Nell Blaine, an American painter (she lived from 1922 to 1996) once said: "I have the firm belief that the only things that are worth doing are those that are a little bit scary." (Quoted from the book by Martica Sawin which you can see by opening the link at Nell Blaine's name.)
It's a sentiment echoed by all sorts of people--like Eleanor Roosevelt ("you must do the thing you think you cannot do") and life coaches. It's part and parcel of getting out of your comfort zone, staying awake and alive, moving toward what expands you rather than what contracts you (and keeps you safe).
Although I am not a psychologist, I believe that when we are young the primary function of the ego, psychologically speaking (in other words, I'm not talking about what we mean by saying someone has a "big ego" of puffed up self-image), is to keep us "safe" according to the needs of our particular life situations--family, school, peers, etc. And by and large our egos do that very very well.
The down side of this is that in keeping us safe, the survival tactics put in place by the ego tend to bury, silence, banish to the basement, or at least put on a back burner the desires, hopes, and dreams of our deepest selves, what I think of as our souls. And I hope it's clear that by "soul" I don't mean some wafty, ethereal thing that "goes to heaven" when we die. To be honest, I don't know a thing about the after-death part. I'm talking about life here and now. And our souls are intrinsically part of our bodies; they live and work together.
Maybe the braver individuals among us figure out how to honor their souls earlier on in life--maybe someone like Nell Blaine, for instance, who against her mother's fierce wishes left her Virginia home at the age of nineteen and moved to New York City to pursue her dream of being a painter.
Some of us, and I would number myself among these, have a harder time in adolescence and early adulthood learning to hear and honor our souls. Maybe we hear in part and do our best to follow our souls, but with a fair amount of playing it safe holding us back, until something wakes us up (especially at mid-life) to realize there's still a huge chunk of us wanting to expand, develop, see the light of day, express itself.
"How is it that you never went to art school when you were younger?" David asked me about a year ago, when I was in the thick of a painting streak and people were expressing interest in purchasing my paintings.
"I was too scared to make mistakes," I said rather quickly. "In order to make art, you have to be willing to take risks, make mistakes, make messes, look bad, etc. And I really didn't like doing that." I might add that I also barely knew that I wanted to make art.
I believe I had a very deep down yearning to make art, and I did "try" from time to time, especially when my artist aunt would give my sister and me exciting new art supplies for Christmas. But "trying to make art" usually meant trying to paint like a famous painter--Andrew Wyeth, for instance, or Monet.
Talk about setting myself up for frustration and failure! I can remember setting up paints and paper and actually thinking I could, in an hour or two, as a complete novice, paint the curtains blowing in from my window the way Andrew Wyeth did! I'm sure you can guess the results. Let's say these attempts at art didn't exactly embolden me to push myself further. I wasn't a bad art student in high school, but I wasn't exactly a bold one either. I played it very safe.
Still, there was enough of an interest in me to take a Design 101 (I don't exactly remember the name--Design I, perhaps) during my first year of college. I think I was more interested in drawing than in "design," and I still remember a drawing I did as part of our first assignment. It was a pretty accurate, detailed drawing of a dried up stalk of tall grass.
I don't think I had a clue what "design" meant, , and I didn't know what to do with my drawing (other than admire it!), and I ended up getting a C in the class. Which, despite my saying aloud that this just proved that grades don't really matter, was really not acceptable to me. So I never took another studio art class in college. I took art history classes instead, in which I did very well--my excellent memory and my great enjoyment of looking at art and seeing the component pieces of composition worked well there. And it wasn't very risky. At least I wasn't risking much self-exposure.
I think it's really sad that I let that C (and my protective ego and my need to be following rules and doing things "right") turn me away from other studio art classes until I was well into my forties, about twenty-five years later. It never occurred to me, until I took another college Design class two years ago, that perhaps it wasn't "all my fault" that I got that C in college. The second time around I am happy to report I got an A (although I did get a bit perfectionist about my homework projects, I must confess).
When, toward the end of the semester, I told the teacher about my first college Design class experience, I said something like, "I just didn't have a clue what I was supposed to be doing." And she said, "Maybe that wasn't your fault. Maybe you didn't have a very effective teacher." Which of course had never occurred to me.
Anyway, I set out to blog about doing something scary. And this was not the direction I intended to write! But I'm going to stop here and trust that this is what I want to say today, and make this a series (of at least two posts) on doing something scary.
Which means, there's more to come.
Let me simply end by saying that for Nell Blaine, facing an empty canvas and starting a new painting (she tended to work from beginning to end all in one session, with only minor tweaking later), was doing something scary. There were no guarantees of a "successful" outcome, always the possibility of making a mess, or a fool of oneself, etc.
And the same is true of a blog post. I wouldn't call it a "big scary" but a "little scary". There are no guarantees. I could be making a fool of myself. And it's worth the risk.
Speaking of art, I haven't posted any art images here or on my website recently (I won't bother to make excuses), but if you want to see some earlier images, you can look at the gallery of my website. I am happy to say that all but three of the paintings in the gallery have been purchased, and two of the three are not even for sale!
How to Be Free (Really)
2 weeks ago