We returned from vacation and time away with family a few weeks ago. I was excited to get back to the studio, loosen up my crusty brushes, and make something out of the stack of canvases I knew were waiting for me. I left NYC with a head full of ideas and maybe even too much inspiration. I firmly believe that time off and time away is so helpful to the creative process, and usually, I come back to the easel with waves of fresh ideas and excitement; happy to be in my place again. But this time was completely different. I was overwhelmed & afraid.
Failure is hard to look at from the front. It can harm you the most before it has even happened. Fear of failure is the most ridiculous thing of all and yet, I fall into it so smoothly and repetitively, even though I know that no one “watching” me even really minds when I mess up. We are all grown ups and busy enough to not have leisure time to dwell on such things, and of course we know that everyone is human… But still I am afraid. I am afraid of failing myself.
I spent a few days in the studio doing busy work, cleaning, varnishing… anything but actually make a mark on something lasting and new.
Of course, at some point, paintings are going to completely “fail”. There will be some terrible ones to make the good ones even brighter. And you can’t just hop back into the process and assume, because you show up, that you will automatically create something magical… but, if you want to get over the thing, to teach the fear some humility, then you must show up. You have to disjoin the notion that your personal worth is united with the thing you make. It absolutely is not.
“I *will* paint today if only to break my hands out of the thick, crusty leather gloves they seem to be trapped in”
I wrote this to some friends (peer pressure and accountability do wonders for my stamina!). And I painted. It was not good but I felt less afraid and like I knew the thing I feared wasn’t me, t was my hands trying to get their rhythm back. And so I painted on and with every stroke I felt the gloves slipping off and my mind relaxing and then it was just me again and the fear was no longer singing loudly in my mind but was sitting quietly somewhere across the room where she belongs.
photo by Chris Isham