Tuesday, October 17

Bathers in the Atlantic Ocean, less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ernesto swept in. September 2006

Is the topic of this week's Studio Friday . An excellent topic but one which I have approached cautiously (and slowly, this being Tuesday!) Fear has many faces, but I think Studio Friday is focusing mainly on fear in the studio, performance anxiety for artists type of fear.

I have talked to many artist friends, and I've read read lots of biographies of artists, and it certainly seems that everyone in the creative world is well acquainted with fear and anxiety, from the rank beginner to the Guggenheim Fellowship recipient. There is one major difference, it seems to me, between those who go on and do their work and those who can't go beyond the first step: the "do-ers" may be full of fear and anxiety but they take a deep breath and get on with things anyway.

Fear isn't always a sign of weakness. It can be a useful tool, alerting you to things worth thinking about. Example: I might be feeling fearful that nobody will understand my recent work. OK, well why is that? Because I don't think I was able to fully capture my vision on the canvas. OK, putting aside the fact that very rarely does an artist feel completely satisfied in that department, what might I do to improve the clarity of my vision? Instead of being paralyzed by the fear, if I can face it, it is like a spotlight on hidden concerns and desires. Some nights the fear banshees will howl too loudly for you to hear yourself think. But when peace returns you can tell yourself, you did your very best, and if it didn't turn out the way you'd hoped, well, that was truly the best you could do at the time. You learned from it. Keep going and maybe you'll strike the right balance another time.

I had to give a talk once, at my old art school. (And yeah, I was terrified!) It was a panel discussion actually. At the end, they asked us "What words of advice would you give people starting out?" I was frantic for a moment and then thought "Well, I'll just speak the truth even though I am going to sound unbearably earnest." When it was my turn I said "Be honest with yourself, always, and be brave! You might be scared, but just keep going." The artist who had to go after me, a far more famous and successful person than I am, gave me a look and then said "Well, I am not sure how I can possibly follow THAT! So... what she said." I was astonished (and grateful) and everyone in the audience laughed, and (thanks to this other artist's excellent sense of humor) it was a good wrap-up to our discussion.

Other folks in Studio Friday have mentioned this book but I will too: Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. What a revelation it was! Essential reading for anyone who is serious about art-making.

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