I want to write you a letter on how to conquer your fears in art.
1. What is an ‘artist’?
First of all, I think to be an artist is to just have belief in your ideas. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ideas— only ideas that are true to you.
As photographers, painters, poets, whatever— we are all artists. I think you can be an artist in any sense of the form. You can be an artist through sculpture, through music, through dance, through writing, or just living.
I am inspired by Bruce Lee— he called himself an ‘artist of life.’
2. Realize your creative potential
I think many of us have creative potential that lies on the ground; unrealized. All matter in the world has potential— but we need an outside force to apply it— to achieve what it is capable of.
In your heart and soul, you have creative potential. Yet, a lot of it is unrealized. Why? Maybe from fear. Maybe when you were a kid, you had the creativity beaten out of you by your parents or your teachers. People criticized your ideas, and you became afraid. Afraid of sharing what was really on your mind. Afraid of creation— afraid of being judged.
I think in todays world, we are a passive, observer/spectator society. How many of us aspire to be art curators and art critics— rather than creating our own art? It is easy to be a ‘foodie’ and critique the cooking of others— but how few of us actually know how to cook? Think of the food critic from Ratatouille — he had no skin in the game.
3. Learn to love risk
Your first step as an artist is to shed the past; and learn how to take risk.
The greatest artists in history have taken risks. Some bigger than others. Regardless, if you try anything innovative and revolutionary — you’re going to get backlash.
Think about the cubists. Think about the surrealists. Think of the impressionists. They all had back-lash against their art; because they went against the grain. Those in power want to stay in power. And nobody likes it when people ruffle their feathers, or the traditional ways things were done.
You take a risk as an artist— creating art, and sharing it with others. Most likely you will be ignored. Many great artists have died never having achieved fame or success in their lifetimes. Think of Vivian Maier, or other artists who get ‘discovered’ after they die.
And there are no guarantees in art. There is no guarantee that if you spend your entire life, pursuing your art, that one day someone will appreciate your art.
However, there is no nobler life than living a life full of passion — believing in your ideas, your dreams, and your art— and pursuing it with 100% of your effort, attention, and love.
4. How to have more confidence in your art
If you don’t believe in your art— who will?
You need to be your #1 patron; your #1 believer in yourself.
But how do we have more confidence in ourselves as artists?
First step: know that you’re already an artist and you have nothing to “prove” (to nobody). As children, we are all born artists (Picasso) — the secret is staying an artist as we get older.
Children are the most pure. They have no concepts of right or wrong. They follow their heart, their soul, and their bliss. They don’t censor themselves. I think it is that pure state of creativity that many of us are trying to achieve.
Or think of when you were a beginner in painting, photography, or any form of art— how much more excited, enthusiastic, and uncensored you were. You made art that made your heart and soul sing — without caring what others thought.
Another way to think — we are all born liking to dance to music. We wiggle our butts, and don’t care whether we look ‘cool’ or not. As we get older, we become more self-conscious. Where do we learn that? Probably from society.
Theres that cliche — dance like nobody is watching. I believe it. Make art like nobody is watching. Make art like nobody would ever see it. Make art to first please yourself; then later on, you can try to find an audience. But the audience is superfluous — if you create truly great art that brings you joy, what else do you need, or expect?
5. “I’m happy with a few, with one, and none.”
There is a story from Seneca (or another Stoic) about an ancient artist. The artist made beautiful art, but didn’t have a lot of fame. There was a person who asked the artist: “How do you feel that your art is so beautiful, but barely anybody knows you or your artwork?”
The artist then replied something like:
“I’m happy with a few liking my work, I’m happy with one liking my work, and I’m also happy with none liking my work.”
What a bold thing to say.
I feel we should treat ourselves the same. If we make great art— the masses won’t understand. Unfortunately, the masses don’t have good taste. Otherwise we would just be eating McDonalds all day, watching Transformers, and drinking gas station coffee.
Be happy to create art that pleases a few people — your inner-circle of friends, your few colleagues, or whether your art just pleases 1 other person, or even none at all.
6. Just please 1 other person
I know for myself, I often lose enthusiasm to create art. But I know that as long as I’m creating art that pleases just 1 other person, it is worth it.
