Art and Fear

I have the quote below saved in a folder in my email which I return to from time to time. Currently I'm in the challenging-my-fears phase they talk about, and it's the engagement part that I seem to be having the most difficult time with. Or should I say not necessarily engagement, but getting over my tendency to procrastinate, which I think is a technique I use to avoid the self-doubt.

It's weird--I do feel internal enthusiasm about my newest series. I have the itch to create, and when I actually get out there and get shooting--even though I have the usual "these are going to suck/these are going to be great" debate going on in my head--I generally love the act of making the pictures despite the mental arguments. But the issue is, despite feeling the drive, I'm so easily sidetracked. And the more I get sidetracked the more the enthusiasm subsides, the more I beat myself up over how much time I waste, and then the next day the cycle starts over again.

The key for me I know is to just do it, first thing, before I can get sucked into email and my blog reader and decor websites. I believe it's the fear running underneath the surface that creates the hesitation, which further creates an almost addictive call to mindlessly float around without direction. I need a jump-start, I need to get in a groove, and I'm hoping once I finally force myself into a rhythm this general depression will lift. I know all artists need time to let ideas marinate and be vaguely directionless, but that time is over, I've gone beyond that, so I'm putting it out there into the world that it's necessary that I challenge myself. Now that I've said it out loud I'm hoping I'll hold myself to it.

Here's the quote:

"The line between the artist and his/her work is a fine one at best, and for the artist it feels (quite naturally) like there is no such line. Making art can feel dangerous and revealing. Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be...What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit. Each step in the artmaking process puts that issue to the test.

Some people who make art are driven by inspiration, others by provocation, still others by desperation. Artmaking grants access to worlds that may be dangerous, sacred, forbidden, seductive, or all of the above. It grants access to worlds you may otherwise never fully engage. It may in fact be the engagement--not the art--that you seek. The difference is that making art allows, indeed guarantees, that you declare yourself. Art is contact, and your work necessarily reveals the nature of that contact. In making art you declare what is important."


Andi Schreiber said…
Hi Elizabeth,

I cannot count how many times I have read Art & Fear. I have found its words to be not only useful, but at times sacred. I keep a copy on my bedside table hoping that through some version of sleep osmosis it will continue to inspire. I even contacted the authors because I was hoping to find a recorded version that I could listen to while driving. No such luck.

I think it's awesome that you are currently working on a new series. To me, committing to a new idea and actually starting is the most difficult part of artmaking. Sounds like you're already there and in process. I'm looking forward seeing to whatever comes next.

J. Wesley Brown said…
My copy also lives on my bedside table. Read and read again. Good luck!
I could have written this post, Elizabeth. The second paragraph, especially, could be my photographic biography.

I hate the thought, prospectively, that much of what I shoot is going to suck; by "suck", I mean fail to meet my outlandish standards of perfection. It's an enormous and intimidating roadblock I've erected that frequently stops me before I start.

Just Do It is stellar advice. I'm working on a project that requires travel; I can always find a dozen reasons/excuses why travel is inconvenient; I beat myself up over the amount of family resources I consume in pursuit of whatever it is that I want from photography. I had a trip lined up but didn't pull the trigger. Hesitation; self-doubt that the project is/will be worth the trouble; fear that I'd spend the time, money, and effort, and bring home shitty photographs and feel that keen disappointment.

Finally my wife put her foot in my a$$ and encouraged/cajoled me to reschedule the trip.

I feel you.
Thanks everyone for your comments--

Mike, first off I agree it's good to have a spouse who can encourage you, James is also a good a$$-kicker and sometimes it makes all the difference. I hope your gremlins give you a break and your trip goes well, as Andi says the committing/starting is the hardest part and it sounds like you're about to truly get on your way, if you (and I speak for myself too here!) can get out of your way.

Speaking of gremlins, my next read is going to be "Taming Your Gremlin" 'cause mine needs to be exorcized.

Andi, your words of encouragement mean a lot; Wes, glad you like it too; and Mike as always great minds think alike!
What is the new project????
Lemme see.
TA, will have to start putting up some previews...

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