Art and Fear

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“Vision, Uncertainty, and Knowledge of Materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from: vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue.”

“You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It’s also called doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.”

David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking


It’s on my mind. I’ve been thinking about the times I’ve let it guide me– when I was in my first year of graduate school and signed up for a short story class (something I was deeply interested in) and upon realizing it was primarily for MFAs and would require actually writing short stories not just writing about them, I immediately dropped it for something safer. Not surprisingly, a decade earlier, in middle school my teacher chose one of my stories to enter into a competition, but when she said she would have to read it to the class and asked my permission, I politely declined.

It’s not just about the art I don’t make or don’t share. It’s conversations I don’t have. Eye contact I refuse.

It’s parenting that is for other parents to see how good of a parent I am and not for my child’s well being.

It’s not picking up the phone.


I’ve been trying to spot it so as to root it out, hoping to operate instead from love– it’s polar opposite. I listened to an interview with Brene Brown recently who said the heart of fear is always unworthiness, not belonging, not being good enough– Hiding.

Vulnerability and love require showing up.

In 2002 I took my first of several painting classes in college. As I moved on to more advanced classes, the required reading list changed from books on technique to just one short little book entitled Art and Fear by David Bayles which I’ve revisited countless times since then. It was as though my professor was warning us– our knowledge would be useless if we didn’t contend with fear.

Painting felt like my first exercise against fear. It was active, intuitive, imperfect– all things I tried to avoid.

I cannot say I am completely ready for my 31 paintings in 31 days come August, but I will say I’m brushing off the dust of this little book in preparation, and I’m going to eagerly embrace the thing that still, even now, keeps fear at bay.

If you’d like to join me along with a whole group of supportive creatives in these 31 days (doing any creative task) please let me know in the comments.


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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

July 23, 2018

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