I think art is worthless if it existed in a vacuum — with no other humans to share with. To be human is to share. To be human is to create things that bring us joy, and share it with others— hoping that it will also bring them joy.
Any artist who says that “I only create art for myself” is not 100% truthful. We (mostly) create art for ourselves. But at the end of the day, what kind of artist would want to create a beautiful piece of art, and hide it in their closet? Like Jesus said— if you have a light, share it with the rest of the world. Don’t put your light under a bucket.
7. Fulfill your duty as an artist to society
A good way to motivate yourself to have more confidence in yourself and your art is to think of the duty you have towards others; and society.
It is your duty (if you have a gift in art) to create that art, and to share it with others. Otherwise, you aren’t driving the human race forward.
I know for me, it is my duty to blog, write, think, teach, and share. It is what gets me up in the morning, and gets me to drink 5-6 espressos a day, to fast, and to stay focused. My creative duty is what makes me care (less) about money, fame, fortune, and other material things.
Many of us realize we have a duty to our families, to our local communities— but realize, you also have a duty to all of mankind. As an artist, you uplift the spirits of your viewers. You stir their hearts, souls, and remind them what it means to be a loving human being.
It is your duty to create art, and share it.
8. Keep the ball rolling
‘The rolling stone gathers no moss.’ – Publilius Syrus
Objects that are in motion, stay in motion. But the hardest thing is to start rolling the ball. Once the ball is in motion, it won’t gather moss. It won’t rust.
Aristotle once said we are our habits. I agree. We are what we do, what we think, what we eat, and what we create on a daily basis.
The hardest is getting started. For me, there is nothing more frightening than a blank sheet of paper. To write, the hardest thing to do is just to start. That is why I often start off my writing like a letter to a friend— (Dear friend,) which gets the creative juices flowing.
In photography, taking the first photo is the hardest. So I allow myself to take bad photos, just to get my trigger-finger warmed up.
I think to get the ball rolling, having a trigger is helpful. For me, that trigger is coffee. I drink coffee, I feel the caffeine, and I feel my heart beat harder. That is my brain telling me: “Okay Eric, time to do creative work.” (whether that be writing, reading, making videos, or photographing).
So what can that trigger be for you? Maybe some ‘pump it up’ music, maybe your beverage of choice, or perhaps a morning work-out routine. Start off your morning right, and the rest of the day will flow smoothly. And please please please, don’t start off the day checking email, or checking social media. It is like eating Cheetos for breakfast.
9. Share imperfect work
I think all of life is a work in progress. Our art is never 100% finished or complete. It will never be perfect.
If you aim for perfection in your art, you will never finish it.
My philosophy: get your art about 80% done, and publish it. Share it. Above all, don’t expect any of your creative work to go ‘viral.’ Have no expectations. Therefore you will never be disappointed.
I know for myself personally, when I write something that I feel is phenomenal and I set up all these expectations for myself, I end up disappointing myself if it doesn’t get shared a lot on social media. The same goes for my photos, when I get fewer likes than that I think I ‘should have’ gotten.
There are a lot of things outside of our control as artists. We cannot control the social media algorithms which dictate what is the ‘optimal’ time to share something, what kind of hashtags to add, or what kind of title to use. We have no control whether we have a million followers or not. A lot of it is dictated by lady luck. But the more we dance with lady luck, the more lucky we get. Or a better analogy: the more you swing the bat, and the more you strike out, the more likely you are to hit a home run.
Sometimes you need to strike out 1,000 times to hit just 1 home run.
10. Find inspiration everywhere
As a blogger, I have no idea which of my blog posts will be popular. Therefore I follow my gut, write what I am passionate or interested in, and just hit publish. I then let it float into the digital ether— and whether it picks up steam or not is beyond my control.
In photography, I make photos which make my soul sing. Then I share it. Whether it gets a lot of likes or not is beyond my control.
Therefore I feel being an artist is to become detached from your art.
In ancient times, each person was appointed his/her own personal ‘genius.’ A person wasn’t a genius. That meant, each person had their own inner-genius, kind of like how we all have ‘guardian angels.’
