Learning to Stop Playing Chicken in My Studio

Yankee Doodle Dandy 2 July 17 2012 8 x 10

Playing Chicken – Jacki Kellum – Watercolor on Arches

No doubt, my two greatest fears are that of actually creating–fear of painting and drawing–and that of not.  For myself and many other would-be artists, too, life is lived between the margins of this paradox.  I have tried giving up and giving in–I have tried going long periods of time without creating much of anything; and I realize that my not creating is not the answer.  In no time, I become bored and boring.  I become listless, depressed, and a spectre-like shadow of myself.  The only alternative is to just do it–to just get over myself and make art.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

What John Wayne does not say is that then, we have to hang on and endure the ride.

Volumes have been written about fear’s effect on whether or not we actually succeed in making art. I probably have read everything that has been written on the topic; yet, I still do not understand all of the things that scare me about painting.  It no doubt has much to do with a fear that my product will not be worthy.  Honestly, I don’t think the reasons for the fear are important enough to outline, yet again, for this post.  The only thing that is truly important is that I have learned how to just muddle through and create–in spite of myself.  In other words, I have learned to follow the sage advice of the old, Hollywood cowboy John Wayne, who encourages us to just get over ourselves and saddle up anyway.

Sticking to some kind of schedule is my main anecdote for creative paralysis.  When fear has me in its grip, I don’t have a burning desire to paint or draw.  The only solution is to just jump in and paint.  I have learned that I will have bad art days–days that nothing works. We must allow ourselves as many bad art days as are necessary and continue to create in spite of them.  The good days always follow.  We must learn to wait for them.

I think that if we are totally honest, we must admit that we love the high that we experience when we paint or draw something well–and when we paint again, we are seeking another high.  Art becomes our fix.  The problem is that art is just not a reliable fix.  Painting is not a chemical.  Sometimes we don’t like what we paint or draw; and what we expected to be our upper becomes a total downer.  The secret is to allow those less euphoric days to pass and to continue to paint anyway.

Another solution is to take significant breaks from painting–promising that you will return again.  I work in my garden more months than I paint.  Gardening is a creative outlet for me, but I never feel that my work there is judged.  In my garden, I create with absolute abandon.  When the seasons change and I return to my studio, I am a different and renewed being.  I am ready to take a few bad art blows.

We can’t expect art to be a constant high; and we can’t just sit around and wait for the high to return–without actually painting.  While I cannot say that I have licked fear entirely, I have learned to cope with it by merely moving beyond myself and painting anywayand doing that again and again.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Phobia, Shmobia.”


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