Don’t be afraid. Don’t be very afraid. Don’t be even a little afraid.
Yesterday I shared that little story about a teacher urging a student to “step up to the plate”–to “own” the power inside her. Here’s the second part, as promised.
Recently I attended a workshop on artist statements.
Yes, I know I TEACH workshops on artist statements. I like to check out the competition.
Actually, it’s good practice to see how others treat the same topics I teach. I always learn something new. Plus it gives me a different perspective–it’s good to sit in the “student seat” once in a while. It helps me understand what I could do better.
Okay, so at one time (and maybe still??), artists were taught that their art should speak for itself. So, someone asked, what’s the point of an artist statement, if the art is already doing the talking?
The instructor replied that talking about your motivation will help a lot to connect with your audience (which is true).
But one artist said he felt uncomfortable doing that. When asked why he painted a flower next to a rock, for example, he felt uncomfortable; afraid to answer.
So he simply avoided the question altogether, preferring to talk around it.
In my humble experience, many, many artists feel this way. They’re nervous, they hesitate, they are afraid to talk about why they make the art they do.
Afraid of what??
I bet it’s the same stuff I’m afraid of.
I’m afraid I’ll sound shallow. Or facile.
I’m afraid I’ll sound un-academic. Unschooled. Naive.
In other words, I’m afraid of what every human being is afraid of:
I’m afraid I’ll open myself to ridicule and humiliation.
Don’t laugh. Fear of humiliation is a powerful socializing force. Human beings will go to great lengths to avoid embarrassment.
Because someone who humiliates you is trying to show you as powerless and without worth.
That is painful, and agony to anyone. It can be death for a creative person.
So we clam up. We refuse to talk about our work; some artists even refuse to show their work. “It’s just for me!” they say. “No one else needs to see it.”
Maybe. But what a loss to the world…. (Yes, I’m going to keep quoting that til it’s plastered all over everybody’s studios!)
When we create work that comes from our core passion, we can choose to not give away our power to those who would deride us.
We protect our power, NOT by hiding our work, NOT by hiding our passion, NOT by hiding our motivation. But by embracing our work fully. By being so grounded with our purpose that pointless ridicule, or attacks that come from envy, cannot penetrate.
The artist thought someone would question why a flower and a rock would be worth painting. Well, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about eating someone else’s plums. (I’m guessing they were his wife’s watermelon, too.) Fred Gipson wrote a book about a cow dog who sucked eggs. (I cried every time I read it to my kids.) Anne Frank was 13 when she died. What did she know of the world? Why should we care?
Aren’t you glad that didn’t stop her from keeping a diary?
Look, not everyone will like our work. In this interview I did years ago, I thought if one person in a thousand liked my work liked, that would be enough.
Think of it: One person in a thousand. Doesn’t seem like very popular work, does it?
Yet in the U.S. alone, that would be more than 300,000 people.
If only one person in a million liked my work enough to buy it, that would still be almost 7,000 people in the world.
So what do you care about the people who don’t??
We still do, of course. We creative types can be terribly sensitive.
But I hope you’re starting to think a little differently about them.
Tomorrow I’ll share a hauntingly beautiful artist statement, in simple, honest words that will burst your heart wide open.