Monday, October 28, 2013

What Halloween Can Teach You About Your Art Career.

Halloween is one of my favorite cultural celebrations.

I love it because it’s a time when we embrace, celebrate, and actually have a few laughs at the things that normally scare the pants off of us. What if we took this approach and applied it to our everyday fears about our art and our art career?

Do any of the following sound familiar to you?

“My work isn’t good enough.”

“I’m too old to start a career as an artist now.”

“I’ll never make any money at painting.”

“No gallery will ever accept my work.”

“I didn’t go to art school, so people won’t take my art seriously.”

If you have any of the above stuff rolling around in your brain, let me suggest a few steps for putting those fears to rest (or at least quieting them down to a manageable level so you can get stuff done):

1. Name Your Fear.
Until you acknowledge what you’re afraid of, you’re powerless against it. Best case scenario, your fears linger in the back of your mind and undermine every art career goal you try to achieve. Worse case scenario---your fears sabotage you into complete and total paralysis. (I find this is especially true with painting.)

You have to name your fear. Say it out loud. Write it down. Bring it front and center and stare that little bugger down. 

This is the big bad embarrassing and scary-as-hell first step. It’s also the first step to not feeling scared, anxious, and overwhelmed all the damn time.

2. Understand that EVERYBODY is afraid of something. 
We all put on a brave face on the Facebook, but there isn’t a single artist I know who hasn’t gone into the negative “My work is crap” tailspin. 

Confession: Every few months I have ONE bad day in the studio and I’m immediately convinced everything I do is crap, my career is over, and I should just crawl in a muddy hole and die. 
My personal pity parties usually only last 48 hours, but folks, I am here to tell you, they are the blazingly melancholy stuff that legends are made of. 

Newsflash: Every fear you have, I’ve had it too. 

Having negative thoughts or self-doubt doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re human. Dare I say “normal”. So feel free to stop beating yourself up about it already. 

3. Stop Telling Yourself Scary Stories.
We artists are a very creative bunch, which means we can be pretty damn good at imagining worse case scenarios. Even if you’ve never read a Steven King novel, I think we can all agree that an active imagination can be a natural breeding ground for all kinds of scary stuff: 

What if nobody comes to my opening?

What if this sale falls through?

What if I die broke and alone in a dank, dirty apartment in the bad part of town?

DUDE---get a hold of yourself! Your imagination about the so-called future is screwing up your “right now”! 

All that stuff you’re worrying about isn’t even happening now. Most likely it will never happen. It only exists in your brain pictures. 

So please stop. Stop abusing your imagination. 

It would make you so much happier if you made a superhero-like vow to only use your powers of imagination for good.

Your fear is just a story you tell yourself.  
Rewrite that story.

4. Use Fear as Your Road Map. 
No, I’m not talking about playing it safe by settling for a career or life you don’t really want. That would suck. I’m talking about letting your fears point you in the direction in your work or art career that needs more attention. In other words—you should treat your fears as a call to action.

Action cures fear.

For every fear you have, there is at least one action step you can take to start putting it to rest. Three quick examples:

Fear: “My work isn’t good enough.”

Action: Pick one aspect of your work that needs improvement and spend 30 minutes a day working on that skill for the next month.

Fear: “What if nobody comes to my opening?”

Action: Dust off and start using (or building) your mailing list. Start telling people about your new work on your blog, facebook, newsletter. Order new postcards or business cards featuring an image of one of your latest works. Start building interest in your new work now instead of waiting until 2 weeks before your exhibition opens.

Fear: “What if this sale falls through?”

Action: Don’t put all your golden eggs in one basket. Write out a plan of action you can take in order to adapt and compensate for the loss of income, if the sale doesn’t happen. 

You get the idea, right? 

No one expects to you tackle all your fears at once, but you DO have to take action. Just take one small step. 

OK, over to you:

1. Tell me a story about a time you overcame one of your fears? How did you do it?

2. a.) What scary stories are you currently telling yourself?

b.) What action can you take to rewrite that story?

(No fair only answering part A!)
Leave your answers in the comment section.

Big Scary Love,



  1. My fear is, (that word is soooo negative but here goes), I won't make enough money to support myself. After ridding myself of my beliefs about earning money as an artist, ( I believe I can, just waiting for proof and I know the money and proof is coming), how do I push through that feeling? I understand karma and how the universe responds to a person's resonance but how do I break through that feeling that there is a wall there?
    I am not giving up but wall be gone!

    1. Yes, the other "F" word!
      In my experience, the only way to "push through" the feeling is to keep working anyway.
      That doesn't mean you're fear will magically go away away, but every action you take is a step towards silencing it.

  2. After listening to some great words this morning, my fear has been abolished! It is what I say it is and I say I have more than enough money, prosperity, health and love!!! Thank you in the name of Jesus!

    1. Bravo Sharon! Sometimes we need the right words or pat on the back to remind us that we just have to keep going, moving, or working.

      p.s. Have you ever read the book "Art & Fear"?

  3. You're right, one of my biggest fears was 'what if no-one likes my work or doesn't think it's good enough'. I felt like this when I finished my BA in Fine Art in 2007, but then I looked in to doing some events and one of them you had to sign up that day or miss the deadline. So I signed up. It was an artists open house event where the public could come by. By having to sign up in that moment without thinking too much I had committed to it and that was a good thing or I might have got too scared. Then I had a deadline to work to which helped. I invited friends and was even invited to have my work on all the publicity when I submitted images of my works! People came and I even sold (wasn't sure what I was expecting!), but I was sooooo nervous. The thing is that fear doesn't go away with each step, with each event as your career grows - the same questions still crop up and I have to find a way to manage them. For me it's keeping that fear in check and not comparing myself to others. Great post Kesha :)

    1. Exactly! No one expects you to be "fearless". But it's important to not let fear be the force that guides your decisions and certainly not the actual making of your work.

  4. I have to actively work to not compare myself to anyone but myself. I find it easier now, I think; comparing myself to other artists was more of an issue for me when I was an undergraduate than now, in my final semesters of my MFA. My next fear is about submitting my work for juried exhibitions and residencies and otherwise creating a viable, emotionally and financially sustainable career for myself from art making and (probably) teaching, simply because my experience is so limited. I second your recommendation of "Art and Fear". I reread it often.