In 1954, psychologist Julian B. Rotter developed the concept of locus of control. Rotter believed that a person's locus existed on a continuum from "internal" to "external." A person with an strong internal locus of control would have strong faith in his own actions (personal choice, free-will, etc.) to determine the outcome of events in his life, while a person with a strong external locus of control would believe that forces outside of himself (fate, God, the environment, other people, etc.) govern the events of his life. For the person with a strong external locus of control, too many negative outcomes in life can lead to a sense of helplessness, of weakness, a sense that the world is completely out of his control. We may think then that having an internal locus of control is better (indeed, this is what our hard-working, American, individualistic culture emphasizes) but a strong internal locus of control can be equally problematic. A person with an internal locus of control may suffer from self-doubt, thinking that he is not skilled enough our "good" enough if things aren't working out quite right.
So how does this apply to us as artists? I find that when something doesn't feel right in studio, when my work is un-fulfilling or uninspired, when I have a bad critique, I blame myself, my lack of skill, my poor eye, my tastelessness, my stupidity. This thinking seriously hampers the art-making process. But it is my art, so how can it not be my fault if something is wrong with it? How can I move past this self-defeating mental block?
Elizabeth Gilbert has an answer. If we are ever plagued by self-doubt as artists, maybe we just need to shift our locus of control a bit. Maybe our genius isn't really our own. Watch and have hope.
6 years ago