In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in a dark wood
And the true way
Was wholly lost
– Dante Alighieri
These words written by 14th-century poet Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy speak across the centuries of being at a crossroads in your life.
Even before Dante, Homer wrote of the archetypal voyager Odysseus, inventor of the Trojan Horse, who journeyed far from home to fight for his people in the Trojan War. When the war was over, Odysseus thought the voyage home would be easy—that weeks of lifting glinting oars and dipping them down again into the sea would carry him swiftly home to his beloved Penelope.
But Poseidon, god of the sea, had other plans.
Searching and Finding Your Way As You Create Is The Journey
As artists, we yearn to express our deepest feelings on the canvas. To feel alive as we explore our personal signature of gestural expression and mark-making. Giving ourselves permission to let loose, we’re suddenly vulnerable, exposed, and raw. And now we’re wrestling down the dark angels of self-doubt, wondering if we’re up to the Herculean task of being “real artists.”
Stepping into our studios to face the blank canvas is stepping into a place of “not knowing”—an experience of vulnerability. Making our first marks, perhaps we feel lost and unsure of what to do next.
And right away, with our first marks, the ever-familiar voice inside asks us: “Who do you think you are?”
You and I know this voice—it’s the one that joins the real and imagined outer critics, agreeing with them, attacking you even as you try to defend yourself. It speaks using the vocabulary of comparison and finds you lacking. It expresses the belief that you’re not good enough, that you’ve got to keep striving to attain some ever-receding, nebulous standard that’s beyond your grasp.
This can happen especially when you’ve been on a roll, painting like your hair’s on fire, only to be terrified that the muse will disappear and you won’t be able to create like that again.
The blank canvas can bring up terror—and avoidance.
Every Artist Has Fear
Don’t despair. The good news is that you’re not alone. We’re in this together.
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