What Are You Afraid Of? – Skinny Artist

What Are You Afraid Of?

Having the courage to create

So what scares the crap out of you?

People always tell me they can’t think of anything to write about on their blog.

For me the problem has never been coming up with ideas, but instead it has always been about having the courage to sit down and expose myself to the world.  I’m not talking about exposing myself physically like some deranged congressman — I’m talking about opening up emotionally and allowing a bit of vulnerability to seep out.

 

Cynicism is easy. It’s vulnerability that’s hard.

It may be hard to believe, but I tend to be a bit of a smartass by nature.  Anyone who uses sarcasm as a daily companion knows what I’m talking about. Being a critic and being someone who judges someone else’s creative work, is fairly easy. What’s hard is shining that same sarcastic sunshine on yourself and exposing your own fears and doubts.

It wasn’t always like this however. Back when we first started this site, I often wrote about online marketing, SEO, doing this, and not doing that.  You know the kind of stuff that everyone online seems to be writing about, but as it turns out, no one else really wants to read because, let’s face it, it’s booooooorrrrring! 

The writer, when he is also an artist, is someone who admits what others don’t dare reveal.~Elia Kazan

Those early posts were okay I guess, but the more I kept writing about that stuff, the more it felt like I was just saying the same thing everyone else was saying (just not as well).  It was also right around this time that I wrote a post called “9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artist.” and suddenly I realized that I was a fraud.

If you haven’t suffered through this particular post yet, it’s essentially a confessional about all of the crap that I was (and still am) afraid of when it comes to being a writer, except that it’s dressed up to look like helpful advice.  In other words, it’s your typical here’s-what-you-should-be-doing-even-though-I-can’t-seem-to-do-it-myself  kind of article that you might find in some glossy magazine.

Looking back now the article seems a bit preachy to me, but I remember having a hard time writing it because it forced me to dig deep into by own little neurotic fear basket and see what I could come up with.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to say, but that I was afraid to say it.

You see at the time, I was still buying into the delusion that you had to put your best game face on whenever you posted something online as if the entire internet was little more than an ongoing job interview.

For whatever reason, we all still seem to follow the rules we learned in Interviewing 101: Always be cheerful. Don’t show your weaknesses or doubts.  Don’t let them know that you sometimes feel like an impostor, a fake, and a fraud. Don’t allow them to see that you are scared of being rejected, or sometimes you feel that your work just isn’t good enough. In other words, don’t let them see you sweat.

 

When everyone is pretending to be someone they aren’t,
you might as well be talking to yourself.

The problem with all of this is that you can only make a real connection online or anywhere else when we are willing to peel back this fictionalized version of ourself and admit that maybe we are less than perfect after all.

Just like no one wants to hang out with the guy who won’t stop talking about himself at a party, nobody wants to hang out online with the arrogant know-it-all ass who thinks he can do no wrong.  We want to connect with real people. People who have successes and failures just like we do. People who screw things up and make mistakes, and people who aren’t always trying to sell you something.

After writing the “9 Warning Signs” post and meeting all of these other artists who were willing to share their own fears and doubts, I began to loosen up a bit and was more willing to explore my troubled psyche.  Over time, I realized that I wasn’t alone.  Maybe I wasn’t the only crazy misfit ranting in cyberspace after all.

Trust me coming up with ideas of things to write about is now a lot easier because it turns out I’ve got a lot of issues (surprise!)

 

So now I write about the things that scare me.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the spooky I-see-dead-people kind of scary, but the what-if-I’m-wasting-my-entire-life kind of scary. The what if my work really sucks and nobody takes me seriously kind of scary.

But the longer I am on this journey, the more I realize that the scariest thing is not about how much I suck, or how many times I can screw things up, but the things I would have missed out on and all of the amazing artists I would have never met, if I hadn’t been willing to share my closetful of neurotic fears and doubts with the world.

 

What’s your scary story?

The next time you are posting a status update on Facebook or writing up your latest blog post, think about if you are sharing something that makes you a little nervous to reveal about yourself, or if you’re just playing it safe again and going through the motions?

It’s easy to forget sometimes that it’s not our shiny smiling facade that other people connect with, especially online when the subtleties of body language (and sarcasm) are lost — instead it turns out that it’s our shared fears and doubts that  allow us to connect with one another.