We couldn’t dictate whether we would always be inspired or not. That was for our inner-genius to determine. They also call it a ‘muse’ — a spirit that dwells within you, which gives you all your creative ideas.
My personal muse is Cindy. I also get inspired from my mom, my friends, from random conversations I overhear on the streets. I get inspiration from my favorite philosophers (all dead), or from my more contemporary hip hop artists. I gain inspiration when I am doing physical activities which get my blood flowing (deadlifts in the gym, or going for a pleasant walk). I get inspiration from nature— from trees, when I go hiking, or when I go camping. To be an artist is to gain inspiration from everything, anywhere, and everyone.
11. But what if I’m not original?
Nothing is original. A tree doesn’t have low self-esteem because it isn’t an original tree.
All life follows patterns. And honestly, being original is overrated. I think it is better to be good than original.
For example, I’d rather be a tree that bears a lot of fruit, instead of a tree that looks different. That fruit is your art. We all praise productive trees and plants, which bear juicy, delicious, and nutritious fruit. We despise plants that are weeds— just sucking nutrients, without giving anything back.
I read that creativity is like being a bee— you wander from one flower to another, collecting pollen and nectar, and eventually the honey you make is a unique blend of all the different sources. And no matter what, your honey will always be unique.
As artists, we all have people from the past to be grateful towards. I am grateful to Henri Cartier-Bresson for his innovations in photography. And I’m grateful to Matisse, who inspired Henri Cartier-Bresson. Going further back, I’m grateful for the innovations of Leonardo da Vinci. I’m also grateful for the Medicis for sponsoring all the great artists from the Renaissance. I’m grateful for all the dead philosophers who also helped me gain the wisdom that I now possess. Thank you to Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Epicurus, Publilius Syrus, Lao Tzu, and of course Jesus.
12. If you don’t fear death, you fear nothing
As human beings we are born ‘risk averse.’ Meaning, we hate taking risks. Because in the past, taking risks meant that we might die.
But in todays world, the chance of us dying is slim to none. If we try to do something revolutionary or innovative in art, the worst that will happen is that we will either be ignored, or be judged. Nobody will kill you for creating art you believe in. Actually, perhaps in some countries unfortunately.
But going back to the point at hand, if you’re creating art— you need to learn to become a martyr for the art you believe in. Most of us don’t create politically sensitive art. But those who do, I have great respect and admiration for you.
At the end of the day, most of us are just going to share our photos on social media, maybe print and share them, or have an exhibition. Nobody is going to nail us to the cross for creating art we believe in. So what do we fear?
13. Imagine the worst-case scenario
What is the worst-case scenario you are afraid of in your art? Most of us don’t consider the absolute worst. Here is a (realistic) list of what is the worst that can happen:
- People tell you that your work sucks
- People ignore you (don’t like/comment on your art)
- Critics rip it to shreds
- You disappoint your mom and yourself
That is pretty much all I can think of.
So realize, you have nothing to fear. So why not create your art, and share it with others?
14. Know yourself
Many of us become paralyzed in our art because we are perfectionists. We never get it 100% perfect, so we never end up sharing it or publishing it.
Of course you want to make art that pleases yourself; that is up to your own standard.
But you know yourself the best. Are you a perfectionist that actually gets stuff done? Or does your perfectionism paralyze you?
For me, perfectionism paralyzed me. So I said fuck that, I am just going to not aim for perfect. I am just going to aim for ‘very good’ then let the critics judge me.
If you’re a perfectionist that actually gets stuff done — keep rocking. If you’re a perfectionist that doesn’t get much stuff done (and that frustrates you) — remove the word ‘perfect’ from your vocabulary. Aim for ‘very good.’ Or just ‘good.’
Make good art, not great art. Make good photos, make good music, make good dance routines, make good paintings, and make good drawings.
Make it good to your standards, and hit publish.
15. Create art like you’re going to die today
If today were your last day as an artist, what work would you wish you started, or finished?
I feel this is the only way we can live faithfully to ourselves as artists.
So share works-in-progress, incomplete projects, or imperfect things. If it brings you joy, and you think it is going to bring at least 1 other person joy, it is worth sharing.
You are an artist: