If being a “tortured artist” means self doubt and fear of failing, then I guess I’m a little more of that stereotype than I would like to admit. Every time before I start a new piece, I still get a twinge of anxiety and have to push myself into starting it. Once I do start an oil painting or pastel portrait  I am fine. In fact, then I don’t want to stop! But there is always that initial phase of anxiety about not being able to do a good enough job, otherwise known psychologically as “fear of failure”.

No matter what type of art – painting, music, writing – an artist goes through some kind of phase akin to stage fright. Perhaps it is a characteristic of being a perfectionist, or maybe it’s the self doubt that we are not as good as we long to be. Becuase artists link themselves so closely with their artistic skills and resulting work, it is a very personal matter to create something that other people will pass (sometimes harsh)  judgement on.  That is especially true with doing portraits, as you are also dealing with other people’s feelings about themselves or a loved one.

Most artists are able to overcome these anxieties without drowning them in absinthe or cutting off an ear. I’ve learned to turn that anxiety into a drive to excel. It’s not easy, but I refuse to live in paralyzing fear. Besides, once I start a painting or portrait, the confidence in my skills and love for what I do takes over. Then I am once again “in the zone” until it is finished.  I can tell myself how foolish I was to be anxious – that is, until the next painting .  . .

Michael Gelb & Tony Buzan, Educational Consultants & Authors, summed it up this way:
“Many of us grow up with the idea that mistakes are bad, linking our self-esteem with continued success.  We become afraid of making mistakes. So in order to achieve success, we tend to steer clear of areas that may lie outside the apparent realm of our natural talent.  In this perverse equation, the secret of success becomes avoiding failure, leaving much of our potential untapped.  In order to reach our full potential to learn, we must accept and then transform anxiety and fear, relentlessly seeking accurate information on our performance. What used to be perceived as criticism now becomes a gift for constructive growth.”

Luckily, I have several projects piling up that I have to get done. That pressure alone is incentive enough to get me past the anxiety phase. Um, but a little absinthe wouldn’t hurt . . .