Thinking Out Loud No. 3
On fear and art
I have a note in Evernote for each week’s newsletter, and throughout the week I throw stuff into it as it occurs to me. Things that catch my eye, ideas that resonate with me, thoughts I’m pondering.
This process means that each newsletter grows organically from the raw material of my week. This one seems to be about fear and art. I couldn’t have planned to write about fear and art, but looking at the note I can only assume that this is where my mind has been.
There’s something wonderfully liberating about this – all I need to do is live my life and keep paying attention to what pops up. Writing isn’t a formal process that happens separately of life, it’s an expression of it. To be a great writer, then, is to live a great life.
With that, here’s what I’ve lived this week.
How to use fear as a tool for growth. I’m making an effort to put more of myself into what I write. More emotion, more vulnerability, more me. This is scary, but the kind of scary that triggers growth, which is what this is all about. This article explores how we can tap into the ‘felt sense’ of fear to create a system that will keep us in our growth zone, even as its edges expand.
Thinking about writing as art
I’ve been thinking a lot about art and emotion in my recent writing. Now, there is at least one professional artist in your midst, so it’s with some trepidation that I share two ideas on the subject.
First – and this may be an “obvious to everyone, but news to me” point – I’m coming to understand how central emotion is art. A drawing can be technically perfect and still somehow not be art. It becomes art when we feel the echoes of emotion that the artist channelled. At least, this is true for me.
I think we hold artists who can make us feel strongly in high esteem, because they have the courage to inhabit the emotional spaces where we fear to tread. They’re even generous enough to come back and tell us about it.
To make good art, then, is to grow the capacity to experience powerful emotions and the skill to inspire them in others. I’ve been playing with this because, while it may sound grand, I want to write in the same way that said artist creates good art. It’s not just about the skills, but the capacity – and dare I say power – to experience strong, new emotions and inspire them in you.
Second, I have noticed myself getting frustrated at the constraints in my life that limit my capacity to read, discuss, explore, play and write – or, in this context, to make my own art. But that’s an unhelpful mindset. Instead, I’m playing with the idea that the constraints actually define the art.
All art is constrained. An acrylic painting on canvas is constrained by acrylic and canvas. A sculpture is constrained by marble, mallets and chisels. Of course, it’s obvious now that the art is quite literally made of these constraints. So, in the same way, is my writing made of the constraints that are frustrating me?
Let’s take commuting. I enjoy my job, but I rage against the time I spend commuting every day. But, thinking back to the clay, is my writing actually ‘made of’ the commute? The fact that I have to get up at 6am to write means I write differently than if I had more time. Not necessarily better or worse, but certainly differently.
Rather than seeing my constraints as limiting me, I can explore the kind of art I can create from them. Who knows, I might not get the chance to work with these particular materials again, and wouldn’t it be a shame not to discover what I can make from them?
Best of the web
Make Good Art. If you haven’t seen Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement address to the The University of the Arts then I highly recommend it. I love Neil Gaiman’s work and Neil himself is a wonderfully charismatic and personable speaker.
When things get tough, this is what you should do: make good art. I’m serious! Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art.
Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: make good art.
Media of the week
I’ve been more active on twitter recently, inspired by the convenors of Write of Passage. I’m seeing the vibrancy of some communities there and getting a taste of the value they could bring to my life, as well as the value I can give back.
I asked for examples of art that inspires emotion. Someone I have never met shared this artwork with me and I love it (credit: peterdraws). While this piece has particular significance to the person who shared it with me, as he was there when it was painted, I still get echoes of something. For that reason alone this is good art.
Thanks for reading and until next week.
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