And many creators not only live with fears, they welcome them.
This photo is Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, running for safety after lighting gunpowder to create one of his drawings.
“Why is it important,” he asks, “to make these violent explosions beautiful? Because the artist, like an alchemist, has the ability to transform certain energies, using poison against poison, using dirt and getting gold.”
He admits “Gunpowder possesses a physical danger for anyone near it. But with time, we get to know the material. First, you have to accept that it’s uncontrollable…”
The image and quotes are from a video in the PBS series Art:21.
He also makes some interesting comments on other qualities of courage and daring that artists have – or don’t have:
“The Japanese, like the Chinese, are inspired by the oriental vision of nature and cosmology. But their way of thinking is different from the Chinese. In fact, the Japanese artistic milieu thinks that their lack of daring poses a problem when facing the West.
“They say that their artists do not have the courage to be ambitious. In fact, they do not dare to break off the connection with the West: they do not dare to be radical. They pay too much attention to the West’s opinion of them.
“They say that I, on the other hand, dare to take oriental cosmology as a starting point and use things that came from my own culture as materials, that I dare to be ambitious, to assert myself and oppose the marvellous myths of the West.”
From interview by Fei Dawei. “To Dare To Accomplish Nothing” – from www.caiguoqiang.com
Related book Cai Guo-Qiang
Fear and creative work
Fear is perhaps the most basic emotion we have. As Leonardo da Vinci reportedly said, “Fear arises sooner than anything else.”
Writer Julia Cameron (“The Artist’s Way”) has commented that artists are often terrified. Being creative is venturing into the unknown, and it sets off emotional alarms.
[For more on her, see the post The mind of gifted adults: Julia Cameron on her mental health challenges.)
When she got a midnight call saying that Scholastic Press was paying a huge advance to publish her first Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling admits she experienced a rush of fear.
“I couldn’t sleep – I was obviously delighted but most of me was just frozen in terror.”
Courage is at the heart of creativity
Psychologist Stephen Diamond, PhD, notes in his review of The Courage to Create by Rollo May that May was “a pioneering psychotherapist, philosopher, prolific and poetic author, and sought after teacher and lecturer, and also a gifted watercolorist with great appreciation for art and music.”
Dr. Diamond continues, “Courage, as the book’s apt title implies, is at the very heart of creativity, since to be creative requires us to risk seeing reality anew, and to try (typically not wholly successfully) to express our experiences in creative work, despite the anxiety such soul-searching and self-revealing endeavors inevitably engender.
“Courage, as May makes clear, is not the absence of insecurity, fear, anxiety or despair, but resides in the decision to move through these feelings as constructively or creatively as possible.”
Stephen Diamond, PhD, is author of book Anger, Madness,and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity.
Also hear my podcast interview with Dr. Diamond
[The image is Daniel Craig in movie The Golden Compass, with his animal daimon – from the post Do we all have genius? Does it get drummed out of us?.]
Director Steven Spielberg keeps exercising his courage. He has said, “I still have pretty much the same fears I had as a kid. I’m not sure I’d want to give them up; a lot of these insecurities fuel the movies I make.”
Many actors and other artists say they are drawn to projects that make them feel scared.
Meryl Streep said of insecurity, “Maybe it’s a good thing. I hope it’s some sort of breaking down of whatever is familiar to you. Whatever is complacent, whatever is easy.”
American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes in her book The Places That Scare You: “To the extent that we stop struggling against uncertainty and ambiguity, to that extent we dissolve our fear.”
Psychologist Robert Maurer has worked with many successful writers and other creative people, and thinks fear may be an indispensable part of the creative process. he comments:
“Fear is good. As children, fear is a natural part of our lives, but as adults we view fear as a disease. It’s not a disease.”
He points out that a creative achievement, such as publishing your first novel, does not make fear go away.
He adds, “Your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist and as a human being.”
Being courageous to go ahead with what is fearful can enable us to be more creative.
My article Courage and creativity
More quotes on the page: Courage – Confidence