For Christmas, my husband gave me a tabletop easel and some other paint supplies. He’s always encouraged me to paint more. Come to think of it, I’ve never quite understood why that is. I also got a beautiful brush holder from my mother-in-law and some new brushes. I had the makings of an awesome, new painting nook, and to be honest, I felt quite nervous about setting it up. I planned out the area in my head and neatly stacked all of the supplies there. I decided where to hang the brushes and what inspirational art to hang near by. I started looking for a tall stool and knew the lighting in the room would be great. Still, several weeks went by and I didn’t paint a thing.
Before receiving all of these fancy supplies, I didn’t paint often because it was a hassle to drag out all of the supplies, paint for a bit, and then put them away. I always said, “if I had a space for this, I’d paint more.” Well, after I developed a bit of a space, I still wasn’t rushing to paint more. Suddenly, I realized that while convenience did play a factor, the main reason that I wasn’t painting was because I was scared.
Here’s a section about fear from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic:
You’re afraid you have no talent.
You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored.
You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.
You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously.
You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.
You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing.
You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree.
You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)
You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist.
You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal.
You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud.
You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.
You’re afraid your best work is behind you.
You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with.
You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back.
You’re afraid you’re too old to start.
You’re afraid you’re too young to start.
You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again.
You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying?
You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder.
You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder . . . Listen, I don’t have all day here, so I’m not going to keep listing fears. It’s a bottomless list, anyhow, and a depressing one. I’ll just wrap up my summary this way: SCARY, SCARY, SCARY. Everything is so goddamn scary.
Specifically, I realized I was afraid of not being good. I was afraid of wasting money on supplies to produce shitty paintings. I was afraid that people would tell me how terrible everything I did was. Some of these fears are justified, as hurtful things have certainly been said to me. However, they’re not justified in the fact that by listening to these people, I’m choosing to live small.
The realization snuck in one morning that while I’m not a “good painter” in the regard that I paint wonderful works of art that are desired by many, I can still be a painter. I think a “good painter” is someone that insists on painting. I finally came to terms with the fact that I just have to paint something. Whether it’s good or not isn’t what matters. What matters, is that I make something. Anything. Good, bad, or more commonly, mediocre. Much like writing, the only way to get better at something is to practice and do it repetitively. The stuff you churn out in the beginning likely isn’t as good as what you’ll be doing years later. I don’t have to rival Picasso; I just have to paint something. Maybe, I’ll have something good come out of 10 shitty projects. Maybe it’ll be 1 out of 50. It doesn’t matter. I’m not painting to win any awards or support my family. I’m painting because I think it’s fun. And that’s what a good painter does – they paint.
Just as importantly, I realized that I’m not even necessarily afraid of how terrible something might be. I’m actually just afraid of what people will say. If someone sees a mediocre painting propped up in my house, will they say something hurtful? There’s a chance. Like practically everything else in my life, the fear of what other people will think/say has held me back from doing something fun. The fear of my feelings being hurt by someone’s unintentional (or intentional) comments, is a roadblock that I haven’t been able to drive around for the majority of my life. Basically, I’ve been letting fear control my creativity.
If you’re hoping for the formula of how I overcame that fear, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. As I finish Big Magic, I might be able to offer you some sort of “solution.” For now, I’ll just go paint something. I’ll slap some paint on a canvas without any clear intention. I’ll mix colors and attempt new strokes and I’ll hope something beautiful comes from it. If it doesn’t, that’s ok too. The goal here is to face the fear. It’s to know that the fear is there, and insist that I’ll act regardless. I’ll paint. I’ll dance. I’ll make something mediocre. And I’ll do all of these things with that fear running right along beside me. However, I know that eventually after “putting myself out there” more and more, I’ll eventually tame that overarching fear just a bit. I’ll live boldly and courageously and say with pride – I’m a good painter.