Art & Fear raises three powerful questions:
What is your art really about?
Where is it going?
What stands in the way of getting it there?
Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgement difficult.
~HIPPOCRATES (460-400 B.C.)
Fears about artmaking fall into two families: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others.
In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.
Let’s disseminate the former: Fears about yourself.
The fear that you’re only pretending to do art is the (readily predictable) consequence of doubting your own artistic credentials.
It’s easy to imagine that real artists know what they’re doing, and that they–unlike you–are entitled to feel good about themselves and their art. Fear that you are not a real artist causes you to undervalue you work.
If you buy into the premise tha art can be made only by people who are extraordinary, such down periods only serve to confirm that you aren’t.
Before chucking it all of a day job, however, consider the dynamics at work here. Both making art and viewing art require an ongoing investment of energy–lots of energy. In moments of weakness, the myth of the extraordinary provides the excuse for an artist to quit trying to make art, and the excuse for a viewer to quit trying to understand it.
Meanwhile artists who do continue often become perilously self-conscious about their artmaking. If you doubt this could be a problem, just try working intuitively (or spontaneously) while self-conscioiusly weighing the effect of your every action.
You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning aobut your own vision.
Talent, in common parlance, is ‘what comes easily’. So sooner or later, inevitably, you reach a point where the work doesn’t come easiily, and–Aha”, it’s just as you feared!
Were talent a prerequisite, then the better the artwork, the easier it would have been to make. But alas, the fates are rarely so generous. For every artist who has developed a mature vision with grace and speed, countless others have laboriously nurtured their art through fertile periods and dry spells, through false starts and breakaway bursts, through successive and significant changes of direction, medium, and subject matter.
Talent is a snare and a delusion. In the end, the practical questions about talent come down to these:
Who cares? Who would know? and What difference would it make?
And the practical answers are: Nobody, Nobody, and None.
If you think good work is somehow synonymoous with perfect work, you are headed for big trouble. Art is human; error is human; ergo, art is error.
To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done.
For more artists, hitting a dry spell in their artmaking would be a serious blow; for a few it would amount to annihilation. Some artists identify so closely with their own work that were they to cease producing, they fear they would be nothing–that they woould cease existing.
Annihilation is an existential fear: the common–but sharply overdrawn–fear that some part of you dies when you stop making art. And it’s true. Non-artists may not understand that, but artists themselves (especially those who are stuck) understand it all too well. The depth of your need to make things establishes the level of risk in not making them.
Maybe making art requires some special or even magic ingredient that you don’t have.
The belief that ‘real’ art possesses some indefinable magic ingredient puts pressure on you to prove your work contains the same. Wrong, very wrong. Asking your work to prove anything only invites doom.
The important point here is not that you have–or don’t have–what other artists have, but rather that it doesn’t matter. Whatever they have is something needed to do their work–it wouldn’t help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don’t lack it. You don’t need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period.
Hovering out there somewhere between cause and effect, between fears about self and fears about others lie expectations.
Expectations based on the work itself are the most useful tool the artist possesses. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece.
Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willigness to embrace.
Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need.