Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part II

It’s been one month since I last posted and that’s been due to me being sick for almost the entire month of December. Yes, I was inoculated against the flu. No, it didn’t prevent me from contracting it and then compounding said disease with a nasty sinus infection for good measure. I really should just buy stock in Sudafed and Kleenex.

Now that I’m able to be upright for most of the day without hacking my brains out or moaning incoherently, it’s time to get back to work and to the fascinating study of Art & Fear.

Let’s just consider the break my mid-season finale. I did leave you all on a bit of a cliff-hanger with Part I. So without further ado, here’s the conclusion.

To brush up on what we covered in Part I (or previously on Barbies on Fire), look no further than here.

Taming the Beast – Conquering the Fear

Now that we know that most artists struggle at one time or another with fear during their creative process, what do we do about it?

art_fearTo begin the discussion, I want to bring to light some of the ideas from the book I mentioned in Part I, ART & FEAR: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING by David Bayles & Ted Orland. The insights I found there were fantastic and really encouraging.

  • The function of the majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars…You learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. The best you can do is make art you care about – and lots of it! The rest is largely a matter of perseverance.

To me, this gave me permission to fail without being a failure and consider it part of my process. Those half-finished manuscripts that never managed to become anything more were just me learning how to write better.

  • Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail…Virtually all artists encounter such moments. Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring and generally healthy part of the art making process…In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea.

One of the novels I abandoned happened in a situation like this. The work wasn’t going anywhere and another story demanded my attention in its stead. So interesting to think of this as a normal part of the artistic process and not like I abandoned one of my children by the side of the road – which is how I used to feel.

  • (For many art students, graduation does them in.) Not many people continue making art when – abruptly – their work is no longer seen, no longer exhibited, no longer commented upon, no longer encouraged…the real killer is the lack of any continuing support system afterwards.

Being plugged into a supportive artistic community and receiving constructive feedback from my awesome critique group is key me to staying active with my art. I think this is important for most writers.

  •  Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be. For many people, that alone is enough to prevent their ever getting started at all – and for those who do, trouble isn’t long in coming.

This is just self-explanatory and (ding!) rings a bell with me. Remember that fear of failure was one of my reasons for procrastination.

  • What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. Each step in the art making process puts that issue to the test.

Who hasn’t questioned whether they were good enough or creative enough to make it as a writer? Who hasn’t had the horrifying thought, “I’ll never get published”? And yet, somehow we find the strength to keep going.

  • Imagination is in control when you begin making an object. The artwork’s potential is never higher than in that magic moment when the first brushstroke is applied, the first chord struck. But as the piece grows, technique and craft take over, and imagination becomes a less useful tool. A piece grows by becoming specific.

I used to feel so frustrated that I couldn’t get my fingers to type out the thoughts in my head. This idea that we can’t ever capture that elusiveness of inspiration exactly was liberating. I also loved this idea that creativity is tempered by technique.

  • Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.

Giving myself permission to embrace the uncertainty of writing may be the best idea to come out of this book, yet.

  • Fears about art making fall into two families: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others…fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

I totally agree with this point. I’ve known many writers who’ve told me that they can’t write a certain book until their parents die. You have to write as if no one is reading. Self-censorship will be the death of your creativity.

  • There is probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have – and probably no worry more common. This is true even among artists of considerable accomplishment.

I came to the realization after the LA SCBWI conference that no one is immune from self-doubt when so many speakers voiced this very thing. It came as quite a relief, actually. If we all feel this way, then it’s got to be a normal part of the creative process, right?

So what do you think? Did you connect or identify with any of these ideas? Does this help you feel better or worse about your relationship with art & fear?



4 thoughts on “Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part II

  1. Thanks for another great post. It reminds me of The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. About every two years, I feel the need to read it again.

  2. Gwen, I actually read a discussion about that book you mentioned on Twitter just the other day and now I’m even more intrigued. I really want to read it, now.

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