Fear Isn’t Real: Facing Artistic Insanity

FearI have a lot of issues as an artist. The usual suspects of course, for anyone trying something that demands skill, dedication, connections, and (at least some) blind faith… Am I really able to do this? Do I deserve success? Do I have any proof that this is a good idea? Why bother?

It more or less boils down to being accepting of failure (“I’m only human/I’m a newbie”) and suspicious of success (“It was probably luck/they’re my family, they have to say that.”) With the exception of a few, this is the general mentality for a lot of creatives. Failure is natural, success is a fluke. If you’re anything like me, you’re nodding (which I’m doing as I type) and saying, “Yep. True story.”

I recently watched “After Earth”, the Will Smith movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan. In the film, there are monsters that can only “see” humans when the humans feel fear. Smith’s character explains to his son that “Fear is an illusion.” He clarifies that danger is very real, but fear is a choice. Fear is making a choice based on something that hasn’t happened (and may never happen) and Smith describes it as borderline insanity.

That particular part of the movie made me think about those questions that come into my head when I’m doubting my life choices (especially concerning art and writing.) There are days where my lack of confidence keep me from putting art out into the world. There are days when fear of failure definitely keeps me from even trying. Like in “After Earth”, I feel paralyzed with “what ifs” and “flight not fight” instincts. And just like in the movie, those fears only make the danger more real.

This is called being set up to fail. You and me, we’re spending our days assuming our plans won’t work. If we assume that failure is probable, then we don’t try (or don’t try as hard.) In a weird way, it’s like the line from Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol: If we’re going to die, then we’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population! Yeah, I’m using both sci-fi and classical references to make my point.

And my point is this: as artists, we’re choosing to be afraid and run for cover, simply because of something we imagined. Ironically, that imaginary threat is most likely based on a history of giving up and not trying (at least it is for me.) But the real danger isn’t that we might not get the job, the client, the success, the fame, the money or whatever; the real danger is that we might not even put pencil to paper. We might not put stylus to tablet, brush to canvas, fingers to keyboard. The real danger isn’t that we might not succeed; it’s that we might not even try. Simply buckling down and doing is more than half the battle. Everything else comes later.

What’s your greatest fear about doing art? How do you deal with it?

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