Matt Gray

End of a Long Day, Beginning a New One

Jan 25, 2008

I just finished Art & Fear, a book recommended to me by my relative Wayne Wolfe. Wayne is an accomplished artist living in Colorado; my father recently moved to the same city. When Wayne, my father, brother, and I gather the psychological familial similarities come into crisp focus. We’re unable to escape our shared struggle.

At one such summit, I mentioned my difficulty in producing new photographs. The discussion that followed shed some light on the common problems in making art, and Wayne suggested I read Art & Fear. I think he’d mentioned it on a previous trip out west, but this time I took action. Rather than forget it and go back to ignoring my artistic stasis, I sent myself an e-mail via text message (my only reliable ubiquitous capture these days) with the text “Art & Fear.”

The book arrived a short time ago and I’ve read it. It’s a slim little volume, perhaps comparable in convenience to Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. Within the hundred-odd pages, I found piece after piece of insight into my own unique artistic struggles. Finishing the book was a delight, though I will need to re-read it several times to truly soak up the information within—the density of insight was staggering.

Art & Fear has proved a useful tool for reasoning about where I am right now. I rarely blog, rarely photograph, and occupy the majority of my time fretting about work. I’m up and writing now because earlier this evening I had a migraine related to a long day at Clockwork. Reading the book was an act of desperation to quiet my mind from racing.

I believe that I have pushed myself into a place where it’s acceptable to deliberately fail at making art: at making photographs and to a lesser extent writing this blog. It’s a seductive proposition for the perfectionist: you will never feel bad about “failing” if you don’t allow yourself to honestly try. Quite frankly, I’ve been reluctant to try anything new recently. It’s easier that way.

A few nights ago, I was unable to sleep for similar reasons. My mind raced. However, my thoughts weren’t a nightmare domain of made-up, impossible technical problems to which there is no solution—a class of nightmares I have experience with lately—instead, my thoughts were focused on a bizarre but totally new direction for my photography; ideas for new work. These new ideas are both terrifying and exciting.

I needed to read Art & Fear, but did the act of starting such a book (and the implicit acknowledgement that I’m struggling with artistic endeavors) prompt or encourage these new ideas for art? I don’t know. What happens next? Either I’ll act on my ideas or not. Within the realm of action, I still have to commit to best effort. It’s too easy to make a half-assed attempt, deem it a failure, and return to a creative funk.

Writing this entry gives me courage that I’ll risk the emotional costs of failure for the chance at something new and interesting. I don’t want to spend my nights mentally sweating out technological horrors that can never be solved.

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