On My Bookshelf: Art & Fear

April 6, 2013


I continue to work on my dance WITHOUT FREAKING OUT and/or having a self-defeating melt-down! Next week I start working with my dancers. I'm grateful to have others to hold me accountable to my timeline, because even though I'm excited about this project I will find any excuse to procrastinate rehearsing. It's as if I'm waiting for the sky to open up and provide me with the perfect hour of time where I'm in the absolute genius headspace. Guess what? It doesn't actually work like that. Once I start rehearsing, I have fun! I make progress! Like with so many things in life, it's the moments before starting that are awful.

This performance is relatively low-stakes, for an audience of people who celebrate artistic experiments. I know full well that this 7-minute dance doesn't have to be my opus-- comforting. Still, I'm tiptoeing around, wondering if THE FEAR is going to set in. I've written very openly in this space about facing major artistic paralysis in the past-- the kind of fear that made me want to permanently stop creating. It stemmed from several places: a concern about what others thought; confusing my own identity/self-worth with my art; a lack of self-trust; analyzing too early in the process; over-commitment and a lack of life balance.


I believe that the best time (and money) investment you can make is in investigating your demons and sorting through your Own Personal Baggage. The past two years have been pretty full of that for me. Making this dance has made me aware of the subtle changes that have resulted. I felt it a lot this week: lots of inner monologue about what if I get to the first rehearsal and realize that none of it looks very good? And then a response to my own pondering: you're smart and you'll figure it out. You'll figure it out. You'll figure it out. And, if you can't figure it out, you'll ask the question again and keep working on it. I've worked hard to create a part of myself that's separate from my work, so that if and when the work bombs, I don't too. It's fair to note that this system and separation isn't flawless. But, I'm working on it.

All of this led me to pick up my copy of Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making, one of the many books on creating that Early 20's Laura went into credit card debt over (along with many Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp biographies). Sometimes I have to hand it to my younger self: although she wasn't necessarily great at honing her craft, that girl made plans. She booked performances and deadlines, spent all of her free time shopping for props and costumes, and was all I am dedicated to being an artist! with very little fear, but a much bigger sense of calling. Almost duty, dare I say? So maybe I didn't really need to read the book then. But diving into it now, I see myself and challenges I've faced in much of what the authors-- David Bayles and Ted Orland-- write. Just like Steven Pressfield writes in The War of Art, we are our own greatest artistic challenge. Or, as quoted in Art & Fear:

We have met the enemy, and he is us. [Pogo]

We get in our own way when making our art, and we let others get in our way. All of this prevents us from doing what we need to: learning to work on our work. So, while the book doesn't necessarily present neat solutions or points that haven't crossed my mind once or twice, it's so helpful to read these reminders. Oh! Shit! That's totally a flawed thinking pattern that's messing up my ability to do what I'm trying to do! There are lots of artists, but there are only so many who are able to make the work happen without driving themselves nuts. And I don't want creating to be the thing that drives me crazy; it's the thing that makes me feel the most in my skin. So I will stick to re-reading Art & Fear for reality checks, while channeling a bit of Early 20's Laura-- but now with more experience and better money management skills! 

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