Words From Artists: Fear

August 2, 2013

Lately I've been having a pleasant sit-down with my creative and life-related fears and anxieties. As artist Lisa Congdon recently wrote on her blog:

I am working on getting to know my fears: fears about having too much work, fears about not having enough work, fears about who I am, my identity, my life, my future. Just sitting with stuff, not necessarily trying to fix it. Every day that I do this I feel slightly more relaxed and my fears are having less and less power. 

Yep. I think that puts it pretty perfectly.

I'm grateful to hear other creative people talk about their struggles with fear and anxiety, because sometimes my crazy brain insists that it is ONLY me, and everyone else is just skating pleasantly along without a concern in the world. Be ye not so foolish. Recently I read these three pieces of writing about the challenges of the creative brain (and the uncertainties of art-making and freelancing), and felt grateful that these folks were so open and honest with their struggles, and their methods of wrestling with fear. Maybe you'd like them too.

1. Cynthia Hopkins: FEAR AS FUEL (Note: scroll down to find the post in three parts.)
Cynthia Hopkins is one of my greatest creative inspirations. She's a brilliant performer, and yet performing is one of her greatest fears:

The general terror of performing anything at all in front of a live audience is extremely familiar to me – I’ve been moving through stage fright to perform for live audiences since I was 12 years old and I’m 40 now, so I’ve been doing this for 28 years – long enough to have asked myself on hundreds of occasions “Why do this thing, performing live in front of people, that causes an overwhelming terror so powerful you feel physically ill, as if some sort of poison is coursing through your body? No one is holding a gun to your head, saying ‘go out there on that stage or I’ll pull the trigger!’” and the answer that has risen up from the depths of my soul hundreds of times is “I’m doing this because I WANT to do this. I CHOOSE to do this. And the reason I choose to do this is BECAUSE of the stage fright!”

[I also really love this video interview she did with the Walker Art Center's Philip Bither.]

Jason Hudson is a photographer and writer, currently traveling around the world with his partner. In the middle section of this article, he beautifully articulates the sensitivities of the creative brain:

So often imaginative, artistic people are the ones who can't climb over their doubts and scale their own fears to make it work. To turn their tangible skills into success without feeling tortured. While we can appear outgoing and charming, we're more comfortable where things are quiet and structured. Adding insult to irony, the most dangerous place for us is in our heads, where our stupid, porous brains absorb so much. 

I think the fabulous thing about being an artist is that there is so much opportunity to use our art to examine the fear we feel-- to make fear somewhat of a project. Lisa writes really openly about that here:

I have said before, this is my life’s work, working with fear. It’s like peeling away layers of an onion. But I’m also beginning to realize that despite how scary some things feel in the moment...no matter how scary things feel in the moment, everything always works out.

Yes, indeed. Happy Friday. 


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