Back in 2004, while on a school trip to Chicago, I bought a t-shirt from the Museum of Contemporary Art that said “FEAR NO ART”. Simple white letters, all-caps, on a black shirt. I loved that shirt to death, and wore it out.
At the time, in the midst of completing my Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts, the idea of ‘fearing art’ was tongue-in-cheek to me. I personally didn’t fear any art. In fact, my favourite kind of art was (and still is) the kind of art that makes most people say things like “that’s art!?!” The kind of art that can intimidate people or confuse people or make people angry. Controversial art, art that eschews the traditional notion of “beauty”. The t-shirt’s saying was a call to action statement: it told people to open their minds to something new and to let themselves explore something uncomfortable in the hopes of discovering something about themselves or about the world through art.
I could never imagine that there would be a time in my life where I would fear art.
Thirteen years after that amazing trip, I find myself in a career that utilizes my artistic skills and abilities yet doesn’t lend itself to the creation of the kind of art I created during University.
Well, why don’t I do art as a hobby? Ha. Back in University art was my job. I studied it, wrote about it, critiqued it, admired it, was inspired by it and most importantly created it. While my friends and fellow students crammed for exams or wrote countless essays and other assignments, I was drawing, painting, sculpting and creating. Sounds easy right? I wrote my fair share of essays and crammed for many exams as well, but the difference was that my primary focus in school was creating art. It was never easy. It was usually fun, though.
My Fine Arts degree, coupled with my education degree, got me where I am today. I have a job that enables me to go out in the field and hit the trails every so often, which in turn affords me the opportunity to practice photography (ironically the one form of art that I didn’t formally study in University). I find photography to be a very rewarding and exciting creative outlet. I am also responsible for the visual identity of the organization I work for, which means I do all of the graphic design and desktop publishing (including creating t-shirt designs). Needless to say, I am able to scratch several creative itches at work.
But that isn’t the same as creating fine art, which brings us back to the idea of art as a hobby. I have made peace with the fact that I now create art as a hobby. What I haven’t made peace with is the fact that I don’t create nearly as much art as I want or should.
Why is that?
Well if you were to ask me, my initial response would be “I don’t have the time, the money or the space”.
Those responses are not reasons, however. They are excuses. Bad ones, at that.
I have the space. I might not have a clay trap in my sink, or a workshop, or a printing press, but I have a large room in my home that is a dedicated studio, perfect for drawing, painting, photo editing, writing and anything else that doesn’t require specialized equipment.
Sure, making art can be expensive. Canvas, paint, brushes, a million other supplies, the costs could be endless. But at the end of the day, a sheet of white computer paper and a charred stick can be enough to create something. Even a walk in the woods can yield everything one needs to create a masterpiece (think Andy Goldsworthy).
Finding the time can be difficult. When art was my job, and obtaining a University Degree hinged on my creative output, it was easy to put everything else aside. When priorities in life change and mortgages need to be paid, creating art will often take a back seat (unless you make a living at creating art, which I don’t). But at the end of the day, it is easy to carve out a few minutes for working in a sketchbook. I seem to find the time to browse Facebook and Instagram until my eyes blur, yet I never seem to have “enough time” to do serious art-making.
Well, if I’m being perfectly honest, the reason why I find it so difficult to practice art-making is fear.
I’ve found myself scared of the blank page, so to speak. I have a fear of not living up to what I was able to do when art-making was my job. I’m scared that I lost my talent. I have a fear of looking like a fraud. What if all I can do is retread what I was doing in University and keep producing the same old stuff? It’s this odd, deep-rooted fear of failing at something that consumed my life for four years.
When I do force myself to put pen to page, I get so frustrated because the marks the pen leaves behind are not anything I am proud of. My doodles in the margins of my old school notebooks are better than what I have bee working on lately.
It’s a bit of a Catch 22, though. My knowledge of the elements and principals of design, of composition and art theory, are all still there. I am simply out of practice, a little rusty and in need of new inspirations. I just need to work at it and make more art to get myself back in shape, so to speak. But when I do pick up a pencil, I get frustrated and angry and embarrassed and end up putting my sketchbook down. Which means I’m not practicing. Which means I’m not getting any better.
So what to do?
Well, I need to look at what it is about art-making that makes me so happy in the first place. I find art-making to be immensely therapeutic and cathartic. Maybe if I put less pressure on myself to recreate what I was doing in 2004, I might be able to more easily slip into a creative catharsis. I KNOW making art makes me feel better in the end, so I should just do it.
I think another thing I need to do is experiment with new mediums. I was never much of a painter, so maybe playing with watercolours or acrylics will spark a new creative fire. Trying something new might help me forget about trying to recapture the past and push me in a new creative direction.
Ultimately, what I need to do, is follow the advice of my old t-shirt. I need to stop fearing art. Even though the shirt meant something different to me then, the advice the shirt gave is something I can contemplate and use to help focus myself.
I’m going to try to put aside my fear of the blank page to get myself back on track. It has been far too long since I have contributed something of value and worth to the local arts community, and I am excited to get back into the zone.
If the lesson here for me is to not fear the creative process, there is a lesson here for other people as well.
People are typically afraid of what they don’t understand. When someone is presented with a work of art that they don’t understand, they will usually dismiss it or erroneously criticize it as being unworthy to be called art. In this instance, fear equates to a lack of understanding. My advice (because it’s always easier to give advice than it is to take it) would be to open yourself up to something new and try to understand it.
In other words, fear no art.