“Face your Fears” 6×6, oil on canvas Buy Now
I wrote about it in my last post, and I’ve wondered if I could somehow address it in these next 31 days.
Fear is funny. It can present itself as something entirely different at any given moment– a good intention, a reasonable cautiousness. I’m not sure how to address it in my art so much as to make art as the first defense against it.
I’m revisiting the book I first discovered in college, required reading for my advanced painting class. I’ll be working my way through Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The entire volume is just over 100 pages, which means I’ll have plenty of time to spend with each chapter these 31 days. It’s the kind of book you might find yourself highlighting so frequently, the highlighting becomes entirely useless. Every sentence is a gem. I hang on every word.
I don’t believe in signs so much as I do a beautifully meaningful and connected world, but I did pause when I noticed the dedication page, something that clearly did not strike me when I first read the book in my 20s: for Ezra.
Ezra is the name of my six year old son, the name of the person who was the catalyst for me becoming a “real” artist in the first place after floundering around with it for over a decade. Fitting that his name means “help” or “helper.” In many ways, he saved my life.
Chapter one of Art and Fear is called “The Nature of the Problem” and establishes that making art is difficult, particularly in an age when it is seen as a highly personalized enterprise rather than an act that serves some greater institution or ritual:
“Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which their may be neither audience nor reward.”
The fear is often that not only “your fate is in your own hands, but that your hands are weak.”
I have encountered such a sobering fear nearly every time I’ve embarked on artmaking. It sounds like this: What if I’m done growing? What if people are tired of my bird paintings? What if I don’t find new buyers and have exhausted the ones I already have? What if I never find my voice? What if people start to see that behind the smiling profile picture on facebook is someone terrified of being uncovered as a fraud– she’s not really that talented, insightful, etc., after all.
Chapter one of Art and Fear claims “the function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.” The game is and has always been perseverance. I must have known this all along or I never would have started these 31 day painting challenges which are, at their core, homages to my faith in tenacity, belief that good things will emerge from my dedication, even if some less-than successful paintings do too. In fact, the throwaways are not just the unfortunate cost of perseverance, but crucial components of success, invaluable teachers, stops along a path that leads to greater vision, understanding, and, hopefully, far less fear.
The question chapter one has me asking, and the question I want to explore this month is this: What is the work I want to make?
I started this month with a tried and true subject, but with a new intention. I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to start a painting the way one might start a yoga class, or even their day? My intention today was patience. Be patient with the image, the strokes, the process. Look not to uncover something hidden beneath but to explore the infinity that is there.
The photograph I used for inspiration came from wildlife photographer Chris Short who you can follow on instagram @chrisclicks. He was kind enough to let me reference some of his beautiful bird photographs for paintings. I’ve got my eye on a few others, which I’m sure you’ll see later in the month.
If you’ve embarked on this 31 day challenge with me (or if you still want to) please feel free to leave a photo, link, or description of your day 1 accomplishment in the comments.
I’d also love to hear your thoughts on fear– what holds you back? Has there ever been a memorable time when you overcame fear and achieved something meaningful whether subtle or profound? Who knows, I might even make a painting inspired by your experience.