With all my creative pursuits, it’s easy for me to obscure the truth that I’m terrified. Every time I near the end of a project, I feel myself slowing down. I find excuses not to finish. Suddenly, yardwork and laundry become priorities over whatever project I’m working on. I’ve got books that I know how to end that have sat for decades without the ending written. As soon as I get close to having to put the project out into the world, I start to freeze up. I hate it, but I am helpless against it. Sometimes even the thought of putting pen, or brush, or cursor to page is enough to keep me from even starting. I am terrified of people looking at what I’ve done and telling me it’s terrible.
In Plain Air
A couple years back, I decided that I wanted to learn to paint Plein Air. Plein Air is just a fancy way of saying painting outside. I spent a few hundred dollars buying a nice field box, brushes, an easel, paints, and accessories. I read a couple of books, watched some videos, took a couple classes at Michael’s craft store, and painted a few scenes out of a book to get some basic techniques down. I started in acrylic because it was cheaper, but eventually invested in a solid set of oil paints in all the colors my books told me I needed.
I joined a plein air painting club so that I would have a scheduled opportunity (read basically forced myself) to go out and paint with other people. With other people!? Ack. What was I thinking? I went to my first paint out. It was at a beach cove near my house. Through some error on the website no one else showed up. I hung out for an hour, then headed home.
The second paint out was at the Robert Louis Stevenson House in Monterey, CA. The front of the home looks out of place amongst the modern buildings around it. There is a beautiful enclosed garden out back. There were several views that might have made a nice painting. I wandered around the place for half an hour, dragging my kit around, taking some pictures. There had been some mix-up with the dates on the website so no one else showed up.
I could have taken my kit out at any time and started painting, but there were people walking around and I was terrified they might look at my painting. I couldn’t have anyone look at my painting because I knew it would not match what was in my head. For an hour, I sat or shuffled around the place and never painted a line. I made a couple sketches, but thought they looked so bad I couldn’t possibly try to paint anything.
My first outing was a complete failure. No painting. No group. A total waste of time, except for getting me out of the house for an hour. I don’t go out much. Work. Home. Store (only if I must). That’s it that’s my routine, and I like it that way. I spent a year in Morocco and took my paints with me. Guess how many times I pulled them out and tried to paint any of the countless number of beautiful scenes around me. If you guessed not once, you know me too well.
I saw a great TED talk a while back by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you watch it. She makes some great points about how over the years we have made creative genius about the individual. She notes that while genius used to be something outside of the artist that contributed to the creation of great art, now we refer to the artists themselves as geniuses.
This focus on the self is destructive to art, because it wraps everything up in the frail ego of the artist. How can I make pure art, when I’m so caught up in my own delusions of grandeur that anything short of perfection would be a failure? All my half-finished work (songs, books, art, and a million other hobbies and fly-by-night interests) are a symptom of a deeper fear of exposing myself to public scrutiny. If I don’t break free of this, I’ll never produce anything meaningful.
All together I probably spent $500 on all my painting stuff, including my favorite box, and it is sitting in a closet in my office. It’s not doing me any good in that closet, but I’m afraid to take it out. I’m afraid to go outside and paint because I don’t want people to look at my paintings unless I’m finished and I like them. This is the same feeling that has led to multiple other projects sitting around my house unfinished. If I never finish it I don’t have to send it out and see what anyone thinks of it.
I’m looking to blow past my creative fear and put myself out there again. I just looked on the Internet and found a local plein air group. I’m sending an email to the host tonight. Time to dust off those paint tubes and get the cobwebs off the brushes. What are you letting fear keep you from doing. Push past the initial reluctance. Your genius is patiently waiting for you to get over yourself and just create something.