Overcoming fear as a creative

We should be equally conscious of the reasons that we allow to prevent us from creating art, just as we are already probably aware of the reasons that incite us to create in the first place.

Being aware of our fears helps us to change, and hopefully improve, how we approach the process of creating.  

Personally, I know the fears I have had, the things that I have worried about being true, I have let those things stop me from creating. Without a doubt I have had ideas and projects that I never started because I was hesitant to begin them. I have been intimated by what I thought of myself and by what I thought others would think of me.

That has happened in the past and as much I would like to say it wouldn’t happen in the future, it probably will. Although, the older I get the less it seems to happen so I’ll count that as a happy medium.

My wife, Ellie, and I work together as wedding photographers. We have been together since college, where we were both pursuing degrees in art. The process of making art has always been part of our relationship and our own personal lives.

Recently we’ve been flipping through and discussing a book we haven’t looked at in a few years called Art/Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Ellie has told me multiple times how she thinks every artist should probably read it because the way fear plays into the process of creating art is something every artist deals with, almost everyday. I think she has a pretty good point but I won’t push the book that hard unless of course Mr. Bayles or Mr. Orland choose to sponsor this post. (Of course if they were interested they can find my email below or send me a quick DM on Instagram, wink wink.)

Below are two quotes from Art/Fear that have been catalysts for conversation and reflection between Ellie that I have some thoughts on.

“Fears that you are not a real artist causes you to undervalue your work.” (pg. 24)

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Of course there’s probably some bias on my part, but among artists, photographers seem to be especially susceptible to this. There is undeniably a sort of mechanical foundation to the process of photography that lends to its’ initial ease. How a photographer views his/her own relationship to this can affect if they are able to see themselves as a legitimate artist.

This fear, about whether or not you are able to see yourself as a genuine artist, is one I’ve seen direct to some extent the way I create things and even what I’m interested in photographically. For example, I’ve always been interested in historical processes and somewhat obscure techniques and while part of that is my honest personal sense of aesthetics, a niggling part of it is because I think I see it as a way to help prove to myself that I’m an artist. I can’t help but be frustrated by that.

Ultimately though the fear that you are not a real artist should not stop you from trying to create. If it stops you from creating than for that moment the fear becomes more true through your paralysis.

“There is no probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have…” (pg. 26)

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The problem with talent in how it relates to artists is all of the separate ideas that get packed into the word when people use it. People say things like, “Oh so-and- so is so talented!” or “I’ll never have as much talent as so-and- so.”

A good working definition of the word talent I think is “natural ability”. Someone’s natural affinity for a certain task or undertaking. Skill is not part of this definition of talent.

There are many different ways an artist can be talented, and just as many ways an artist might be skilled. When the two ideas are combined than it’s easy for the impression to set in that there’s no path of progression available for the artist of average talent like there seemingly must have been for the immensely talented artist. That there’s no point in digging in and methodically trying to improve because “you’re just not as talented.”

Separate the two words out though and you can immediately see how to proceed. A certain artist you admire might have a large amount of natural ability, or talent, but they are also skilled in specific areas. A photographer might be very skilled in composition, or they might be great at planning and executing an idea. They may be eerily good at predicting where to point their camera, or perhaps they’re tremendously skilled at exposure and everything they do is in manual and they never under or overexpose. They could posses any number of brilliant skills but the point is that these are all skills and skills can be developed.

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Appreciating an artists’ extraordinary raw talent doesn’t have to be demoralizing if we also look at what skills they have that we want to develop.

Similarly why worry about how much talent we have when we can’t change it since by definition it’s something we naturally have? It is possible to change and develop the skills that we have though, which is a relief I think to most of us. This post being short and mostly my own personal opinions I would be interested to hear others thoughts to expand on things I might have missed or to bring up other facets. While it’s common to ignore the things that bring insecurities and fear, I think it’s imperative to be aware of the mental traps you put yourself in and how that can hinder your success.

Fear will always play into the creative process and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we should try to make sure that the things we’re afraid of aren’t built with faulty logic.

Will McMakin

Will McMakin is part of a husband/wife team at Ellie Asher Photography. He pursued his Bachelor of Arts, emphasis on Photography, at BYU-Idaho. His current areas of focus, besides weddings, are on large format photography with his beloved 4×5 Speed Graphic and Polaroid photography with a carefully restored land camera. He freely admits the real reason behind his love of photography is the excuse it gives him to look like Wyatt Earp when he wears his Moneymaker.

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