The One Thing That Affects Everything
I met with an artist yesterday whose first words to me were:
“I’m second guessing everything I do”
Working with clients in psychotherapy for years I know to pay special attention to the opening salvo of a session…because it’s often the most potent expression of their predicament.
At the root of what artists struggle with is fear
And fear shows up in many forms…
Self doubt, second guessing, over thinking, avoiding, procrastinating, lacking confidence, feeling overwhelmed, repeating what’s worked in the past, inner criticism, fear of being judged, perfectionism, feeling like a ‘pretend’ artist, resignation, and so forth.
What’s your single biggest challenge?
I recently created a survey and asked this question: When it comes to showing up and creating abstract paintings what’s your single biggest challenge?
Over 200 artists responded.
The results of the survey thus far show that the single biggest challenge most abstract artists face on a daily basis is:
Several artists stated: “The problem is me” or some variation of this such as:
- I’m not good enough
- I’m my biggest roadblock
- I don’t trust myself when it comes to creating a ‘good’ composition
- I don’t trust myself enough to paint authentically
- I lack confidence
- I fear being judged negatively
Self doubt is a central issue for artists, writers, poets, composers, and creators of all ilk.
In psychology when a client comes in the room we think about how many people are really in that room (the internalized voices of parents, siblings, friends, and others).
When you show up in your studio and face the canvas, how many people are in the room with you? How many critical inner narratives are in your head?
As you push the envelope of your painting…risking, making bold moves, experimenting, surprising yourself…
Do you find yourself feeling uneasy? Do doubts surface that say: Go back to your usual way of painting…Who do you think you are? No one’s going to like this. This is ugly!
Yet what you really want is to express YOU…
But you’re afraid. You’re unsure. You think perhaps you should play it safe and go back to your usual way of painting.
Years ago I listened to the poet David Whyte talk about the struggle between the soul and the ego. He said: “your soul doesn’t care if you get your painting hung on a gallery wall…your soul just wants you to paint”.
The ego wants external validation…even at the cost of your own expression (so you might end up painting to please others) whereas your soul just wants you to explore, play, experiment, and express you.
So What Is The Solution To Fear & Self Doubt?
In the end the most astonishing and alive paintings are those that aren’t predictable. There’s no formula to create them. They arise from exploration, experimentation, and from searching and finding your way as you paint. They come from the place of ‘not knowing’.
Ultimately It’s About Your Mindset
It’s about how you hold the experience in your mind and body. Do you allow yourself to show up and be present…moment to moment?
Do you give yourself permission to risk and play and not know what’s going to happen?
Do you search and keep finding your way as you paint?
Do you allow the expression of whatever comes out of you without censorship?
Cultivate An Attitude Of Experimentation
One of the most potent paths of navigating self doubt and fear that inevitably arises as we create is to imagine painting as experimentation.
The very nature of experimentation is ‘not knowing’ ahead of time what’s going to happen.
The idea is to show up, stay present, search and find your way as you paint.
Imagine your art as experimental work and exploratory studies…and carry your exploration and experimentation all the way through the painting to wherever you decide to stop (we’ll discuss the rich topic of stopping/completing/resolving/finishing a painting in another post).
In the meanwhile, I would love to hear your experiences of dealing with fear and self doubt when creating your paintings.
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Also published on Medium.