Fear has been on my mind lately, born from an afternoon conversation with a fellow photographer, artist, and friend. I'm not talking about the type of fear that causes panic or literal fright, but the type of fear that grips and holds; the type of fear that can force one to change his or her life. I'm speaking of the kind of fear that, in it's most basic form, makes the artist ashamed or afraid to be the person they really are; fear that will make them deny the work they were meant to create.
Although I've always had an interest in photography, I only began to take my photography seriously within the last 15 years - and it has been one hell of a ride. My fears have manifested themselves in many different voices with many different faces. My work continues to grow and evolve, and the consequences of past choices are more clear now than ever. Fear, in it's own weird way, had become a refuge of sorts. If I didn't create the work, it couldn't be rejected. It's an oddly safe place to be, until you can't stand it anymore. The desire to create, the desire to do your work, will always exert itself.
Art is very personal. Art, by it's nature, takes courage. The artists I know all have a commitment to their work on every possible level. They suffer for it; they pour themselves into it, body, mind and soul, regardless of what it is, regardless of where it goes, regardless of the chances for success. In the book ‘Art & Fear’, authors David Bayles & Ted Orland say that because of this fear, the artist sometimes throws the work into a great, black void, giving the artist the first right of rejection. It’s true; I’ve often done it myself. It eases the pain of rejection. We strike first because for many of us, when our work is rejected, we are rejected.
Yet, the fear will linger, always whispering, and sometimes shouting - that ‘feed it once’ thing, you see.
Fear will never leave us, artist or not. Fear is part of being human. Fear is not to be defeated either. Fear just ‘is.’ It’s different for each of us. What matters is how we as artists deal with it. Mountains are rarely conquered by a single climber, and it is a round trip journey – once on the summit, you still have to survive the trip down.
The pursuit of their work is often a lonely and misunderstood journey for the artist, as well as those in the artist's life. Such a life is fertile ground for fear to take root in. There is strength in numbers, and in numbers, artists supported by community can turn the tables on fear. Artists must support and encourage one another and through community, they better their chances in the battle against fear.
It works. I’ve experienced it personally.
The challenge here is that artists by nature are often solitary creatures. Even amongst our own, we must find our quiet and alone time, often to work; often so we can work. Either way we must have that time and we must be watchful. The artist must return to the community, as fear will be reluctant to follow there. Community gives us strength and confidence to deal with our fear on our terms.
For what its worth, I've made it to the summit of this particular peak in my own personal range of fear. I haven’t survived the trip; not just yet. I'm still on the way to the base, to be grounded once again. But, I'd say my odds of making it are pretty damn good.
An assault on a new and unchallenged peak will begin soon enough, I'm sure. It always does.