Of Art and Fear

BoyFeedBirds, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Are you afraid of something? Maybe things that go “bump” in the night, spiders, or, horror of horrors, public speaking. (Isn’t everybody afraid of public speaking?) Artists, like most people, are no different. We have hopes and dreams, yes, but we have fears too. And, like other people, sometimes our fears are not totally rational.

Being an artist who paints, draws, and takes pictures you might think that I’m not really “afraid” of anything art-related. But, well, you’d be wrong about that. I’ve always called myself “a bit shy” about drawing, especially in public. And painting? Well, oddly enough, sometimes I can do it ok and sometimes not. It really depends here. I have no trouble doing oils in front of people but I appear to be quite shy about doing encaustics. Now, I don’t really know why this is, I mean, I’m not really quite sure why I’m afraid of doing things in front of people. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m some kind of freak, put on this earth for the only purpose of being entertainment (fodder) for others? Maybe I’m just shy? Or maybe it’s because I feel like people are secretly laughing at me? I don’t know.

I don’t know about that, but I do know that, sometimes anyway, I feel that, when I’m doing art or making artwork, the whole world is making fun of me. It’s almost like I can hear a little tape recorder, playing out the scorn of society in my head, “You think you have talent? Go get a real job. Stop doing these stupid silly drawings of little houses, they are worthless. Hmmm. While you’re out there getting a real job, might want to get a new wardrobe too. You look too frumpy to be a ‘real’ artist.” The little negative tape recorder? Yeah, it’s so bad. It’s not what you want to hear, trust me on that one. And it just keeps playing on over and over again in your head, really getting louder and louder each time you hear it.

So, what’s a girl to do?

For EAST this year, I was asked to participate in some demos. I’m totally afraid of this. Afraid yes, but I did it anyway. It’s demos which involve painting in front of people. GULP. (That’s just the kind of thing I’m afraid of.) Now, last weekend, I did my demos. I rolled up my sleeves, got out to the little demo booth area, grabbed that paint brush and yapped and painted away! “These are encaustics. This is how you paint with them. This is how you put the wax on. YOU, yes you! What’s your favorite color? Here, let me start with some of THAT and we’ll take it from there….” Oddly enough, the painting didn’t turn out half bad. The negative tape recorder? Yeah, as you could probably guess, it was so *gone* once I got going. (The trick with that is to shut it off, to stop it before it gets to loud and just get on with what you are doing, ignoring those negative voices in your head. Yes, I know, sometimes easier said than done.)

My point here, this post, is not really about my own personal “negative tape recorder” it’s more that we all have one. Each and every one of us has some kind of “no, that’s bad!” voice in our heads. Sometimes, yes, sometimes these voices are helpful. “Don’t play with matches!” or maybe even, “No, bright purple polka dots do not go well with orange shoes!” but, more often than not, the voices we here can hold us back. Somewhere along the way those “bright purple polka dots” turn into “yes, that dress does make you look fat!” or “no! You can’t draw! You’re not good enough!” When we reach that point? You guessed it. That’s when it starts holding us back.

Artists have fear too, each and every one of us. We’re all afraid of heights or public speaking or dresses that make us look fat or whatever! The trick is to learn to harness that fear. Perhaps the one thing artists have that not everybody is blessed with is a coping mechanism. We can paint, draw, take photos out of fear. I’ve discussed this before, but there are many people out there who are afraid of heights. That’s all well and good, very many people are just frankly afraid of heights, but, of those people afraid of heights, how many of them are still afraid of heights when you strap a camera to their faces? Maybe not quite as many, for sure. I know of several people who conquered their fear of flying (in airplanes, even in smaller planes) by taking photos. There’s nothing quite like the grand “bird’s eye view” of the universe to put that “oh my God, we’re all going to crash and be killed instantly!” negative tape recorder voice on the back burner. If you don’t believe me, get out and try it sometimes. Art can be a great coping mechanism, witness so many art therapy programs. Some of us (ahem, *cough* *cough*) even become quite fearless when behind that camera lens. This goes a long way to explain why sports photographers often get run over by linebackers at football games or why war corespondents often get shot. We’ve learned to be so busy with the camera that we’ve put the fear, the normal everyday fears that help protect us, aside to do our jobs. (Don’t get me in a helicopter, ok? I might just dangle out the window without a rope. Well, provided I have a camera, that is.)

So, today I challenge you. What does fear look like to you? Does art help you conquer it? Are you afraid of public speaking? Of drawing? Of heights? Spiders? Snakes? Tall buildings or open spaces? As a person, I can’t say that I would want to force you to go there but, as an artist, I’d have to suggest you at least try out some artwork and see if it helps. So, go on. Paint about it. Draw it. Strap that camera to your head and go bungee jumping or ride the crazy white water rapids. I dare you. You can do it! Come on, you know you can do it.

As those (maybe even those without a paintbrush in hand) might say, “you have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Until next time…


  1. Scriber's Web
    November 17, 2011 / 1:38 pm

    First…. I LOVE this photograph. Excellent! I am really afraid of public speaking. I fear that people will find out that I am neither smart not artistic. The will find out that I am stupid! What you've gives me a lot to think about.Thanks!

  2. Carol
    November 17, 2011 / 2:26 pm

    Thanks, Scriber's Web! Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I always feel like they are laughing at me or just think I'm an idiot for doing what I do. I have to keep reminding myself that we can't help what it is we love to do. Artists are drawn (excuse the pun) to create and we should not be ashamed of that, but it's hard to get out in front of hordes of people and be brave about it sometimes.

  3. Great Grandma Lin
    November 17, 2011 / 4:10 pm

    I connect with what you are saying. See my post on little voices. http://lettersfromlin.blogspot.com/2010/06/little-voices.html
    In fact I took a workshop on this very topic. Very enlightening. Sometimes you just have to shout STOP to get them to quiet down. They-your negative inner voices talk to everyone…lol

  4. mythopolis
    November 17, 2011 / 11:22 pm

    People who compulsively make art do so because they are somehow wired to do so. When one puts one's work into the public eye it may be well received or totally ignored. Most important, I think, is that you made the piece, or the body of work because you felt like it, or simply had to. Most important is how happy or involved you felt while in the process. If you pick up some bucks or affirmative strokes along the way, that's just gravy, or icing on the cake you've already made.

  5. Carol
    November 18, 2011 / 12:15 pm

    Thanks Mythopolis for your comments on this subject. Yes, I know what you are saying and I do feel that way about my work. It's just the very notion of painting in public kind of scares me. It's almost like public speaking or some such thing. I'm afraid to do it. Once I get going, of course, it doesn't bother me, it's just the first brush stroke, that first line on the paper that gets me.

    I know what you mean about compulsion though. I totally get that. I've tried to stop in the past before and no luck. I always kind of viewed myself as a "visual image junkie" almost like a drug addict only with creating art. It's like I have to do it otherwise the world is just not right somehow. It's not really even a choice anymore.

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