”What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears continue; those who don’t, quit” (Orland, 2001, p.14).
In my dreams I act out of desire and of cravings.
In my day dreams I fantasize about scenarios and about anticipated, yet often exaggerated, experiences.
In my day, I sometimes choose a path out of yearning but I also make decisions from fear.
We all do.
The topic of fear within art creation or expression has been the topic of several articles and most notably in the 2001 book, Art and Fear, by Bayles and Orland. Rather than address methods of overcoming fear, I am interested in recognizing and pulling attention towards that fear. I feel that we (as humans and as artists) have the option to lay brush strokes down on a canvas because we are scared of the white space or we can leave a giant open space addressing what we are afraid of.
I often find that we need to disconnect a bit from reality in order to connect to our creative energies. By taking a step aside, we allow ourselves freedom from conditioned fears: what will the audience think of this piece, what will I do with this work, where will the product end up, what is the purpose of my creation, why am I doing this? However, I have to include a complete contradiction; there are moments when all of the above questions are a pure result of fear.
I am not scared of devoting multiple hours of time and immense energy on a painting. I am not worried about leaving a blank open white space of exposed canvas, nor am I hesitant to cover the entire picture plane with thick layers of paint, glosses, gels, and other experimental mediums. I am not fearful of dripping watered-down pigment or of gritty peaks, abstract images, or realistic renderings. I dance in my studio, moving my feet in rhythm to various types of music, dipping my brush in the water on cue to the beat. I sing because I know I am alone in my creation (beyond my undergraduate studies, I have never painted a canvas in front of other people…beyond painting on a hillside by a road). I make quick decisions and grip my intuition, while releasing all of my O.C.D, pre-planned, have-to-know, and thoroughly researched impulses. I enjoy the process of expression more than I admire my final “product” or result; therefore I am rarely worried about the appearance of the images when I decide to stop.
When I am commissioned to make artwork for someone else, I try my best to follow the above process; I have to check my train of thought every so often to make sure that I am not product driven because that desire arises fear.
Much like my dance, I have watched musicians who embrace the stage with a keen sense of awareness and of familiarity. They close their eyes in moments of intense connection and also lock their attention with the gazes of their viewers. I have experienced concerts (or small coffee-house-like performances) that have had the power to reach my bones. Where I can feel the bass vibrations in my marrow. The music becomes an atmosphere of a different realm. The musician(s) are so far from a place of fear, that they are in fact moving into a place of utter release. And what an amazing gift they provide and are a participant of: a monumental affection of human communication.
Yet, what I paint is often the child of purely fearful forces. I am fearful of negative environmental shifts and of the development of the land, which I have grown to identify as “home.” I paint images as a way to preserve and as a way to document, before my fears may become the truth. Barns bleed red and birds fly away from that which threatens their lives and I give them a life within my movements. My brush is a creator. I am not drawing alignment to a god, but I am stating that artists create and bring life to something, whether it be a painting, a conceptual idea, a movement, or a performance of voice. In the act of creating images of my fears I have also been capable of addressing fears. I am utterly angry, hurt, and disappointed in inhumane food practices (I am not referencing only animal feedlots or slaughter houses, but the incorporation of GMO foods and of thousands of tons of pesticides soaking dead soil), so I research political acts, I watch documentary after documentary, read various view points, and photograph pure, whole foods in my attempt to bring beautiful attention to the simple, yet totally sustainable organisms.
Art can be a welcomed vehicle to face a fear: I spent years avoiding painting self-portraits in fear of starring at myself in the mirror for prolonged hours (if you look at anything for an extensive time you cannot help but identify negative aspects, or so I feared). When I was able to realize my apprehensions of self-portraiture, I made the conscious decision to use my safe, comfortable, and love-filled art practice to allow for me the security of judgment. Sometimes we just need to ask ourselves, “What is the worst that could happen?” If dire sickness, death, or extreme risk are not in the response, than we need to turn fear into an opportunity.
I find that I am digressing and I also find my mind, at this very moment, scarred. What if all of my art is made out of fear? What if all of the subjects and motivation for my work are often taken from the shelf in my mind that also houses deep dark water, night lurkers, flat tires, and broken hearts?
You may be aware of the decisions you make in order to avoid your fears but are you also aware of the decisions you avoid or do not choose to make because of a deep hesitation?
Maybe the lesson is not to avoid fear, because like stress, a bit of anxiety or adrenaline producing experiences are probably healthy. Perhaps we just need to include fear in the conversation and utilize it. After all, I was able to get over my fear of collaborating with other artists…and of spiders…of large white empty canvases, and of tight detailed, realistic pencil drawings.
We need not ask ourselves where the terror lives within our practice but how we use that feeling to inform our practice. Whether you align more to JFK (“We have nothing to fear but fear itself”) or Blue Öyster Cult (“(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”), the message is consistent- the delivery and the source irrelevant.
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