So if you’ve got a scary story about a time when you completely blew up your comfort zone, we would love to have you tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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(12) comments

Thanks for the reminder, Drew.

I recently wrote a blog post that was (frightfully) revealing about my lack of production and how I really feel about doing nothing. I wrote it, rewrote it, edited some more and nervously hit “Publish”. (Btw, I have learned as soon as I post something, the very next thing I need to do is walk away from the computer for an hour or more, or I go bonkers.)

Well, much to my delight, I got a handful of comments from like-minded friends and artists who were also feeling the same way but reluctant to voice it. These are the people I need to remember the next time I am compelled post something scary.

I may not comment on everything you post, but I read each one because you do push a little further than most… and your bravery is contagious.

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    It’s funny you should say that Shana, because whenever I publish something I also have to step away from the computer myself and just let it be for awhile. You can never tell how people are going to react to what you had to say, and you get emotionally invested and it can be hard to let go, especially when it’s something you may have felt uncomfortable writing about in the first place.

    It’s kind of like sending your kid off to school for the first time. You do your best and hope things go well, but ultimately what happens is out of your hands. The only thing you control is what you say, and (unfortunately) you don’t have any control over how people are going to react. I’m sure there’s a karmic lesson in there somewhere for control freaks like myself ;)

    Reply

Spooky timing, and you’re absolutely right.
I’d much rather read about real issues with fallible people than the smug self congratulation of those who feel they’ve got it all sorted.
Proof of the pudding:
http://jamesalexanderpaintings.blogspot.co.uk

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    Thanks James and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who tries to avoid finishing a project. Great post, by the way, and I think it is hard to know where to draw that line sometimes between waiting for the right time, and just getting off your ass and getting it done ;) At some point I think you just want to be done with it and get out from underneath all of those expectations you had for the piece in the beginning.

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Laura-Ann Barber

What is scary to me is that I took one class and it changed my life, literally overnight. It also placed me where exactly I needed to be for growing as an artist, and I am so very grateful for that. No one knows exactly how much work it actually takes me mentally and emotionally to get each project done because of all this “inner work”. Art comes from the soul and if it is stuffed inside without release it gets pretty messy inside right? I know for a fact that issues comes OUT and ON the paper. I am sure I am not the only artist that works through issues, but I may have a few more showered on my head privately, when I draw the “inner work” seems to engage, and its quite odd. Its annoying but its a process of creating I am trying to accept, however I never would confide in it, just like your article stated.. Don’t worry my “inner works” sounds horrible or as dramatic as that crazy Animal from The Muppet’s banging on the drums or something, no its actually not that crazy of a process. Its more of a sad, sniffy, expressive. I use acrylic, pastels on other projects to release at the same time working on my curriculum assignments. Am I the only one with this forgiveness aka release detail? Well any that would be strong enough to even admit it.

So now I sit with a 2B pencil in my hand and sheets and sheets of ripped up drawings and working through my issues are getting less and less, and less expensive for all the paper. But no one knows just how painful, tearful, and horrible the tension is inside AS I create. I have these pastels gifted from a very close friend that I recently lost and they are my help, if you will. In the end, my assignment is complete and classmates just see the end result. One even had said, “Show off!” Like there is no effort. Which makes irritated at that comment. Connection is vital to me and I eventually think that my rejection, sadness, shared with others would actually connect with others without all the pity party, Often times what style comes out is very well received. There are some issues that I don’t want to face AS I create and that is what scares me. Working through them is scary, expensive, and slows me down. Art is work, but I don’t want to place the suffering on a pedestal in any way. I once saw a local Museum sharing an exhibit of an artist who had cancer, which happened to be a dying young girl. She painted her surroundings as if she wasn’t there and expressed her pain in a recognizable way with objects that people could understand. That touched me deeply and in time, maybe I could do the same. Connect with someone. Isn’t that our only hope?

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    I think you’re right Laura that in the end what matters is not so much what we create but how it connects with someone else.

    It reminds me of that famous quote by Degas that says “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” It’s about evoking something inside the viewer and making that emotional connection. Not in that calculated and often corny Hallmark greeting card kind of way, but it’s usually something unintentional at least from a conscious perspective. Instead it’s one subconscious creative mind communicating with another. It doesn’t matter if we choose to use a paintbrush, a photograph, or a few words on a piece of paper — the message is the same, which is that underneath all of our social masks we are essentially the same. We all have the same set of fears and doubts to various degrees and we all tend to hide behind our work.

