On Art and Fear

A dispatch from yours truly

For me, making art isn’t scary. Making origami penguins and photo albums, baking cakes and knitting hats and writing stories is always therapeutic and pleasant. But sharing those things with others gives me a lump in my throat the size of Texas, so that often after I send a story out for review, I need to take a yoga break or turn on my meditation app so I can listen to the voice of an Australian Buddhist who will tell me to sit in my chair under my weighted blanket for ten minutes which is usually enough time for me to remember how to breathe.

I was in the public library yesterday, browsing through books in the new nonfiction section at the far corner of the front room. The room is primarily filled with DVD’s and has these big windows above the shelves through which cold February sunlight graced me and handful of other patrons with its presence. A title caught my eye. It was a tiny tan book on the bottom display shelf. Art and Fear. What could art have to do with fear? Probably a lot, given that someone had gone and written a book and that book had probably been sent out to many editors, and one editor had chosen to spend their precious budget money to publish it. Then a good amount of people, including this library had gone out and bought it so the general public could enjoy it for free, and at their convenience.

I want to know that what I sit down to make every day is good, that some people somewhere in the world will see it and pay attention and find some new life after having seen it. But here’s the catch: I’d rather spend time making art than preparing for shows or scrolling through Submittable. And so I keep sitting down at my desk to write stories and make origami penguins for myself.

I sat down at the circular wooden table to open the book which had set off these thoughts and turned to a segment on “Higher Education.” Art and Fear discredited higher education so bitterly that I couldn’t help but question my decision to attend grad school, one I’d made while living at home with my parents and working at a public library for pay equal to that of a cashier at Walmart and feeling quite directionless and also kind of like a failure. The authors of the book claimed grad school would offer you a false sense of security, but it wouldn’t help you become any better at art. In fact, most people who went to grad school had to “recover” from it. I couldn’t stop reading the book which was addictive in the manner of bad sex or cigarettes. The authors claimed that most people who go to grad school never make art again. So cynical! But there was some truth to it. Not everyone gets famous. Most people don’t have the shape of their ass publicly broadcasted on CSPAN. Me and all my peers will very likely be relegated to making our art during our shift at the gas station at 2am when truckers buying soda and muffins are the only customers. I think the authors of Art and Fear would say that’s failing, and so would my eighteen-year old self, ranked 3rd in my tiny high school class. I thought I was destined to become something better.

I didn’t read far enough into the book to see if the authors even came to a conclusion about art and fear. To be honest, I was pissed at them, whoever they were. For me, the link is between fear and sharing art, not fear and making art. It’s a fear I am practicing inviting in. I invite it to sit with me and help me fold my origami on Sunday afternoons when the tea is just about to boil.   

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Philandro Castille and the Door

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Check out Unicorn Riot for livestream of Philandro Castile protests in the Twin Cities

Living with anarchists, I feel a lot of pressure to go out to protest, to do something in the wake of Philandro Castille’s murder. This Friday night though I choose to be at home alone, to paint in my front yard.

I witness two young men beating each other on the front steps across the street. The mother screams at them to stop. I keep painting.

A woman walks by and says hello to me. I ask her for suggestions on how to fill the blank space. The women gets out two pieces of paper and a pen. “I love art,” she says. “People think I’m crazy, but when I get an apartment, it’s my dream to paint a door like this.”

The woman leaves me standing on the tiny green square of green as dark comes, her careful sketches left behind to guide my brushstrokes. They are blue, green, yellow, and red, so simple. I am so sure of the brush in my hand, the imperfect form of each line.

“You’re not crazy.”

Sound-Bites 5: Sounds of the Road

Stumped on what to send in? Try some fun activities!

  1. If you own a car, stick duct tape to your dashboard and keep a pen handy. At stoplights and in parking lots, write down the titles of songs or song lyrics that catch you attention while driving.
  2. Ride public transportation across town. Listen in on conversations. Write them down or illustrate them.
  3. Take pictures of the pavement. Walk backwards. Try to find something out of the ordinary.
  4. Ask your friend/roommate/grandpa to tell you a story while you’re in transit.
  5. Read a page from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and circle all the sound words.
  6. Just drive. Make noise!

Contributions to the Sound-Bites project cover printing fees and postage. The goal isn’t profit so much as breaking even so this great creative community can keep thriving and jiving. If you’d like to donate, check out the Patreon account.

sound-bites b&w