Art And Practice As Fear

Mankind has come a long way from primitive existence on the savanna. Back then, fear was an important resource. Wild animals, weather, food, shelter—all of these were constant difficulties to overcome in order to keep existing. Fear was necessary to help keep us alive. It served a purpose in making us move away from danger, seeking safety. These dangers were very real.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Today, much of the perceived dangers are not real. Yet we perceive them as real because the fear reflex is deeply embedded into our DNA. For artists, we often perceive fear from one source or another, and it paralyzes us. Fear can easily stop us in our tracks.

As mankind evolved socially, and moved more towards a collective society, one of our main fears became not being accepted by a group or collective. No one wants to appear different, and thus not a part of the group (herd). Sometimes this reflexive fear is difficult for artists to move past, yet the nature of being an artist is being different

Another big fear is the fear of failure, which is really another type of not being accepted by the group. Art is life. It is our very personal and internal feelings made manifest in whatever art form we work in. It is often the most personal thing we do and reveal to others. The fear of putting yourself out there and being rejected is strong. Who wants to be rejected, or to have their art rejected? 

Creating art is always a gamble, not a guarantee. You could work for years on something, release it, and either have no reaction at all (apathy), or to have strong negative reaction! Think of famed composer Igor Stravinsky, who's The Right of Spring caused riots when it was first performed. It was radical enough that people had difficulty accepting it, yet it has become one of his most famous and loved compositions. Sometimes you may be ahead of the group mentality, and it will take time for them to catch up with, and appreciate, the work you are doing.

I don't know if Stravinsky had any fear about releasing The Right of Spring, but after the public's reaction, he could have easily been afraid of composing anything else, especially something that was not safe and easily acceptable. But he just kept going, following his own muse and composing what he believed in.

Fear as False Expectations Appearing Real

Early man had to pay attention to his fear in order to survive a very harsh environment. It was often a matter of life or death. Today as an artist, it is rarely a life or death struggle. If your new play/album/poem/dance/etc. fails, you will still go on. You will be safe from physical harm. Hopefully you will learn something from what initially may appear to be a failure, and take that experience as an impetus to create even more.

Exercises for Moving Beyond Fear

1) When you find yourself stuck or paralyzed by fear, think about the artists you admire, and realize that you probably admire them because they took chances. The art created by these chances connected with you, spoke to you. Taking chances is the nature of creativity.

2) Breathe! Don't forget to breathe. Fear can paralyze us, causing us to hold our breath, which in turn diminishes our thinking. Stop and breathe, get ahold of your emotions, and then proceed.

3) Expect to fail. Expect to fall down. Expect things to go wrong. But realize that you can always get back up, and in learning from your “failures,” you can make improvements.

Allow yourself to Fail.

~ MB


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