Last week I got to meet an online friend in person! Molly, from Eat. Craft. Run., and I got a chance to sit down and have coffee for a couple of hours. It was so good! The conversation almost immediately veered onto our fears as artists. I had just finished listening to an episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, the one with Brené Brown. So I was telling her about what an impact it had made on me and how I think about fear. (I HIGHLY recommend you listen to it if you haven’t already. It’s Season 1, Episode 12. You might even consider it your homework.)
Making for Me vs. Making for an Outcome
Make Something Every Day was a way for me to start an art practice. Because I was hungry to make and to explore my creativity, the social media sharing was just incidental to the process. In the beginning, it was a way to keep myself accountable.
(My work is famous on Pinterest!! But unless you drill down 3 links, you would never know it was me.)
This past year, as I’ve ramped up my social media presence, I’ve noticed I sometimes want to play to the audience. I’ve started looking for the likes and the hearts as a way to judge if what I am making is “good.” I’ve started taking it personally when those likes and hearts aren’t there. My Instagram following is largely built on the neutral altered book pages I spent a big chunk of the summer posting. Several of my pages got reposted by companies whose products I used, so the followers I gained from those reposts are looking for a very particular aesthetic. When I switched to a more colorful palette and changed to a much larger book, my hearts and reposts went down. It impacted how I felt about what I was making.
I realized all of this after listening to the fear podcast. I realized that this is another way of looking for permission to make. And I don’t need that. As long as I have breath in my body, I have permission to make. You have the same permission. If what you are making is bringing you joy, do that. Don’t let fear of not being “liked” hinder your making. Don’t let what the audience likes dictate what you make.
This is not about what I do. It’s about who I am.
Tied up in that need for approval is this: Creating isn’t what I do. It is who I am. If you want to know me, look at my work. The things I’m thinking about, what’s going on in my life: it’s all spread out there in the daily work I’m posting. (Questions are allowed! If you want to understand something better, ask me! I’ll answer almost any question about my work.)
So when you say you like my work, I hear you say that you like me. I am usually pretty good at creating some space and distance for this or else it would be pretty difficult to sell my work. But the two are pretty tied up together and that leads directly into…
This new thing I’m incubating? This next project? It scares me. It scares the crap outta me. Because I will be raw and exposed in a way that I haven’t yet been in my work. It is so much darker than what I have previously been putting into the world. It feels like next level stuff because it’s so damn scary. And so I keep turning it over and over in my mind. Am I ready to do it? Will I be able to pull off the effect I want? Will what I’m expressing be apparent? Will how I say it obscure my message? Scary, hard stuff, indeed.
Good news, though! I just have to make it. I don’t have to show it, if I decide it’s not what it needs to be. If I make it and then it never sees the light of day, that’s ok. I’ll still have fulfilled my part of the equation in that I showed up and did the work because making things is who I am.
Sometimes We Fear the Wrong Thing
Since I started Make Something Every Day, I’ve begun my year with setting goals about what I want to accomplish for the year. Here’s my 2016 list. Number four on that list is: I want to have a gallery show. It took me six months to get my artwork together with all of the supporting paperwork. I submitted it at the end of August to a gallery space in Huntsville. I haven’t heard a word back. And when I say I haven’t heard a word, I’ve followed up over the past six weeks with three phone messages and three emails, all unanswered. A year ago I would have said that not hearing anything would have been devastating to me—soul-crushing even.
But something happened on the way to submitting my work this year. I thought I was afraid of them saying no. What I was actually afraid of was trying. Once I submitted all of the paperwork, I had this amazing sense of peace about it. I still do. If I get the show eventually, it will be amazing! So so so good! And I will revel in every moment of it. But if I don’t, it’s not going to change my ability to make things or the likelihood of me continuing to make things.
The fact that I haven’t heard back is SUPER annoying but that’s about their poor business practices, not my work. (Update: Turns out the person I’ve been trying to contact all of this time doesn’t work there any longer. I have a new contact person so I’m super hopeful that there will be new news shortly.) And now that I’ve done all the tough mental work of explaining myself in an artist statement and an exhibit proposal and making a resume based on my work as an artist instead of all the random jobs I’ve had in my life, I’ve got these amazing puzzle pieces to use to build the next thing. In fact, as soon as I finished submitting my materials for that show I turned around and used all of them to write a Sustainable Arts Foundation grant proposal. I have amazing things planned for that money but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll just keep plugging along until I figure out the next thing.
This is what my fear look like. What about you? Does the podcast stir up anything for you? What are you afraid of? What’s worth doing even if you are going to fail at it?