When was the last time you had to run from a saber-toothed tiger? You’ve never ran for your life from a giant man-eating feline, you say? Neither have I. We’re fortunate enough to live in the 21st century, in the first world, and running for our lives from mother nature is not only no longer a part of our everyday experience, we’ve likely never, in the entire course of our lives, had such an encounter. For millions of years, back before hominids clawed (or paved, as it were) their way to the top of the food chain, the hormonal cascade that is fear served a vital function. Those fight or flight hormones kept us on our toes, alert and ready to respond quickly to predators. Fear kept us alive, hopefully at least long enough to reproduce and spread our genes. Fear was functional. And this is where the problem comes in… our evolution has yet to catch up with our society. We are currently living in the least violent times in human history, but our biology remains unaware. Now we’ve superimposed deadlines, taxes, and other stressful, yet non-lethal aspects of our modern life onto those carnivorous predators of our past.
For millions of years, back before hominids clawed (or paved, as it were) their way to the top of the food chain, the hormonal cascade that is fear served a vital function.
Fear is one of my favorite things to talk about because I believe it to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to living our dreams, and I think it’s an especially important conversation to have with creatives. I can’t speak for you, but I know for myself, fear is more often than not found lurking behind each and every creative block. I’m afraid of failure, afraid that I’m not good enough, afraid that I’m more total hack than artist. For the longest time, I worked in composition books and not Moleskines. I would sit in front of a blank moleskine page paralyzed with fear. No mark that I could make would ever possibly be good enough for that luxurious paper…until the day that my marks were good enough. And no, I didn’t *poof* magically wake up a great artist one morning and run out and buy myself a moleskine. No. That isn’t how that looked at all. I simply decided I wasn’t going to be afraid of messing up. Even if I were to fill the entire journal with mistakes, bad sketches, the wrong colors of paint, all the stupid thoughts that float around in my mind falling onto the pages in some ugly, incomprehensible scrawl…even if every single page was filled with complete and total crap… there’s a lot of pages, filling each one with crap would take me quite some time. I’d get my money’s worth and have the advantage of paper thick enough to handle more varied media. I would be working in a book that made me feel more like an artist. A wise woman once told me to “live as if”, and as soon as I started taking her advice, gave up fearing that I was just a total hack and started to live “as if” I were an artist, I became one.
An artist isn’t a person who creates beautiful things; an artist is someone who creates.
Somewhere along the way, I also changed my definition of ‘artist’. An artist isn’t a person who creates beautiful things; an artist is someone who creates. It’s a good thing too, because if the criteria were someone who creates only beautiful things, none of us would ever make it. We’d all be stuck sketching with a no.2 pencil on lined paper in a composition book, hiding our work from the world. If ‘beautiful things’ were really the criteria, there would be no artists. My moleskines are filled mostly with mistakes, some even having big “x’s” drawn through the center of them (if I was feeling particularly frustrated with myself or my muse that day). But amidst the stuff I’d rather no one see are gems that I can’t wait to share with the world. Those pieces could not..would not… exist if I had allowed myself to fall prey to my fears. Besides, every single page in all of them, the good and the bad alike, got me here. Every terrible photograph, every beautiful created image…. every crappy poem, every thoughtful piece of spoken word; every single creation I’ve been brave enough to birth into existence is a perfect scrap of tattered cloth woven into the tapestry that is my beautiful soul.
So the next time you find yourself sitting there, brush in hand, afraid to put paint to paper; remind yourself, there’s always gesso, or more paper. Remind yourself that it’s only art, not a carnivorous feline.