Someone asked me (offline) whether I thought of myself/my work differently since getting my work into a museum, getting published, winning awards, etc. The short answer is yes, but I’m trying not to.
Let me start by saying that it’s fun to pick up honors and awards. There’s nothing like the thrill of picking up a blue ribbon, or having an article published, or having a complete stranger come up to you at a weaving conference and tell you how much they enjoy your blog. It’s fun, and I enjoy it.
That said, I think it’s unhealthy to get caught up into the ego game. Your work doesn’t care; it cares about the skill and work that you put into it, not what others will think of it. And focusing on building and maintaining a reputation, winning awards, etc. can be tremendously destructive, both personally and artistically. I went through this in high school and I learned my lesson: the more you think of yourself as above the rest, the more stress and grief you create for yourself in trying to maintain that position. It’s just not healthy.
The other reason I think it’s unhealthy is that viewing yourself as an expert can destroy “beginner’s mind”: being open to ideas, exploring, and learning from everyone, even those who are just starting. It’s too easy to close off your mind and think your way is the best way, or get frightened of exploring new things because you have a reputation to maintain. (I have seen good artists fall into ruts for exactly this reason.) I prefer to think of things the same way a good martial artist would: the black belt is not the summation of achievement, but an indication that you have mastered basic techniques, and are prepared to learn more. This allows one to maintain “beginner’s mind” – instead of an expert, you’re a fellow student, maybe someone who understands well enough to teach things to other students, but fundamentally a traveler on the same path.
All that said, there’s a lot of positive to winning awards, the main one being that it can bring more self-confidence to those who are unsure of their abilities. It’s easy to be too hard on one’s own work and skill level; it’s handy to have a total stranger, an “expert”, tell you that your work is good. I didn’t really take my weaving seriously until I entered “Tiger Eye” at CNCH 2008 and won an award with it; up until then I figured I’d only been weaving a year and a half, so how good could my weaving be? It does make a difference knowing that I can produce museum quality work; it encourages me to stretch my abilities.
But fundamentally, it’s not something I want to focus on. I want to do good work, and I think it doesn’t help to aim for awards. That’s something external to my artistic voice, and I want to make my work for myself, not others. So, while there are positives to winning awards, it’s not something I want to focus on. In the end, the work is what matters, and the work doesn’t care.