Overcoming Fear of The Unknown: Goal Setting and Role Playing

Fear of the unknown is a great barrier to inaction. Well, fear of anything is a major barrier to a lot of things. Today I’m going to talk about a few strategies for overcoming fear of the unknown, specifically as it applies to the business of being an artist. I’m not going to claim that any of this is original. In fact most of it should be fairly obvious to most people. But in my conversations with artists I’ve found that my description of these strategies is often greeted with a surprise, and then encouragement for me to explain further. It’s happened enough times that I figured I should write it up.

To put this in context, I find that it’s usually much easier to take no action than to try something new. I don’t think I’m all that different than others in this respect. Inaction can be rooted in the tendency towards being a maximizer—a kind of unreasonable perfectionist—that I described in my post about research-induced paralysis. But I think more than anything, inaction is based in fear: fear of the unknown, fear of the known, fear of embarrassment, fear of making a mistake, fear of change.

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Research-Induced Paralysis: The Paradox of Choice

I hope that these ongoing posts about life as an artist are interesting. It’s hard to tell without some feedback. Still, I’ll probably continue writing about them because they help me work through the maelstrom of my thought process.

Today we take another look at my limited arsenal of pop-psychological tricks: how to get from research to action. For those of you who have any experience with role-playing games, it’s almost as easy as a saving throw versus data overload.

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Vernacular Art Redux

Just when I thought life couldn’t get any stranger, the film industry had to go and twist around my worldview, and not in a good way. Via a chain of websites that is long and complex enough to make Rube Goldberg look like a master of direct action comes the news that a Hollywood studio plans to make a movie based on a Thomas Kinkade painting. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, have a look at my post about Gallery Admission Fees, where I attempt to give sound reasons for considering vernacular art for exhibition at contemporary art galleries. Also helpful in parsing this strange convergence is the fact that Kinkade has sold millions of copies of his paintings via malls, mail-order, and television shopping.

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Gallery Admission Fees Part 3: View from the Soapbox

This is my third post prompted by the impeding debate about admission fees to Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery. In this post I get up on my soapbox and spew venom on both sides of the fee vs. free admission debate. I’ll start of by letting everyone know my position on this, so you can decide whether you want to continue reading. My position is this: I support reasonable user fees for public galleries and museums. I’m also in favour of exhibiting so-called “vernacular” art even though I don’t like much of the latter.

Update 11:00 pm, 9 March 2007: Be sure to check out my Vernacular Art Redux post after you’ve finished this one.

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Gallery Admission Fees Part 2: Japan

I wrote the first version of this post in an email to my friend Betsy Rosenwald, who is one of the Communications people at the Mendel Art Gallery. It was written in the context of Saskatoon City Council’s move to get the Mendel to begin charging admission fees. I originally wrote it to provide another data point for the Mendel’s upcoming discussions on admission fees, and to give some perspective from outside the usual field of operations. It turned out a lot longer than I expected.

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Gallery Admission Fees Part 1: An Info-dump

In my introduction to yesterday’s rant about weak arguments against the Mendel Art Gallery’s expansion plans I mentioned that during the debate some members of Saskatoon City Council brought up the issue of charging admission to the gallery. The debate on admission fees isn’t just a local one. This post is a compilation of links to blogs, articles, and papers that look at the issue.

I should note my biases up-front. I consider myself a fiscal conservative, and in general am not opposed to reasonable user fees. I am aware that this is a divisive issue and that the debate usually gets polarized between the “free access for all” and “we must implement user fees” camps. In many ways the debate has a lot in common with the legal wrangling about copyright and intellectual property, or open source versus proprietary software. Perhaps I’ll write about those similarities in the future. For now, I want to focus on links to information specifically about admission fees to public art galleries. Be forewarned: this is a fairly extensive info-dump. Also note that much of this information may be familiar as I’ve compiled and edited this post from a series of emails I sent to the public relations people at the Mendel.

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A Rant: Civic Politicians, Specious Arguments, and Salted Smoked Fish

In the aftermath of my talk at Paved Arts last week I’ve been trying to clear my head enough to get on with some administrative work that needs to be done. However my head has had so many things swimming around in it (no kippers, though) that I decided to simply write them up as a blog post.

First up is the Mendel Art Gallery’s expansion plan, and the city council meeting I attended on 26 February 2007 to support the Mendel’s efforts. Although the meeting was long, it was really interesting to watch the meeting and get a sense of the civic political process. As has been reported elsewhere, the vote passed after a great deal of time spent debating the idea of gallery admission fees. This idea of admission fees has been looked at many times in the past. In this specific instance was brought forward with what appeared to be no advance notice. Because of this procedural misstep on the part of Councillor Myles Heidt, the matter was eventually taken off the motion concerning the Mendel expansion. I have thoughts on the issue of gallery admission fees, but I’ll save those for later.

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Art Practice As Residency

In many ways I’ve been treating my daily life over the past few months as if I was on an extended residency in an unfamiliar locale. This has helped me break some habits and overcome various fears that have been holding me back. I don’t really want to get too pop-psychological, but I’ve had conversations with a number of people about some of the strategies I’ve been using to cope with the business side of life as an artist. The overall impression I get is that there is interest in what I’ve been doing, and that it seems to have wider applicability than my own life.

My goal for the past few months has been very careerist. I want to get as much as possible out of the fact that at present I have devoted my energy and focus—not to mention money—to becoming financially self-sustaining in my art practice. I noticed that I had some habits that needed breaking in order to get the most out of my time. As a thought experiment, and a way of tricking myself into some desired behaviours, I decided to try as much as possible to treat my daily life as if I was on an arts residency. Therefore, a more accurate—and unwieldy—title for this post is “Treating the Daily Grind of the Artist’s Life as a Residency.”

For those unfamiliar with artist residencies, they take many forms. The general idea is that an artist goes to some distant local for the sake of creating or researching work. Often there is a group of other creative individuals with which to talk shop. Sometimes there is interaction with the public. The idea, though, is for an artist to get a change of perspective and eliminate some of the distractions of daily life in order to simply work.

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