You have just attended a gallery exhibition of a local artist and walked away feeling inspired. Or maybe you just finished reading about an artist who has been working for years, but is finally garnering national recognition. After attending said events or hearing said news, you invariably feel that tinge of pain in your body. You’ve been having this conversation with yourself for years about how you are finally going to make a go of it. Create a body of work, show in a public space, ask for the sell; but you don’t. Why not?
Okay, the above question is for the most part rhetorical because we all know what the answer is: Fear. Fear keeps our hands folded waiting for something to happen. Fear makes us wander hopelessly and not ask for directions. And, by the way, if you need directions don’t ask fear because it will tell you to stay still. Don’t go out on the limb or do anything too risky. Or you might pretend to do something, when in fact, you’re just spinning your wheels. If this state is all-too-familiar to you, then maybe you’re at the point now where you’re ready to break out of it. Are you?
Let’s keep going with the analogy of travelling and add some more details. Let’s pretend you’re in a large city trying to get somewhere on the subway. Somehow, You are able to make it to the main hub where all the trains meet. As you disembark from your train car, you are immediately struck by the sheer volume of people hustling to their respective destinations. Overwhelmed, you decide to approach an older man who does not seem to be in a hurry.
“Can you tell me which train to take to get to destination B?” You say. He immediately points across the tracks and tells you you’re on the wrong side. Then he says that you will have to go upstairs and walk to the other side of the station and then take the escalator back down.
This is your first time in this part of town and your first time on the subway. You don’t want to confuse yourself farther, so you decide to stay where you are and take one of the trains on that side. Sounds reasonable? Only if it doesn’t matter where you end up.
Do you even know where you want to wind up? Many of us artists are stilled by the cloak of fear because we are not really sure about where we want to wind up. Spontaneity is a great thing, but it looks a lot more like futility when there is no proposed destination.
Okay, let’s say you know where you want to go. But you feel intimidated by the bigness if it all and you decided to stay on your side of the tracks. Now, you’ve finally gotten fed up with just going wherever those other trains go. So, what’s next?
It seems the obvious solution would be to go to the other side where your train is going, and it is. But, fear is not logical or rational and it cares little about what is obvious. It is pure emotion-and the most base of emotions-at that. When I was moving from my childhood home, the family cat literally dug her claws into the wall out of fear of what awaited her on the “outside”.
What is your “outside”? Is it rejection? Is it failure? Is it success? How can you get a grip on this?
Imagine you are like my zany and frightened family cat, digging your claws into a plaster wall, frantically trying to conjure all of your strength and fight. Now Imagine that someone, calmly stroked your fur (stay with me, here) and somehow let you know that it’s not that scary out there and even if you feel afraid that you will love where you’re going. You see. It seems a lot less scary when you remember the fact that you’re not in this alone. Yes, being an artist can be lonely but, we truly are not alone. We let fear overtake our dreams when we feel like we’re going it alone.
So, how can you break out of this and really get some momentum going? Since I love formulas and how-to, I’m going to give you one. However, this formula comes with a caveat: It will only work if you actually follow it, and sometimes it will seem like nothing is working. Then that’s when you stick with it and keep going:
1. Decide on your destination. Do not proceed to step 2 if you do not do this. This is the most important step and cannot be avoided. If you don’t decide, life will always present a plethora of ways for you to use up your precious time and energy.
2. Find someone who has been there and ask them every question you can think of about what they did to get there. Follow them around, get their coffee, offer to hang work for them at one of their exhibitions.
3. Create your own path. Now it’s time to use some of the things that you’ve learned. The best part is, you don’t have to do everything that you learned to the letter. You get to make up things as you go along as long as you’re clear on where you’re going.
Is it really that simple? In concept yes; in practice; no so much. However, as you learn to work with fear, it can become a motivation that drives you rather than keeping you stuck. You will come to appreciate the butterflies in your stomach and the lump in your throat as signs that something new and exciting is on the horizon.