Fear and Courage

“Courage is thinking big, aiming high, and shooting far. It’s taking a dream and doing anything, risking everything, and stopping at nothing to make it a reality.” Caroline Kent

The view from my studio window

Winter has never been my favorite season. I was born and raised in Chicago and currently reside in Michigan so you would think that I was ok with snow and cold temperatures, but I still fret about driving on icy country roads, I still worry about our power going out (which has happened more than a few times), I still worry about being able to get to appointments, and on and on and on ……… 

But one thing I do love about this time of year is the quiet.  After the hustle-bustle of the holidays, it’s so nice to slow down a bit and take the time to make plans for the new year. In my first post in 2010, I mentioned that I was savoring some juicy “re” words – words like renew, revitalize, renovate, re-invent, re-vision, rejuvenate, refresh, restore, recover, and re-focus. Donna Watson left a comment on that post that gives us even more to think about. She said, I think deep down we do know what is best – where we should go next – to listen to our inner most voice whispering what we already know. But to have the guts – be brave to finally follow what we know deep down and have even said out loud! Donna is absolutely right. Having the guts – the courage – to follow through and achieve our goals is a huge challenge.

I think it’s important to distinguish between courage and motivation. We can be highly motivated to go after our heart’s desire, but lack the courage to act.  The culprit here is usually fear, and asking yourself “what fear is holding me back?” is a good way to get to the bottom of the issue. I have found a number of fears that conspire to keep me from getting into my studio and working as often and as effectively as I’d like. Here are a few:  

I fear that I’ll run out of subject matter that excites me.

I fear that if I do all the work and complete the painting, it still won’t be good enough. 

I fear that my completed painting won’t live up to my expectations; it will disappoint me. 

I fear that I’ll start struggling and won’t know what to do.

I fear that no one else will like my painting. 

My tendency is to want to flee the scene when I experience one of these thoughts or feelings. I remember many years ago when I made the decision that I would draw everyday. I bought drawing books, paper, pens, pencils and set up a bright and shiny new drafting table in our family room so that everything would be right there and it would be easy to sit down every day and draw. Did it work? Absolutely not! Each day I found a “reason” that I could not possibly work: I had to go shopping, I had to take the kids somewhere, I had to do the laundry, clean the house, make some phone calls, pay the pills – you get the picture! I don’t think I EVER sat down at that drafting table and did any drawing. That experience made me realize that motivation and passion were not enough to get the ball rolling.  Some honest soul searching helped me discover the five fears above and face them head on, which allowed me to move forward and do what I so passionately wanted to do. Here are some tips for dealing with fear:

Accept that fear is part and parcel of the whole process of painting. Allow yourself to feel and accept the fear and then go into your studio and paint. 

Work consistently. If you’re working regularly, fear and courage aren’t such issues.

Make appointments with yourself for studio time and schedule them on your calendar. I’ve found that once I’m in the studio I’ll eventually settle down – even if it takes 15, 20, or 30 minutes of cleaning, reading and various other procrastinating activities to get there.  

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Sometimes the fear of disappointing ourselves or of not being good enough is there because we compare ourselves, our working methods, and/or our art to someone else and come up short. The resulting feeling is often – why bother?  Stop comparing and start committing to finding and honoring your own personal style, your own personal working methods, and your own personal vision. Doing that will help instill a feeling of confidence and it will also help erase some fears. 

How about you? Have you identified some fears that keep you from doing the kind of creative work you dream of doing? And, how do you muster up the courage – the guts – to “feel the fear and do it anyway?” We’d all love to hear your tips – please share! 

Happy Painting!         

10 thoughts on “Fear and Courage

  1. Ruth Armitage

    Hi Donna,
    Thanks for sharing some of your fears and doubts. I think many of them apply to almost every artist. I know that fear of not being good enough, and not living up to my own expectations often hold me back in my artwork.

    I guess what keeps me going (sometimes!) is curiosity… I want to see what will come out of the struggle, and I enjoy not knowing how things will be perceived sometimes. That is the interesting thing about art…. what appeals to one may not appeal to another. I think the best advice you give to students is to please yourself. It has helped me immensly this year!

    1. Donna Post author

      Ruth, I love your point about curiosity! Now that I think about it, wondering how the painting is going to turn out – what it will look like when it’s “born” is a big driving force for me. Thanks! Donna

  2. Donna Watson

    Did I say those words? my memory is not so good– 🙂
    but I am in my studio painting today– trying to get the courage to loosen up and be brave and make some definite marks– so your post is a good boost for me right now. I don’t like the snow– grew up in Hawaii — so yes snow is pretty to look at but no fun to drive in, walk in, and get around.- so I am with you on that too.

    1. Donna Post author

      Hi Donna, great point – just beginning takes a dollop of courage. I love this quote: “Beginning is the most important part of a work.” Plato

  3. Peggy Stermer-Cox

    Hi Donna,

    I’ve been thinking about your post for the last day or two. Then, it hit me; so obvious what my fear is: drawing and painting my way; the way I feel. I always fear it’s not “good enough”…. I think I’ll have to deal with this fear!

    The nice thing about now is the days are getting longer!

    Thank you; courageous posting!.

    1. Donna Post author

      The fear of not being good enough is such a biggie. I wish we could somehow wave a magic wand and think about, honor, and celebrate our uniqueness rather than worry so much about it. Donna

  4. Myrna Wacknov

    Great post! The quote I remember most about comparisons is “One always compares their weaknesses with someone else’s strengths. You will lose every time!” Don’t know who said it, but I encourage my students to compare only with their own work and see the growth.

    1. Donna Post author

      Oh Myrna – what a great quote! And, sooooooo true. Why is it we so seldom see and celebrate our strengths? Human nature I guess – always focused on improving and fogetting sometimes that we have indeed “improved”. Donna

  5. Mike

    For certain, Donna, your wisdom is something I dare not compare my own with! I would lose every time, as Myrna so accurately states. I find your innate ability to put your ‘finger’ on things mysterious, is uncanny!

    On the subject of courage in art, I find a simple game I play with myself to work marvels. It is so very simple: “I wonder what will happen if I do_____________? ” Rarely, do I give any painting the importance of anything more than a ‘what if’ or an experiment. Then, as a painting develops, I settle into “I wonder if I can improve ‘this’ or ‘that.’ This accomplishes something else in the process: the building and compiling of accumulated experience. Forget the thousand mile journey. Just find that first place to put our foot on the first step. If that step doesn’t work, try the next and the next. Eventually, it all adds up to one thing: Lots of experience. . . .musicians call it practice!

    1. Donna Post author

      Mike, iI love your idea of playing a game of “what if? when we paint. It takes away some of the fear and anxiety of having to produce a “master” work of art. A call to relax, have fun, play, and experiment – thanks for reminding us!

      Your one-step at a time approach is another great idea! I have discovered that I am impatient with one step at a time – I want the whole enchillada – and I want it now! Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Everything, including learning how to paint must begin at the beginning, not at the end. There is a saying that goes something like “we can’t begin where Cezanne left off, we must begin where Cezanne began.”

Comments are closed.