    If you think about it, it’s not the physical technique but the emotional work that goes on behind the scenes that makes creating art so difficult. It can often be both exhilarating and emotionally draining at the same time, but we are compelled for whatever reason to share what we see and feel and hope that it can somehow make a connection.

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Kelly

Two things scare me. First, being able to put my art out there…honest art…without approval seeking is the scariest and hardest thing for me to do. I have had a lifetime of performing for others and its boring. I am tired of being afraid of that.
Secondly, I feel fear (also excitement) when I am on the edge of creating something honest that must come out. But for some reason I can’t seem to stay with this energy and focus it on my art. Instead, I get up and do something like wash dishes which dissapates the energy.
I am intimidated by raw honesty, yet want it badly.
I am not even close to sharing it with anyone. As I draw closer to truth in my art, I can’t help but wonder if what others think will not matter as much. I hope so.

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    I can’t think of two things that scare creative artists more than to dig deep into that big bin of insecurities that we all seem to carry around and bring something out to show everyone. That alone is hard enough, but then to not only have the courage to publicly display your insecurities, but then hope to find someone who will tell you, “I actually feel like that too sometimes” is even more difficult. So we avoid doing this as much as possible and we either skim along the surface trying not to dig too deep, or like you mentioned, we find a way to distract ourselves until the feeling passes.

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Sooo, last night I watched the first episode of the Skye Portrait Artist of the Year on the telly, a sort of genteel X-Factor for artists. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, but I was impressed by the fact that ALL the artists involved had the temerity to create something in front of a crowd of rubberkneckers and TV cameras, not to mention the steely subjective gaze of the judges.
Fair play to the lot of ’em, I say.
Which throws up another issue – the ‘fork in the road’ syndrome.
Do other artists spend too long wondering if you’re always in the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to those life changing golden moments where opportunity and timing combine?
Should I enter next year’s programme, or should I devote my time to more realistic goals?
I suspect the truth is we all keep bashing away at every possible opportunity until we either get somewhere or disappear in a puff of creative despair.
Anyway, back to it…

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MArtin Hendrichs

Hey so i joined this community just today and well, i just decided to quit with excuses and become an Artist to follow my dream, and i´m scared really scared, i´ve being playing whit this idea for the last years, i love photo i love drawing but there was always an excuse to do it, i was studding architecture and i always said i´m going to finish architecture and then find a job and in between follow my dream of being an Artist, but now i realize this is not how its going to happen, if i finish architecture i´m going to find a job an become an architect and my art is going to stay as a hobby or disappear and i don’t want that. so it scares me because for sure architecture is a safer choice, but it isn’t what i want.
It took me some time to accept this because i think, what if my family don’t agree?, what if the people don’t like what i do?, how to show my skills to the world?, am i going to be able to have a stable economic live in the future? but now what scares me the most , is if i don’t try to do it now probably i will regret it in a future.

So now i want to work in this day and night, Monday to Monday, i will get to do something important with my art, i am really scared, i still don’t know how i am going to do it but i am going to do it.

And it also scared me to write this all that goes around my head is, na they don’t care about this, this are just a kids problem, but well i needed to express this i needed to say it and well posting this comment is overcoming at least one of my fears so i think i am in a good way.

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Annie

I first found your blog through the 9 warning signs of an amateur artist post and the very next one I read was this one. The 9 warning signs was actually very encouraging to me for overcoming my fears. Most of the time I feel like I’m just a stay-at-home mom pretending to be an artist (childrens illustration). I doubt myself constantly and view myself like a big fake with an unrealistic dream, but your post made me aware of the very do-able things I could change about the way I approach my art. It really encouraged me to stop shrinking back in fear and working half-heartedly toward my goals. I didn’t find it preachy at all; just a much needed rebuke. Thanks.

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    Thanks Annie for your kind words and also for taking the time to share your story with us. No matter what type of creative artist we are, I think many of us feel like giant frauds on a regular basis. Apparently it’s part of the game. Creative doubt is just a part of the process. We experiment, we reach for something just beyond our current abilities, and sometimes we fail. We know this going into it, which is why we are constantly doubting ourselves along the way. Thanks again Annie for stopping by and please keep in touch :)

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