Art and Fear?

A Little Space in the Afternoon Studio

A Little Space in the Afternoon Studio

God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Yes, I read this excellent book, Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  I felt that a pair of artists were in the room with me, engaged in legitimate, heart-to-heart discussion.  And they addressed the inherent fears and required courage of art making rather than the blocked-artist syndrome.  I am not a blocked artist.  I am a public school teacher, teaching multiple subjects.  I will frequently face weekday afternoons and evenings where preparations leave little-to-no time for quality studio work.  But that is not blockage, not creative paralysis–it is just  an overloaded schedule.  This afternoon I managed to eke out some time for the studio, so here I am, with a little hesitation.  So what is this “fear” factor?  I will be the first to testify that making art is a courageous act.

Art requires more courage from me than other acts that might stir up fear in others.  For instance, I am not afraid to walk into a high school classroom, stand in front, and begin talking directly to the body of students.  I have never been afraid to stand in a public auditorium and address a congregation of adults.  I don’t know fear in those instances.  But what is this “fear factor” in art?  Am I afraid of rejection by the public?  Not really.  Do I fear ruining a $20 sheet of quality watercolor paper?  I don’t think so.  Am I afraid I am wasting my time?  Hardly.  I have invested years in this, and don’t begrudge additional hours, days, months or years.  In fact, I wish I had 500 years left to invest–I’ll never reach the level I want to reach in my own lifetime.

So, what is it?  Am I afraid of making a bad painting?  Perhaps that is it.  But I don’t understand that.  When I make a bad painting, I just don’t show it.  I seldom throw bad painting attempts away.  I suppose that if I keep them in a drawer that I’ll take them out another day, study them, and learn from the mistakes.  But I don’t generally do that either.  I just don’t look at them.  So what is it that frightens me?  What is the source of the anxiety?  I wish I knew.

Somehow, I am intimidated, approaching subjects where I have little-to-no experience.  And that is what is happening now with the rendering of human figures in watercolor, small human figures.  I don’t know why I have this phobia about screwing up.  So what if I screw up?  This is laughable.  I don’t live financially off my art sales.  My job keeps me fed and housed.  Maybe at the root of all these art endeavors is the fear of failure.  But how could that be?  How can one fail, if allowed to re-do, re-try, if allowed to learn, grow, accomplish?  Silly, isn’t it.  Perhaps I need to re-read Rollo May’s The Courage to Create.

At any rate, I am in the studio for a short while this afternoon, nibbling away at this small watercolor sketch.  And writing this blog is therapeutic it seems.  Right now, I am not afraid.  In fact, I’m enjoying the process, regardless of the outcome.  And when I finish this one, I will turn to the next.  One cannot help but improve with practice, and practice on the human figure is something I have yet to accomplish.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for putting up with my navel gazing (smiling).  I had some things to work out.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


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6 Responses to “Art and Fear?”

  1. coreyaber Says:

    I know the feeling! For me it often comes up with sketchbooks, especially new ones, because I fear leaving a lasting disaster in the book and then someone seeing it as they flip through. By the way your Brubek post was great. I like that way of looking at that piece and it will stick with me. Can’t remember if I posted that comment to you already. On another note do you mind doing a post on your equipment sometime? I am especially curious about your thoughts on brushes. I am wondering if I should get a 10 or 12 sable round–any recommendations?


    • davidtripp Says:

      Hi Corey. I got sick right about the time you wrote to me. Finally I’m clawing my way back to productivity. I’ll gladly post something about the equipment I use, hopefully later today. Right now I’ll tell you that a size 12 round sable is an excellent brush. I got away from it for awhile but have picked it back up today. My favorite is a size 12 Artists’ Water Colour Sable ~ Round by Winsor & Newton in partnership with BLICK art materials. It holds a huge amount of water and is capable of a hairline point, so when I’m doing grasses, it’s like a fountain pen–I can lay in tons of grasses and weeds and drybrush leaves without redipping the brush in the colors.


      • coreyaber Says:

        I am very glad you’re feeling better now. Sounds like it was a pretty awful illness, especially since you couldn’t paint through it. I had some comments going for you about that and you post with Emerson’s quote about the boats, but I lost them in the wordpress app.
        Thanks for the tip on the Winsor and Newton. I have a 1/4 inch one stroke artists watercolor sable and it hasn’t been great for me as a stroke, but is great to be rough with and dry brush. Glad the round is so good. I had been leaning towards that one but was unsure because of the other. I think I will give it a try since it works so well for you


      • davidtripp Says:

        The sickness was quite ugly. I couldn’t even read. My eyes did not want to focus on anything. TV was even hard to watch. I’m so glad to be out from under it now, especially to feel good enough to paint at last.


  2. Bonnie Says:

    I, too, know the feeling! I had to chuckle when i was reading your post, but I can totally relate!


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