Ten writers for children. All with something to say.

11/4/09

Thoughts on Art and Fear


Several years ago, I attended a lecture given by Janet Stevens at the Kerlan Collection, an incredible collection of children's book manuscripts and illustrations at the University of Minnesota. http://special.lib.umn.edu/clrc/. Her first slide was a photo of the book: Art and Fear, Observation on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland. Her talk revealed her own personal fears and dreams of making "real" art, beyond the picture book. She showed courage in revealing her vulnerability and ended up touching everyone in the room in some way that was very moving. Personally, I disagreed with her about the idea of making "real" art outside of picture books, since I consider what I do as an illustrator of picture books as extremely real, but that is another topic.

In the introduction of Art and Fear, the author's write: This book is about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.

"Free will", "choice" and committing to the future and finding one's own work are all part of maturing as an artist and what stirs fear in me. When I sit down to write or stand at my wall to paint, my biggest fear is that I will not find my "true" voice and let it sing strong and clear before I die. Yes, death is the final silence, and though I have been painting for more than thirty years and writing stories for nearly a decade now, it the fear of not finding my true voice, whatever that is, before I die, that eats at me most. I love the gift of another's manuscript and being able to live with it for many months and eventually reveal painted images that enhance or illuminate the words. I also consider the act of illustrating another's words as "finding my own work", even though I am constantly asked "Why don't you do your own work?"

When I do sit down to write my own stories with the intention of making the pictures for them, that is when I wonder if I am saying anything worthwhile? This causes fear to take over and silence me. Then I remember "play". Play is so essential to my life-- it causes accidents and enjoyment and banishes the fears for awhile. Play allows me to be in the moment of moving the pen or brush with courage and blind faith that something worthwhile will emerge-- even if it is just the act of playing. Time is another factor that banishes fear for me-- I need time to make mistakes, wander without pressure, and play until something catches and doesn't let me go.


9 comments:

Stephanie said...

After reading this there's no doubt in my mind that you are a writer as well as an artist. And the art in picture books is just as "real" as art outside of picture books, in my opinion.

Christy said...

I absolutely agree with the solution of "play." And, so true that this requires "time." Early childhood specialists all proclaim the many beneficial outcomes of play for children--on so many levels (socially, emotionally, intellectually). I don't think this necessarily changes just because we age. Engaging in "process" with no preconceived notions of "outcome or goals" can help lead to great discoveries and dispel those fears.

Wish we could have a play-date.

Lauren said...

I will add... that my editor recently offered me an incredible story by Mem Fox that I am thrilled to illustrate! However, I have been yearning for time, so I asked that I not even begin the illustrations until June (When my daughter graduates from High School.) This took great courage, because between now and then, I am writing- and illustrating my own words with no contract. My biggest fear is that I will have nothing to show by June... but when I remember play, time and process-- that is what matters most. To be present to my ideas, thoughts and musings and get them onto paper in the form of words and images.

Christy said...

Lauren, your instincts about what you need are so good. I think you will benefit greatly from this period you are allowing yourself. Congrats on the new story too!

betsy woods said...

Play is my favorite word.

David LaRochelle said...

Bravo to you, Lauren, for being brave enough to ask for the time to work on your own work. Whether or not you have something to "show" by the time June rolls around, I know you won't regret the decision.

I've heard other friends reference "Art and Fear" before and I think it is time I check it out for myself from the library.

john said...

Lauren, thanks for this post. Lots to ponder. Congrats, too, on your decision to take some time for your writing. I am confident you will have something substantial. I think from reading your post that you already do.

Edie said...

Lauren, I have this book, too, and though I am still in the process of reading it, I've had some disagreements with the philosophy. Definitely take the "time" to "play" and I have no doubt you will produce very real art in your illustrations and words!

betsy woods said...

Play is my favorite word.