Taking Risks

October 19, 2022

Maybe one thinks about more actions and activities as risks as one ages, and I am not immune. I have been pondering risks more these days. From my view, I can come up with many arenas of risk…it’s a calculation of risk to go to a play, a wedding, or other crowded place (still!), it’s risky to get on the stepladder when no one is home, risky to drive any distance (especially in NJ!), risky to have conversations (is this person conservative or liberal? feminist or not?), and of course, it’s risky put one’s art into the world. Basically, when humans crawled out of the cave to explore the surroundings, they took the first risks. And ever since, just being alive is sort of a risk, no?

I could go on …but I want to focus on risk and artmaking. From the angle of fear of failure, the practice of creating is fraught with potential pitfalls – Will this art meet my own standards or the standards of others? Will I get into the art show, gallery, or studio tour? Will viewers understand and respect and potentially purchase my work, or will they utter some nonsense or spew the standard criticisms? (It takes a tough skin to talk to people about your artwork.) Will Internet users copy and reuse my artwork for their profit?

All this can be churning in a creative’s head, before, during and after the creation process… and more so, these thoughts can be so strong, they prevent the creative from picking up a pencil or holding a brush. They can prevent the creative from finishing projects, or even starting.

Of course, this issue varies by  individual, but I’d bet there are many people who yearn to engage in creative pursuits such as visual arts, writing, music or theatre, but they are stopped by the fear of failure, judgement, and criticism (and the criticism is often internal!). They lack the courage to forge ahead, make mistakes, and “give it a go.”

Confronting Your Inner Critic

So, what does it take to re-frame that fear of risk and produce work, share, and maybe sell it?

A book that attempts to give a creative a different perspective is “Shut Your Monkey: How to Control Your Inner Critic and Get More Done” by visual artist Danny Gregory.

Danny’s premise is we all have an inner voice (the monkey) that criticizes our pursuits, distracts us, and generally would like you to sit on the couch and eat Doritos rather than pick up a pencil. The author tells us there is not immediate “off” switch to the monkey, but a slow and steady approach that will allow you to counter the monkey’s effects and get more done.

One of Danny’s strategies that I related to is the honeybee approach. Just pick up your pencil and start to mindlessly draw or put yourself in front of your computer and type some words, any words, and keep going. Just as the honeybee buzzes along productively, you will find momentum and keep going. This helped me to get started and produce art. No judgment allowed – Produce any art, not “good” art or “completed” art, but just create something. This is also where sketchbooks and art journals are wonderful, because they are perfect for warming up, getting into a regular art practice, and doodling around.

There are many other ways to get better at art techniques – taking classes, watching videos, exploring materials, and studying other art. I have done so much of that (and probably will continue because I am a “life-long learner.”) While I have added many tools and techniques to my kit, now I need to “just do it” in the words of the footwear brand.

Another visual artist/author/teacher, Seth Apter, talks of “creating without thinking.” He means put your mind into the moment, be present and create. Overthinking leads to the decline of creativity. In essence, leave the monkey outside the door. I am reminded of this often when the monkey arises with her chatter in my brain.

Danny says, “Action emboldens. . . Leave your monkey speechless.”  

There’s more in the book, but this part was effective for me (at least right now). If you want to get a cheap copy of the book, go to Thrift Books, or visit Amazon and get a copy there. Danny has written quite a few books, you can find many that might appeal to you. I really enjoy his free Friday essays. You can sign up to get those here.

Whatever you do, keep going!

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