Marion Milner, a celebrated child psychoanalyst wrote of her own creative anxieties in her book On Not Being Able to Paint (Heineman, 1950, but still available). Fear is embedded in much of the writing on creativity, mainly because creativity is a public expression of internal life. It is a form of exposure, and ever mindful of judgemental others, we often are more afraid of what this exposure, than the actual creative results themselves. In most cases, despite self doubts, we are proud of our creativity, but know where it is deficient — we’re just nervous about hearing that from others.
Milner’s point rested on various assumptions about preconditions for the production of a work of art itself, namely technical mastery of materials. This is obviously in contrast to whether the creative results are personally satisfying, or articulate well what we are thinking. Art is form of expression, not just a meander across a canvas or a lump of clay deformed by idle hands. This despite some art being of this form, of course.
Henry Peacock, in his excellent book Art as Expression (Whalesback, 1995) observed that of his art students, the ones that drew well were the least creative as artists, as they were more intent on replicating the form of what they saw, whereas those who drew less well were more inclined to engage with and interpret the external world. Peacock’s book is important as it is provides inspiration for people to explore their creativity without the fear and anxiety of mastering technologies first (like pens and ink, and paint or clay).
All these issues are well-addressed in Art and Fear (Image, 2001) an excellent tonic by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
Taken together, the fear that drives many to avoid creativity is actually self-imposed and has no bearing on whether we are actually able to express ourselves through various artistic approaches.
Now, as an abstract artist, I would like to encourage creative souls to shrug off their attachment to what things look like and think about how to let your inner perceptions dominate. The art world has its cycles, from loving the realistic paintings, with figurative precision through to inscrutible abstract constructions which for many may bring on a headache. Abstraction is the true form (sounds like a mantra…), it excites and challenges the mind, is obviously much harder to do, as it requires real honesty and elegant presentation of complex inner thoughts. For others, it is easier to paint the vase and the flower and I accept that for many people this is enjoyable and satisfying. I’m only saying, there can be more.
Art methodologists and historians may see artistic periods like the tide — new ideas come in and wash away the old. Once done, it can’t be done again. Some think of it as the shock of the new, as all art history must be constantly rewritten from the perspective of current artistic tides. That does not mean that these perhaps passe modes of expression have nothing to say, otherwise why do we keep them on show in art galleries and museums.
So, as Julia Cameron says (this is her site for The Artist’s Way or you can find her book on Amazon ), take an artist’s day out and visit the gallery, but look at the abstracts instead. If you wear glasses take them off and look at them unfocused. If you don’t need glasses (lucky you!), find a spot on the painting and lose yourself in it so you see the rest of the painting with your peripheral vision. Or find a sculpture garden and wander around it feeling the work, not looking at it.
Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.