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Impostor syndrome and finding my place as an artist, or, how I came up with the name Yardia

Here's a long story about impostor syndrome, finding my place as an artist, and how I came up with the name Yardia.


Yesterday, I was chatting with the dad of a former student of mine who's now in her first year of art school on the other side of the country. It made me think back to my first year at RISD on the other side of the country.


When I started art school at RISD, I found myself amongst the best of the best. I knew I definitely didn’t belong with all that talent, and I was probably going to fail in comparison to everyone else. I remember searching online at night to see if there were any smaller, less intimidating art schools closer to home on the west coast that I could transfer to. I was homesick, but more importantly, my imposter syndrome was overwhelming me.


One of my first professors (a traditional sculptor who absolutely hated the giant abstract sculpture on the RISD beach) told me during a one-on-one critique that I had the skills, but I just didn’t have the confidence yet. At the time I felt angry at him about that, but I think it was because he saw right into me in that moment and I wasn’t ready to see it for myself.


Halfway through my sophomore year, I found my place.


That winter, another professor (an installation artist who created beautifully intricate and culturally resonant found-object rooms) told me in yet another one-on-one critique, that she respected my creative perspective and saw similarities in how she and I thought about the creative process.


It was that simple, off-hand outsider validation that gave me permission to be myself and create art that felt right to me. I allowed myself to dramatically shift the style of my work, away from the traditional observational oil paintings that never quite matched up to those of my fellow painting majors, to sprawling artworks that combined watercolors, ink, watered-down oil paints (yes!), and gesso with intricate collections of nature-inspired drawings and miniature paper sculptures. I started creating art that made me feel a sense of harmony. Art about eroding beaches, volcanoes, walled gardens and other places that felt like home and conveyed a sense that with every act of destruction there is a simultaneous act of creation.




This was also around the time that I started using the made-up word Yardia in my mind and in my art: a play on the parasite giardia combined with the idea of a beautiful and lush backyard utopia. Yardia started as a code word to symbolize my own concept of harmony. Worry and wonder, catastrophe and paradise. Imposter and artist. All existing simultaneously, creating beauty and magic together.


These days, I still sometimes fall into the comparison trap and get down on myself for failing new things I try to accomplish. On the one end of the spectrum, a possible big dream collaboration fell through while I was on a family vacation, and I was so disappointed that I didn’t tell anyone about it. On the other, more common, end of the spectrum for me, I got rejected yesterday by a couple big holiday shows I'd applied for and brushed it off immediately.


I’m grateful to have developed creative resilience over the years since I was an eighteen year old art student. Most times these days, I deal with rejection with an oh well, or a maybe next time, or a I guess that wasn’t a good fit. Most times, I look at other artists’ work on Instagram and feel inspired by the work of my peers, instead of seeing competition. Most times, I don't feel like an impostor, and I feel like I have my place. Being an artist is really about developing resilience in failure and using it as an opportunity to try a more creative way. There’s room for all of us in the creative world, and we each create beauty even when other things are falling apart. Harmony.