The Real Work of the Artist

Getting to the other side of dread, resistance, and fear.

photo credit: nordwood themes

Every artist, creative, and maker deals with dread: the dread of the blank canvas, page, stage, wall.

Can I do it? Is this a waste of time? Can I make something worthy of this blankness? Do I have what it takes?

Every single artist.

I’m fourteen weeks into my first podcast. I’ve had conversations with painters, writers, singers, dancers, bakers, and wood carvers.

And every one of them knows this dread.

Elana Kundell, painter, describes it this way:

When I start painting I do not want to stop but when I’m not painting and I’m just thinking there are all sorts of feelings. It is very loaded for me because if I’m not careful part of me thinks I need to perform. It becomes about something else. This is something I deal with daily.

Nathanael Rooney, illustrator and graffiti artist, calls it “hot-head.”

Once I get the drawing up there, and I’m satisfied that my map is going to work and that’s how it needs to be done, then I put the brush to the wall for the first time and I get this rush of anxiety, the hothead. Because I get this flood of, “This is going to take forever” or “It’s going to be so difficult going through the cracks of the bricks” then I get that worry that it’s going to look like some crappy version of something I would do. It’s as if I become embarrassed of it right away. I have this defeatest sort of flood of emotion rush over me like I feel outnumbered and I’m not going to be able to uphold that standard.”

And Steven Pressfield simply labels it “resistance.”

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

These thoughts — that you’re not up for the task, your skills are too meager, and your aim too high — are normal.

Like air and sky and ground are normal.

It’s part of the making of the art.

Your job, as an artist, creative, or maker, is to figure your way out of “hot head,” through resistance, to the other side of fear, to the making.

photo credit: allef vinicius

Elana has an accountability partner. She is committed to painting 15 minutes a day and she texts her partner as soon as she accomplishes it.

Ekaterina Popova, also a painter, immediately covers her blank canvas with a thick, messy layer of paint. Proving to resistance that she has already won.

Kat Walters, a graphic designer and brand expert, sets a timer and gets to work. Period. Ignoring all distractions. Forcing concentration until the timer reminds her to stop.

What’s important is knowing that this thing called resistance doesn’t go away. Ever.

What’s important is knowing this and not being disheartened by it. To know, instead, that you are not alone in this.

That this is the work of the artist. And to move forward in the face of it is the art.

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