To Make Great Art You have to be Fearless

One of the biggest problems for any artist is fear. Fear goes by a lot of names: self-doubt, insecurity, hesitancy, self-protection, risk-aversion, being realistic. And it has many consequences: we procrastinate, we revise rather than release, we decline to enter shows, we don’t send manuscripts to publishers, we refuse to consider marketing, and then we spend our time rationalizing why our work is not getting out there.

In its more severe forms this syndrome can result in the work never even getting done. After all, what is the point of making art if no one is going to see it, rather, what is the point of making art if we’re not going to show it to anyone? So digital images don’t get printed or even taken, stories don’t get written, that piece of sculpture in our heads never advances beyond the sketch stage, the movie exists only in a partial screenplay. The list goes on.

All of this is natural. We want to protect our art. It is, after all, ours, and we know it is fragile. It’s much easier to think this way than to admit the truth: we are fragile and we are so bound up to our work that we often can’t tell the difference. We must protect ourselves. And the two easiest methods of protecting ourselves is to show our work to a very limited set of viewers who will say nice things, or to not show our work to anyone at all. We can just look at it ourselves, or, sometimes, just think about what it would be like if we actually made it.

There are very few artists who have not experienced at least one form of this fear; some have experienced it in all its forms. It is what keeps visual artists entering the same local juried shows and not attempting regional or national opportunities; it is what prevents actors from fully realizing the characters they are trying to create; it is what stops the screenwriter from pitching his/her latest work to anyone other than the friend who wants to produce; it is what causes the composer to play his latest creation only for family and a few friends.

This is a very real, serious problem for a lot of artists. Fear, in one or more of its incarnations, has been the occasion for a number of articles, blog posts, and even books. Writers from Julia Cameron to Seth Godin have discussed it and have offered solutions. Just this past week two articles appeared online. One on Virtual Photography Studio is called “Is the ‘F’ Word Creeping Into Your Business and Personal Life?” which discusses the impact of fear on both your work and your life. The other is “Overcoming Doubt and Fear” on Empty Easel. In this article, Aniko Makay discusses her way of dealing with artistic doubts and fears.

If these articles or the authors mentioned don’t tell you what you need to know, there are plenty of others out there. Just google “overcoming fear” or “overcoming insecurity.” You might consider the following method; it may seem a bit simplistic upon first reading, but it can, in fact, help.

  • Name the risk. This sometimes is not as easy as it sounds.
  • Imagine the worst case scenario of taking the risk.
  • Decide if you can live with that.
  • Imagine the best case scenario of taking the risk.
  • Decide if you can live with that.
  • If you can live with both outcomes, you can live with anything in between. Take the risk.

Given the individual artist, some risks may not worth taking, but many are. We just need to recognize that. Often we get into a cycle of worrying about potential outcomes and not moving forward with our work. It’s an easy cycle to fall into. But taking risks is something that we have to learn to do. To make art we have to be fearless.




Date: Sunday, 1. April 2012 23:29
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