“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
When faced with art that exposes vulnerabilities, expresses intense emotions, and dares to forge deep connections, we tend to applaud the artist’s bravery. After all, it takes guts to make great art. But do you have to be brave to make great art? I’m relieved to say that the answer is no.
There’s a fallacy that artists never feel fear. After all, their stock in trade is confrontation, excavation, and bold expression. But when you dig a bit deeper, you’ll start to realize that nearly every artist copes with fear in some way. That’s because the process of being creative is by its nature risky and vulnerable. Making art means declaring your worth and claiming other people’s attention—and it doesn’t get much scarier than that
In fact, great courage coexists with fear, in art and in life. It can be easy to mistake a finished, polished product for a bold statement, but more likely it reflects a daily practice of living with and facing down fear. To me, the bravest art is created in spite of fear, not without it.
By focusing on finished products instead of practice and process, we deny ourselves the true lessons of fear. I find that I’m easily caught up in the end goal instead of the present moment—the only moment in which I can, in fact, create. If I were to wait for a day when I have no fear, I’d never create at all. There’s always something to be afraid of: success, failure, criticism, visibility. But strangely, the more I focus on the need to be brave and bold as an artist, the less I produce. By avoiding fear, I tiptoe around the very fuel that gives texture and authenticity to my art.
The more I learn about myself and my creative fears, the more I realize that the only thing I should really fear is not showing up at all. Brené Brown put it best: “It feels dangerous to show up. But it’s not as terrifying as thinking, at the end of our lives, ‘What if I had shown up? What would have been different?’”
Perhaps our biggest fear should be using fear to opt out of our most potent creative challenges altogether.