We are scared to create.
Fear evolved to help us stay physically safe. Thanks to our ancestors heeding their fears, we are alive today. Yet, how many people today really need that fear in their lives?
Yes, there is violence. Just yesterday I was reading about the awful news in Copenhagen about an assailant running down the street from a friend’s house with a machine gun in hand. There are reasons to fear for our safety, but to always live with it? To have fear hold us back from living our lives?
Why does this extend now to our emotional space? Why has fear for our physical safety, at one point a necessary evolutionary need, permeated our emotional, intellectual and social space?
We listen to the voice of fear.
Physical, chemical reactions occur when we experience fear. This triggers our emotional state as well. According to science, it’s an autonomic reaction. This means it happens without our conscious control and understanding, which means we don’t realize it’s happening until it’s happened.
Today, people in my life don’t have to focus on their physical safety. I’m expecting many of you share that experience. As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains, as our needs are met at different levels, it gives us space to consider larger, more cerebral or spiritual issues. Each need builds on the next. For many of us, we are dealing with one of three (in ascending order): (1) Love and Belonging Needs; (2) Esteem Needs; or ultimately (3) Self-Actualization.
Where does art fit in?
Being creative isn’t a foundational need like Physiological or Safety Needs are, but it is foundational if you are trying to honor your creative calling and any of the previously mentioned states.
If you feel called to make art, it is tied to love and belonging, your esteem, and ultimately your ability to self-actualize. Interestingly enough, I’ve only ever met people who share an interest in being creative. (Yes Dad, that includes you, you told me you wanted to write a book someday!).
The arts are a tool for self-actualization.
Art, Love and Belonging
What story do you have about art and love, and belonging? Are you someone who was hurt by another’s insensitive statement about a creation of yours? Did someone laugh or say it was stupid to think about art as a career? Sometimes it is subtler, well-meaning family member that can take us away from our art: because really, if you can’t do it as profession, why would you do it at all anyways?
All of these experiences are forms of rejection, the very opposite of feeling loved or that you belong anywhere or with anyone. As soon we begin to express ourselves creatively, we begin to stand out as an individual. This is especially threatening to adolescents, who are hardwired to seek conformity and likeness. This is also threatening in Eastern cultures, which put family and community before the individual. Sometimes, we are our own saboteurs.
Art and Esteem
If we don’t feel like we belong, or that we are loved, and our creative interests could contribute to this situation, we certainly won’t think highly of ourselves or our need to be creative.
The funny thing is, once people who avoid creating get into the groove and have one of those moments of flow, all bets are off. We walk with a little lilt to our step, a small perpetual smile crosses our face, and we are kinder and more giving to our loved ones. Art making actually enhances feelings of self-esteem and self-actualization (“I am meant to be doing this, I am meant to be here”).
Art With Purpose
There are times where I’ve felt my desire to make art is selfish, thus, a less valuable use of my time. I’ve neglected my need to make art, because I should be doing work that really helps others. I know I’m not alone, someone recently shared this in an artist group I’ve joined.
No one really knows why we are here on this planet. There are many different ideas of how we got here, and many more about why, but the truth is only faith can carry us through this unknown. And what a big, scary unknown that is?! What if we are born to do something on this planet? What if we weren’t?! What should we do?
What if that inner voice of comfort, direction and support actually knows what it’s talking about?
Everyone has a passion for something in their life. For some it is their profession, for others its being a change agent, and for many of us, it’s making something with our hands. We hope that by putting pen to paper and sharing ideas we can make the world better. We hope that by putting a paintbrush to canvas we can share a feeling of connection.
Whether we fully understand it or not, all the art we make is with purpose.
If I listened to people’s fears (and my own) I would have never lived overseas. I would have never moved to the Middle East, where I’ve grown as an artist, teacher and person. I’ve met some amazing, life-long friends and my husband over here. I’ve learned from people of all nationalities and faiths.
I could have lost everything that has made me the person I’m proud to be today if I listened to the voice of fear.
Fear doesn’t disappear, even with knowledge that we are safe, and loved. Fear shows up every day we decide to sit down and write, each time we go to a party to meet new people, each and every time we take a leap of faith, in our art and in ourselves.
Quiet the voice of fear through repeated acknowledgement of it’s existence and then dismissal of it. Say “I hear you,” and do what scares you anyway.
To ignore our desire to create is to choose a life with less meaning.
It feels safe not to stand out, to be accepted and supported by our peers, family and loved ones. It feels safe to take the road easily traveled. It feels easier to avoid our inner calling and desire to be creative when we are in the thick of fear. We feel “safer.”
Are we happy?
I wish I could bottle up the feelings I experienced when I was told at 18 I could die. I don’t want anyone to have to experience that kind of health problem, but yet, I know it’s exactly why I’m writing for Artist Strong. It’s exactly why I’m teaching classes encouraging people in the arts. And it’s why I knew to worry less about things like matching silverware than about making time for my art, or to travel the world with people I love.
I choose to create despite my fear. Will you join me?
“To ignore our desire to create is to choose a life with less meaning.” (Click to Tweet)
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How has fear held you back as a creative? What is one step you can take today to move forward with your art?
I’ve hit the “wall” and am starting to worry. I’m a stay at home Dad,55, art school grad,former design director,combat artist,and award winning painter who has lost the passion to create. It all seems pointless, no outlets, too many interuptions, the “what is the point?” cloud hangs over me like a wet blanket.
Never felt fear per se’ regarding not creating, only apathy. My real fear is loosing the skill set insofar as technique goes, eventually unable to translate my ideas.
Great articles – following on Facebook.
Tony, I’m so glad to have you here on Artist Think. Thank you for reading and sharing. You aren’t alone feeling like “there isn’t enough time” or “what is the point?” We often feel guilty about having a desire to be creative, because “what comes from it really?” I’ve read countless research that tells me making art makes us happier and healthier. We feel more connected to our loved ones when we include them in our creative interests. I believe it’s part of nature, down to our genetic code, that drives us to be creative. Skill doesn’t go away, but we can get a bit rusty. Start small for yourself. Even 15 minutes of just creative playtime can make a huge difference. If you don’t know what to create yourself, get a coloring book! Play and doodle in it and see where it takes you. I wish you all the best Tony and hope to hear more from you here on Artist Think.
Thanks for the reply. Starting small might be a good way to rekindle the artistic “blahs”. Not worrying about the blank canvas syndrome and just doodle with paints.
You are most welcome Tony. Starting small is definitely a strategy I find useful. Good luck! 🙂
Such a great article, at present I’m really toying with taking my artistic practice further or staying safe in my job. Fear is definitely holding me back from starting a degree or having time travelling and dedicating time to my art! You’ve really made me think about what would actually make me happy and stop worrying so much about how others will perceive my decisions!