at some point, questions their worth, and its so especially easy to do given the subjective nature of art and how it is perceived, and received. It’s worth remembering that those that aren’t achieving much probably aren’t experiencing imposter syndrome… the ones who say ‘you can’t’ are the ones scared that you will- and that includes that little chimp on your head that just wants to keep you safe. Thank that cheeky chimp, but reassure her that you are ready to push some boundaries and resilient enough to deal with the consequences.

You assumed that the more reticent of the curators who ultimately selected your work saw it as ‘not their style’, and that may well be the case. You know your work isn’t going to please everybody, and nor should it! Remember, validation comes in many forms, not least of which is the impact your work has on those who encounter it. Some will love it; some will hate it; some will call it ‘old hat’. But just as often you will witness in your viewers a visceral joy or a quiet contemplation; the validation of these reactions is immeasurable and deeply valuable; savour it.

I do hope that helps. Keep going.

Maz x