I'm Just Saying…

August 3, 2010

The Creativity Fear Factor

Filed under: Art — jillamyrosenblatt @ 1:35 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m afraid of my watercolor brushes. Literally. Let me explain. Creatives, as we are sometimes called, usually create in more than one area. Our first chosen field may be writing, painting, music, dance, you name it, but there is usually another serious interest or hobby whispering in our ear. I am first, foremost, and forever, a writer and I am thankful that I have never experienced a fear of picking up the pencil and pad. But I am a wanna-be artist. I think about art, admire art, dream about making art, I could talk about art from now until next week. But for some reason, I can’t actually sit down to engage in the creative process of making art. To put my brush to the paper is to invite a panic attack of “what if it doesn’t come out right?” Just fingering the tubes of paint can bring on a stifling case of nerves. I don’t think Cobalt Blue is supposed to have such an effect on a person. You see my problem. 

There are days I will drive home from work thinking, “As soon as I get home I should sit down at my desk and spend some time painting.” I will be excited about this idea, gleeful, even ready to chortle with pleasure. And then the feelings will hit me like a boxer’s combination move; hesitation, anxiety, the unpleasant feeling of unrest. I can’t pick a subject, I lose my ability to make interpretive decisions about color, confusion is my companion. Sure enough, by the time I reach home, I can feel the creativity draining out of me and I decide to do something else. I would like it noted that I have no trouble purchasing books about learning to create art. I am a power shopper for art supplies. My collection of sketching pencils is impressive. I have a tub of watercolor paint tubes. Instructors have commented on the fine quality of brushes I own. I can copy pictures reasonably well. I have taken drawing lessons, watercolor lessons, life drawing lessons and yet I never quite get a handle on the basic concepts needed to create something of my own. I have to tell you: it’s a bitch.

I have been dealing with this for almost twenty years. Now I’m depressed just having typed that sentence. I console myself that I am not the only one out there with this issue. And how do I know this?

The  book Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Creating Art,  explores this very dilemma. David Bayles and Ted Orland explained this multi-pronged problem perfectly and although it is easy in theory to understand what the problem is, that doesn’t make it any easier to conquer. To oversimplify and paraphrase, to think about art is to imagine all of the wonderful pictures I could create, rather than face picking up the brush and finding the actual result is so much less than what I’d hoped for. In short, to never draw or paint is to never fail.

I find this a curious phenomenon. I pick up a pencil and pad and write lousy sentences all the time. That’s a given with first drafts. You’re supposed to write badly. It’s part of the process. Ernest Hemingway said “The first draft of anything is shit.” Last semester, I taught Introduction to Writing the Novel. I exhorted my students: “You must write, even if you write badly, you must write.” And then I gave them an analogy that has haunted me ever since I said it. “You can’t be afraid to put words down on paper,” I told them, “You can’t worry if the words are good or bad.  You have to write badly before you can write well. Dancers have to stumble before they get smooth,  musicians have to squeak on their instruments before they play well, artists have to paint a lot of bad pictures before they paint good ones.”  Take your own advice much? I thought to myself.

What is it about creating art? It’s not as if the art police are waiting outside the door, ready to swoop in and “Book ’em Danno” because my canvas isn’t a Picasso. I find making art to be a singular challenge. Words on a page can be erased and replaced, musicians can stop playing and begin again, dancers will pick themselves up and start over but a picture that is so clearly not what it was meant to be casts a harsh and damning glare. A picture that is not well done cannot be undone. Not even throwing it in the garbage can erase the experience.   

How many creatives, I wonder,  go through the same experience, struggling to find the joy that is supposed to be the focal point of the experience, the relaxed pursuit of self-expression through form, line, and color? How many creatives are blinded to the concept of art as interpretation, not re-creation of exactly what is seen? Between resistance to the notion that process is paramount and the nagging fear that if the piece is not good enough to be sold it has no value, creativity is all but lost.  

Bayles and Orland make an excellent point in their book when they write, “…there’s generally no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist’s work.” Point taken. Then why do it? Well, I look at it this way. There are countless reasons why writers write. Love of language, love of story, overactive imagionation, etc. Personally speaking, it is all of those things, but it is also about crafting a story that I would want to read. I desperately hope that the completed work will touch the reader and they will feel the same love for the story, the characters, as I do. If writer’s write for the love of creating story, musicians play for love of music, then why not draw and paint for the same reason?  

I think I wrote this not just for myself but for other creatives out there struggling with the same predicament. You are not alone. It is not New Year’s and I’m not much for resolutions. But perhaps the mid-point of the year is as good a time as any to adopt a new outlook as we head for the home stretch of 2010. No matter how much time has been lost in fear and doubt, there is always time to start anew. I think it’s time to approach making art with a new attitude of experimentation expecting to enjoy the creative process.

I’m ready to pick up my paintbrush. Who’s with me?



1 Comment »

  1. Hey, I’ll join you on that! My creative fear has always been…swimming. Specifically, Synchronized Swimming. I love to swim (in fact, I swim five days a week after work!) I’m good in the water. I’ve been told I’m very graceful. I have the right suit, the right goggles, the right everything, and even do the more difficult strokes reasonably well…and yet, I have no desire to swim any more than just a relaxing dip, and am terrified every time I think of enrolling for private lessons, trying out for the local swim team, or Synchronized Swimming class. Perhaps it’s time for me to check that September schedule, eh?

    Comment by kristipetersenschoonover — August 3, 2010 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

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