On Fear, Self-Loathing, and Getting Out of Your Own Damn Way
I often feel like I am incapable of doing artistic things. When people ask me to do a project for them, I can get skittish because if I am incapable of doing artistic things, then I am bound to disappoint them. But because I'm also a people pleaser, I say yes, anticipating disappointing the very people I would like to please, and consequently, I spend as much time regretting the impossible position I've gotten myself into as I do completing the actual work. It's an exhausting and ridiculous pattern.
When I was younger, I didn't fret about my abilities as much, I think because I considered myself a literary person. I didn't take art classes beyond the basic requirement, and it was not something I especially aspired to be good at. So there were simply no strings or judgments attached to my artistic output. I remember doing art projects for German class or American Experience and coming up with some ideas that I was darn proud of, and I remember just feeling happy at the time that I had done a good job at this one thing that I hadn't attached any expectations to.
What has changed, I think, are two key things: these many years later, I work personally and professionally in a hybrid world of text and image where the visual strength of my creations is a necessary and important dimension. And in addition to that, I am so aware of and inundated by gorgeous work that others have created out in the great beyond that I am often left with a lot of self-loathing that is full of all kinds of choice words but that ultimately boils down to: I can't. I'm not.
And those feelings of not being good enough or capable enough have an extreme hold on me. It means every artistic project I undertake is steeped in fear. It means lost sleep and procrastination and panic. I push through because I have to, but the process is painful. So painful! And so when I'm just trying to do projects for myself, it is far easier to avoid and justify. My office definitely needs a thorough cleaning! Those stamps are making such a mess; I should really organize them. It's high time I styled some photos for Instagram!
You get the idea.
I know, rationally, that you don't get better unless you just show up and do your work, but the fear of not being able to do what you want to be able to do is so powerful and paralyzing, it wins a lot of the time. It holds me back. And I despise that it has that kind of power, because when I can just get into a zone where my brain forgets to stop criticizing and pays attention instead to the little scratchy sounds the nib makes or the way the natural light dances with the fibers of a beautifully made piece of paper or the soothing rhythm of a needle and thread running through the spine of a book -- well, I actually start to enjoy myself. Calligraphy is a delight! Bookbinding makes me happy. Printing is a whole lotta fun. It's all so rewarding, IF I can fight my way into a zen, judgment-free zone.
Hmmpf. I thought I would end this by offering my strategies for getting out of my way, but to be honest, this is just plain difficult for me, and I don't have strategies, come to think of it. I think this is actually a cry for help! I fervently believe that it is better to create a work that is full of flaws than to create nothing at all, but it is hard for me to translate that theoretical belief into daily practice.
Do you have strategies? If so, please help a lady out. How do you strive for excellence in your creative work but without inflicting upon yourself an avalanche of negativity that brings it to a halt? How do you accept your own artistic shortcomings and forge ahead anyway? I would love to hear your thoughts on this difficult subject!