I am sitting here at my computer feeling paralyzed. I have some ideas about what I want to write, but I can’t get them expressed in my head, through my fingers and the keyboard and onto the screen. I am suffering from performance anxiety. It’s one of my best ideas for a theme to write about in a long time, so I want it to be perfect – or near perfect at least – all for you my dear readers of this blog. Thus I have set myself up for a big trap: Too high expectations, which inevitably will lead to my failure – which means I’d rather not try.
So I am thinking why not write about this thing instead, the reason for performance anxiety which is something all artists experience every so often or once in while throughout their career at least. Performance anxiety – or its cause; pure fear – is responsible for many artists in the making giving up on the way and why a lot of art is never made. This fear comes in many shapes and forms, but at the bottom of it all lays the all-embracing fear that says our art is not good enough. Solely by recognizing this fear, we might get around it, though, or even use it creatively to our advantage.
Some time ago the blogger Gwynne Jackson recommended a book called Art & Fear in a comment she wrote on this blog. The book is written by David Bayles and Ted Orland for artists who are struggling to put their work out there – which basically means all artists. In Art & Fear the two photographers explore the way art gets made, the reason it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way.
As the title suggests much is caused by this fear I am talking about. And basically artists are dealing with two kinds of fears when it comes to their art making; fears about themselves and fears about how others think about their art. Bayles and Orland has this to say about it: «In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.»
I think this brings light to what often obstructs us from realizing our full potential as artists. It has nothing to do with the quality of our work, or skills we lack, or not enough talent or not having luck, but only fearing this. Haven’t you often noticed when you fear something, that fear turns into reality. Like when you go downhill skiing. You see a big bump down somewhere on the run – you want to avoid it, but fear for the opposite. And what happens nine times out ten? So in art. So instead being paralyzed by this fear, know that you have everything that is needed for you to do your work today. Nobody else will do your work, and it won’t help to postpone it to another day. You are not good enough, you say? You are as good as is necessary for the work at this stage. With more practise of course you will become better, but first you have to start with where you are today. The thing to realize is that you make good work by making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good and the parts that aren’t yours (yes, we all copy or take after our heroes in the art world). It’s called doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you are the closest person around.
We all want acceptance and approval for our work, but if the fear for not getting it or the fear of what others might think about our art makes us cater to this fear, we will never find our own voice. Likewise, if we fear we are only pretending to be artists, we don’t have the talent it takes, the result is not perfect (as I feared in the beginning of this post), we can’t find the flow or we are afraid of hitting the wall as in writer’s block, we hold ourselves back from doing our best. And doing our best is all we can and should do. The fear won’t go away, but instead of becoming pray to it, try to see it as something that pushes you to do better. Don’t let it discourage you, because if nothing really mattered the fear would be gone – but so also the desire to create. It’s a delicate balance, but by facing the inherent fear that comes with making art, we can fully bloom and make art that is genuinely ours.
All this said now, I guess I am should be ready to start the process I discouraged myself from doing in the beginning of this post…