Why I try to avoid Blender art forums
Last year while visiting Pixar, something weird happened. At the time, I’d already been deeply involved in the CG industry for over 10 years. And up until that point I’d felt pretty happy with where I was artistically.
People in the Blender community had always showered me with compliments. And I ate it up.
But as I stepped in the door of Pixar, something strange happened.
I felt completely out of my element.
The artists walking along the floors were operating at a completely different level.
And as I walked the hallways lined with canvas prints of some of the greatest cg movies ever… I got an itching feeling that I needed to go home and try a LOT harder.
The Law of Averages
What I felt at Pixar can best be attributed to something called the Law of Averages.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” -Jim Rohn, Author and Entrepeneur
This law of averages, is the same reason that rich people usually have rich friends and poor people usually have poor friends.
This effect has been documented to show that our circle of friends is usually either motivating you to try harder, or encouraging you to slack off.
For example, a study by Michigan University of a relay team revealed that those who were the "weakest-link" eventually improved to match their team mates. But the opposite was also true, as high-achievers dropped their performance - also known as the Social Loafing.
Another example; Olympic medalist and World Cup Mia Hamm accredited much of her success to playing soccer against boys as a young girl. "That helped a lot. Playing against boys, against older kids who were more talented than I was. Bigger, stronger, faster."
Meet your newest circle of friends: the internet
As we spend longer and longer online, our "circle of friends" has extended to the sites that we frequent the most. A 2012 study showed that you can get the same effects online, as you can when physically working alongside someone.
Or to put it another way, the right art forum could have the same effect of working at a place like Pixar.
Consider this graph:
In the middle is where most users in any online community are. On the left are those performing worse, and on the right are people performing better than the average.
Ideally, you actually want to be on the left hand side of any site's bell curve. Why? Because the law of average will encourage you to get in the average ie. better than you are currently.
How Blender forums can make you "comfortable"
At Siggraph last year, I heard someone joke; "I like to go to r/Blender sometimes just to feel better about my art."
Some will take offense to this, but if we're truly honest I think most of us would agree that the quality of work Blender forums is lower (on average), than a wider cg community.
When you consider that Blender is free - and we know from surveys that that's where almost half the users come from - it make's perfect sense.
Blender is the perfect first choice for beginners to try out CG (and to be clear, I actively encourage that).
But we need to also acknowledge that just like a beginning class of art students, the work on average will be lower than the whole artistic community.
Now to be clear, I'm not saying that ALL blender art is bad. I'm just saying that what's impressive on a Blender-only site, would not get the same reaction on a wider CG site.
But if we talk in terms of averages, most works are noticeably lower in quality than on a larger cg site.
Finding a balance
Staying connected to the community can be very beneficial. Not only because you can learn new workflows or tools, but also for finding jobs.
So to be clear, I'm NOT suggesting that you avoid Blender art forums entirely (I still visit BlenderArtists at least once a week). But you'll grow faster as an artist if you also expand your community to include the whole CG world.
If you're looking for a good site to visit for inspiration, I recommend is ArtStation. It's open to the entire 2D and 3D community, and uses a "Trending" algorithm to ensure that only the good stuff rises to the top. The quality is impeccable and has been my main source of inspiration since discovering it 4 months ago (feel free to follow me).
So if you've been using Blender for a while, and are keen to improve, give some thought to the community you're a part of.
UPDATE: This post got a lot of attention on BlenderArtists, so I posted a reply to help clarify some things.