New Work and Words on the Subject of Fear


“East of the Sun,” 22″x28,” acrylic,
copyright 2018, Molly Larson Cook

I subscribe to several art websites and find each of them fascinating and informative.  Now and then, I’d go so far as to say I find one of them thought-provoking and downright challenging.

This happened today when I opened one of those sites to find this big question for readers (artists)…”What are you afraid of?”

I could respond with a list of things I’m afraid of ranging from spiders and snakes to falling down a flight of stairs and breaking a hip to things that go bump in the night like the stranger pounding on my front door at 3:00 a.m. and trying to get in a couple of weeks ago.

But I don’t think this is what the author of the post about fear meant.  He was asking his question in relation to those of us who do art, and there were several good answers to the question ranging from fear of poverty (always on the artist’s big board of important things) to fear of not being good enough to fear of success.

We do our work, we get brave enough to show it around, maybe even land a gallery show and then that old bug-a-boo, fear of success rears its ugly head.

Fear of success for someone in the arts is rather like the fear of being outed as a fraud in the business world.  This is actually a phenomenon known as “imposter syndrome.”  It’s been reported in business and psychology journals for years now.

I think fear of success in the arts is different.  For one thing, much of business success is based on knowledge – or lack of it – in which case those who struggle with imposter syndrome are concerned that maybe they just don’t know enough but have been able to fake it, baffling the world with BS, whether it’s true or not.

While I grant that some arts endeavors can seem a little like BS this is mostly a matter of taste. The truth is it’s hard to fake art.  A pianist can’t fake playing the piano, a dancer can’t fake the dancing, a sculptor can either do it or not and a potter’s ability is immediately clear – something beautiful or a misshapen lump.  The Meryl Streep portrayal of “singer” Florence Foster Jenkins demonstrated that it’s not possible to fake singing, either.

So I think fear of success for an artist is more about one of two things:  fear that our work doesn’t meet our own expectations and fear that we might not be able to produce enough work to meet the expectations of others (audiences, gallery owners and potential clients) or that these “others” will become so locked into our style that they’ll resist any changes we might make.

(Consider the response to musicians switching from acoustic to amplified instruments.)

All things considered, I’m a lot more comfortable with artists’ fears than those of the business world.  And I sleep better, too…







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