“Other artists may have drawn the same subject before me, and others will do it after me. Some will do it better than me.
But the important thing is that each of us encounters our own world for ourselves with our own eyes.”
— James Gurney, “Is that your drawing or mine“
It’s one thing to compare a painting you’ve done with those others have done and decide it’s lacking. (Though comparing is a slippery slope. You’re most probably not comparing like for like; were they in the same stage of their artistic journey when they did it, for starters?)
It’s a whole other thing to compare a painting you’re thinking of doing and decide it will be lacking, or too similar, or not original, and thus not attempt it at all. (Giving up before you’ve tried is a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.)
Instead of thinking “Cézanne ruined apples for the rest of us”, think “If an apple was good enough for Cézanne, then it’s good enough for me.”
When I’m having a “comparison wobbly”, I try to remind myself of a painting by Monet I saw in the Met in New York. It had a prominent spot, a proud centrepiece to a gallery room, with people ooh-aahing around it, and all I could think was “that’s a terrible Monet”. I was struck by how static and stiff the sea is (it looks less so in a small photo than at actual size) and how it fails in comparison to Monet’s later seascapes. He painted it in 1867, age 27, and would paint for nearly another 60 years. In fairness, the focal point is meant to be the garden and the figures, not the sea, but they don’t do much for me either: “Garden at Sainte-Adresse“.
It’s a painting I find tremendously inspirational, but for reasons different to the Monet’s other paintings. But from an artist’s point of view, someone remembering a painting because they didn’t like it is better than not remembering it at all, isn’t it?