Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Art and Fear

Most non-artists don't usually couple art and fear when they look at a piece of art. For most any artist who has been working for an extended period of time, art and fear are if not companions, at least at the same party.

Before I began teaching, I often thought that I was a minority when I noticed fear creeping into my art process. I noticed that the same litany of thoughts would drift occasionally across my mind when I was working: What will ____ think about this? Am I --- Open? Closed? Trite? Cute? Dumb? Boring? Good enough? (And more!) Will people think __ (something negative)___ when they see this image? Will anybody ever buy anything? Etcetera.

When I started teaching art in the early 1990's at Central Oregon Community College (a 5 year stint), I noticed that fear was often the biggest hurdle students faced. Talent, though a lovely and inspiring thing to behold was not what propelled artists to progress into mature work. It was their ability to confront and overcome their fears. I'm not talking about things like fear of heights or bugs or something like that, though that can be a starting point. I'm talking about the deep primeval fear of being excluded from the tribe - cast out to fend for oneself in a world full of long, sharp teeth, starvation and separation. That fear surfaces as negative self-talk, despair and artist block.

Most artists, except the lucky few (I don't know any, I fantasize they exist) at some point work in obscurity. There may or may not be local, regional or national success for the artist. Or, if that happens, the inevitable ebbs and flows of time and place, taste and fashion may again press the artist into isolation.

I've been working as an artist for over 2 decades, long enough to have experienced highs and lows. Neither conditions lasts, though that isn't comforting news from either perspective. Though I've taken more rides than I needed to, I've learned that rather than throwing my emotional self reactively on the roller coaster of "Yes, they LOVE it! / No, they hate it!" I had to train myself to put aside my fears and work anyway.

I hope I didn't make that sound easy. It wasn't. Here are 3 things that have worked for me:
  • Read about other artists: Their essays, biographies and autobiographies
  • Develop and maintain a meditation practice -- moving, sitting, drawing -- whatever works.
  • Work regularly regardless about how you emotionally feel about the work.
With this in mind I have two things to recommend: A book and a meditation system.

Art & Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards ) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland, ©1998, 2001
This is a rich, concise, wu-wu-free book about what messes with your head -- or helps you -- as you negotiate the paths of your artistic/creative life.

Silva Life System, a meditation program originally developed by the late Jose Silva. I stumbled onto this system via some postal junk mail in the late 1980's. I found a set of his audio recordings at the local library, then in the 1990's bought my own set as a refresher. I've tried a lot of different types of meditation (I'm open to new things), but I return to the Silva Method. The Silva Method of Meditation offers the most practical tools for stress relief and visualization to some metaphysical techniques that enable a person to plumb the depths of their spirit.

Silva Life System

1 comment:

  1. I so completely agree with you about the Silva Method. I discovered this program back in the seventies and I have been a practitioner (sporadically) ever since. The results are nothing short of remarkable if one persists with it. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of your readers.