Being an artist requires an excessive amount of confidence. Some might even say ego. Because who else is foolish enough to create something out of nothing? Who else is foolish enough to create something out of nothing and believe that it matters — that somehow the world needs to see it or hear it or read it?
John Lennon once said that “If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that..I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.” In a way, you really do have to be an egomaniac to make art. In a world that respects order and dutiful productivity, anything else is trouble and anyone else is a troublemaker.
And yet the artist comes along, driven to communicate and connect, to disrupt the status quo, to create and produce, recklessly and without fear of judgment. Because everyone reasonably sane knows that judgment is inevitable, and that the more provocative the work, the more relevant and raw, the harsher the inevitable critique. And yet, there is the artist, in the corner, refusing to give up. Instead, the artist merely digs deeper, into the personal reserve of determination and strength to produce and produce again.
Why? Filmmaker Ted Tremper explains, “The reason I work all the time, or pretend to work all the time, is because that’s the only thing my brain tells me I can do to prove I’m worthwhile — that I exist.”
For many artists, their art is their identity. It is not only who they are, but it is what they mean. You can’t make a writer stop writing, just like you can’t take a camera away from a photographer. Being an artist is simply who you are, and the work you make is how you you process the world. It’s your way not only of communicating but of existing.
Which, in many ways, makes the artistic process that much scarier. Because it’s not something you can stop doing. It’s who you are. And so when you are judged for it, you can’t have the healthy detachment that should exist between man and his work. It’s not just an excel spreadsheet. It’s who you are. It’s why you exist.
So you keep making art, because you can’t stop, but at the same time, it takes a crazy amount of conviction and ego and courage to keep going. Because you are judged. Because you are reckless and stupid enough to make something out of nothing and think it matters. Because you’re looking fear in the face every time you face that blank screen and that blank canvas. After all, making art is easy — you just stare at it until blood comes out (to paraphrase Gene Fowler).
And so you bleed and you bleed some more.
And people talk about this. About the fear of the surrounds the process.
But what people don’t talk about as much is what happens when that fear hits you all at once. When the momentum dies down, and you have nothing left but the fear of knowing you have to start again, knowing you will have to bleed all over a brand new page, worrying that the blood inside you will not be enough.
Maybe it’s this:
But of course, when you’re in your own head, when you’re wracked with fear, it’s hard to determine just how great an artist you are. All you know is that the terror is very, very real — as is the self-doubt. Because it’s that self-doubt, that fear that you’re not a real artist, that your work isn’t worth the time of producing it, much less the time of those that consume it, that makes any artist want to crawl in bed and never get out.
The trick is remembering that, if you’re a real artist, you won’t be able to stay in bed. Eventually you will get out because you have to make work. Because that is why you exist. Because you can’t live any other way.