Gold Medal Award for my father’s anthology  “Worth Remembering: The poetry of our heritage (and some of the stories).” Photo by Janet Riehl


by Janet Grace Riehl

Forget Penis Envy, Girls. Art Envy is what will do you in. Crank up the envy and watch your creative life drop dead in its tracks. It’s marked by a feeling of “If only…” and “Why not me…?” and “If I had…I could also…” and “Drat! Why are they getting the Pulitzer Prize? I stayed up later and turned in my homework on time.”

Maybe we envious types are sucked dry by our own envy. All that energy churning around in the gut instead of going into our art. All that attention plummeting outward instead of delving inward to nurture our art.  They have the talent and we don’t. They have the support and we don’t. They don’t work nearly as hard as we do, yet they win all the prizes and get the curtain calls. What’s up with that! And, heck, if I had computer equipment like that and my own study. And if I had a spouse who cooks, cleans, edits my work, and markets for me. Well, clearly, I could be successful, too.

While some of us are more plagued by Art Envy than others, I wonder how many creative people in the world have not felt this way—even a little—at some time or another?

Oh, dear. What to do?

  • Claim it and Name it. “Hello, my name is Janet, and I am struck dumb by Art Envy.”
  • Make it funny. A close friend and I use this formula to shift our view of situations that irk us. “It was sad, really, when Janet was struck dumb by Art Envy.” I mean, really, can you keep a straight face. Not us. We burst out in rollicking guffaws.
  • Up a tree without a paddle. Climb a tree with paper and pencil. See how long your hand can keep going until your legs can’t wrap around that limb anymore. Don’t fall! Be part of that Greater Mystery.
  • Declare Victory. What are your solid accomplishments? Make a gold medal with a blue ribbon. Invite your friends to an Acknowledgement Ceremony. You do have friends, right? “I, Janet, really have done some useful things in my life. So have others. Isn’t that a good thing?”

Have you experienced Art Envy? How did you give yourself a little more space to be yourself, just as you are, with whatever you have and don’t have? How did you find a way to write on?


 Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog. See the Creative Catalyst archive at  Learn more about our audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music”at Become a Riehlife Villager at

10 responses to “CREATIVE ENEMY #2: ART ENVY

  1. Okay, Janet, have you been hiding under my computer table? Wow, was this one every timely for me, I love your list of solutions- I’m going to start on them right now! Of course, my children will probably think I’m nuts, but that’s okay. (muttering, “Hello, my name is Khadijah…”

  2. The saddest thing about art envy is that as long as we’re looking at others’ work and wishing, our own creative voice is going unheard. I’m an illustrator. I have a son who will not draw. Nor will he color. He looks at what I produce (after fifty years of life, college courses, and fifteen years’ of work experience), sighs, and says, “I can’t draw like you do.”

    I’ve spent years trying to explain that he doesn’t have to–there is already one person in the world drawing like I do. In the last couple years he’s started to gain a bit more respect for his funny, friendly, casual drawings, and for his own 3D art, but it’s been a hard slog.

    He is one of the reasons why I work with the local schools, using student art to illustrate books about various aspects of school history. Teaching children to appreciate their own art is a wonderful inoculation for art envy.

  3. Khadijah,
    Love that image! Let me know when you come out from under your computer table, and we’ll talk. 🙂


    Wonderful story about your son’s intimidation of your art illustrations. I love what you’re doing with teaching children to appreciate their own art–with your son and beyond.

    Janet Riehl

  4. Readers,

    I need your help. What other Art Enemies shall we tackle in future columns?


  5. 1) Janet, your post brings back to mind a book I read recently, John Updike’s mischievously funny novel “Bech at Bay,” which is set in the world of writers and their critics and literary awards and all that… with a few murders thrown in. For those who are a little on the older, stouter, or less agile side to be climbing trees, I’ll go out on a limb to recommend instead a sitting with Bech at Bay.
    2) I’m jealous of your photographic skills (the photo of the medal). I’m wondering about the way you have arranged the ribbon attached to the medal. It is very artistic. (Why can’t I be artistic?) Is it some form of post-feminist ideograph? (Help me… I’m a challenged male wandering the halls of Herstory… And so “last generation” I don’t even know how to close with one of those smiley faced computer ideographs-)…

  6. Great article, Janet. You see the machinations inside the creative mind, the struggles between the dark and light, creative and destructive, self-affirming and self-destroying. The Mystery. With a capital “M.” A friend who is a successful painter always hangs a little sign in her studio: “No Masterpieces.” It’s a reminder to her to not “compete” but to stay with her own truth and her own vision.

  7. Janet brings up an insidious topic that has destroyed many an artist. I wrote about art and envy in Mozart or Muzak, a chapter in my book, An Artist Empowered.

    Don’t compare your own self to any other artist. Doing so plants and nourishes grievance seeds with long roots that sprout suffocating weeds for a lifetime of envy, ultimately stifling the dharma for which you have been born. Don’t concern your self with the seeming accomplishments of other artists. To covet has no place in a creator’s handbook for living. Focus on the present moment and leave art history to posterity. Mind your own business and create.

    In the 1984 film, Amadeus, adapted from the play of the same name by Peter Shaffer, the playwright dramatizes a popular urban legend in the world of classical music: the alleged rivalry between two composers in the late 18th century court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II, the musical king. There is the official royal Italian-born composer Antonio Salieri; and the newcomer, the Austrian prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Although the film is fiction, the story is portrayed in such a convincing narrative that many take it as being historically accurate—which it isn’t.

    More important, Shaffer’s poetic fabrication (in close collaboration with director Milos Forman) makes for an allegorical object lesson worth etching into the psyche of every artist. The story portrays the ultimate of rejections—by God himself, who seemingly and capriciously bestows the gift of great art upon those who may not ‘deserve’ it.

    Remember, humility is the artist’s ally.

    “Listening to, trusting, and acting on your intuitive inner guidance is an art. Like any other art or discipline, it requires a certain commitment. it is an ongoing process in which we are always being challenged to move to a deeper level of self-trust.”

    —Shakti Gawain

  8. Your timing is immaculate, as always! Laughter at myself has always been my weapon of choice against the dreaded ‘envies’.

  9. Alan,
    In fact, you are among the top writer friends that invoke my art envy!

    Yup. Ghanaians call it “Skin Pain.”

    You are an intrepid investigator of The Mystery.


    You have the territory well mapped.

    Janet Riehl

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