Art and fear* are all too often linked. We’re afraid to start making art after a long absence. We’re afraid of taking creative risks. Of the first blank pages in a new sketchbook. Of taking a kourse to improve our skills. Of other people’s opinions.
I understand fear. I’ve been plagued by it my whole life. It’s one of the burdens of creativity, our ability to imagine all sorts of future events, including the scariest ones. We can hear the voices of our critics, see their snears, feel the humiliation of sharing something we’re unsure of.
But none of it is real.
In the first Sketchbook Skool kourse, Beginning, someone posted a comment: “Is this a self- help course? I thought it was meant to be art instruction…” and we had to laugh. It’s true that we spend a lot of time addressing blocks, feelings, personal history, because these the areas people really need help, You can pick up a book and read about glazing techniques or how to crosshatch, but the greatest rewards we get from art making are deeply personal, not technical, and we all need help expressing ourselves.
Whether it’s looking at art or making it, the benefits are revelations about our selves, our similarities, about unburdening and digging deep. Many of us begin studying art to “get better at drawing” but find that it helps us get better at living. Drawing a portrait gives us insight into a person’s face, their past, their souls. Drawing a familiar street shows us all of the things we missed as we walked down it oblivious. Drawing a battered shoe reminds us of the effects of time and work, of the particularities of each life, of the beauty hidden in even the humblest objects.
We can overcome fear by reorienting ourselves to the true purpose of art making. It’s not about getting approval. It is not about selling your work. It’s not even about capturing a perfect likeness. What we get out of making art is personal. And we shouldn’t be afraid to learn more about ourselves and the world, about how to live an engaged and authentic life.
Keeping a sketchbook has been one of the most fearless things I’ve done. But it’s also a private journey. I turn the pages, I close the cover, and it’s safe. No one else need see it. But the ultimate step in art making is to recognize the value in what we have made, not just for ourselves but also for others who can benefit from our discoveries.
Art is not about commerce and critics. It’s about communication. Sharing whatever it is we know, even if imperfectly, so that our time on earth, our slings and arrows, might not be in vain.
I have never felt my work was good enough to be in a gallery or a museum. But I found that I was okay with it being in a book surrounded by words. That’s as brave as I could get. But it’s been more than enough. How fearless can you be?
— Danny Gregory
(*To explore this theme further, we recommend this book called, appropriately, Art and Fear)