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?

 

 

Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part I

We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.

My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.

I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.

I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.

My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.

So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own.  I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.

Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:

Trevor Halloween Story

There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?

When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves.  Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.

One fear conquered.

Fear & Art

When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.

Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!

YES! YES! YES!

And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!

Creative Process Pic

Sound familiar?

During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.

Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:

The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)

The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)

Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)

Social Media (worse than television)

So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?

Fear of Failure.

Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.

That answer surprised me.

Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.

I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.

I wanted to explore this further.

So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.

One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.

I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING  by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.

How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?

Variations of the Mona Lisa – a TGNA Post

 

tgnahead

 

 

It’s Writing Wednesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I am so excited about today’s post! The idea for this craft post came to me a few months ago when yet, again, I was having a discussion about reading and why it was important for writers to be well-read.

Cue the excuses from some novice writer why they didn’t read/couldn’t read.

Cue my head exploding.

How could I get my fellow newbie writers to understand, to maybe see from a different perspective, how reading was not detrimental but essential to their growth?

This post entitled Variations of the Mona Lisa (Why Studying the Masters is NOT an Exercise in Futility) is my love letter to them, my misguided peers.

Here’s a preview:

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She's smaller because she IS small.)
Mona Lisa by Da Vinci

I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual. I understand that mine is not the only opinion on any given subject and that each person brings a different perspective to a discussion, shaped by their own unique life experiences. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have something to teach me or that didn’t have an interesting story to tell.

That being said, there are some hot button topics that will put my strong sense of open-mindedness to its ultimate test. One of those issues is whether or not a writer needs to read books (and read a LOT of books) in order to be a good writer. Want to see me bend over backwards to restrain myself from mentally body-checking someone? Let me hear someone say, “I’m afraid I’ll take on another author’s style if I read too much” or “I don’t have time to read.”

Flames. Flames will shoot out of my eyes.

To demonstrate why these and other asinine arguments just don’t cut it, I thought I’d turn to another art form to demonstrate how studying your craft by studying the masters of your medium – which is what reading IS for writers – can not only lead to you mastering your craft, but it can also lead to you discovering your own artistic voice.

To read the full post, click here.