Tag Archives: Joseph Campbell

Art Requires Courage

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH oil on oil primed linen, 36" x 48" ©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved My interpretation of The Fool tarot card in the series Wisdom of the Ancient Lore.

oil on oil primed linen, 36″ x 48″
© Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved

My painting professor once called me fearless. I have since come to realize that this is the highest complement I have ever been paid as an artist.

“I’m frightened all the time. But I never let it stop me. Never!” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Pursuing your dream, in art or any other field, brings its own rewards. Yet art requires courage. It is a leap of faith in a society that prizes safety nets and security. Art, however, feeds on risk taking.

Fear is a wide umbrella that gives shelter to many shadows lurking in our minds: fear of failure, of rejection, of being judged, of not being good enough, of not making enough money. Much has been written about the artist and this, our creative nemesis.1

In his blog post, The Perfect Creative Personality, David J. Rogers describes his ideal recipe for an artist of any discipline. According to Rogers, the perfect creative is bold and fearless, and one who creates sincere work with integrity.2

Boldness, observes Rogers, is important for achieving success in any field, but “…especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks.”

“What I do is face the blank canvas, which is terrifying.” – Richard Diebenkorn

What Diebenkorn (one of those great creative personalities) describes is a painter’s version of the infamous writer’s block faced by pressured wordsmiths. This is perhaps the first taste of fear experienced by a budding artist.

One of the advantages of the underpainting technique is that you cover up the intimidating white surface. When you apply this initial thin, lean layer of pigment to the primed substrate, it physically loosens up your arm and gets both your mind and your painting jump started with broad, energetic strokes. Then you’re just adding more paint on top of paint, which looks much less intimidating than a pristine canvas staring back at you.

Fear fades with more practice. There are ways around – or better yet, through – the fear.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” – attributed to Joseph Campbell

But like all great challengers, sometimes fear – or more precisely, the learning from it and moving beyond it to a higher emotional state – is what helps us mine up the deeper riches of creativity. You may have thought of the memorable cave scene from Star Wars: Episode VIthe Empire Strikes Back when you read the above quote. Our greatest so-called enemies are usually ourselves, and whether or not we move forward depends on our choices. Do we listen to the often crippling voice of fear or boldly follow the light of inner growth?

Your hope and fear are often opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps you hope for success, yet fear it as well. By avoiding the quest for your goal, you give fear a comfortable home by choosing not to try. As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Being in the present moment assuages fear of the unknown.

“The two terrors that discourage originality and creative living are fear of public opinion and undue reverence for one’s own consistency.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 3

I feel that the more personal an artist’s or writer’s imagery is the more universal it becomes. With just the right doses of inspiration and skill, a creator can depict a firsthand experience and birth a symbol or narrative for the human condition.

What results from portraying such intimate subject matter is a certain peeling back of the usual protective emotional layers. You can be left feeling as though your soul has been stripped bare, all the while hoping that other people like what they see or read.

Emerson goes on to say, “The great figures of history have not cared for the opinions of their contemporaries.” 4

Yet meeting someone who fully connects with your work and “gets” what you do may feel like emerging into light after a journey through a dense forest. If fear of being misunderstood or not accepted has held sway over you, there is a sense of relief.

To move through such fear, first and foremost, create for yourself instead of trying to please the critics or chase the buyers. Write, paint, or draw what you feel called to create for the joy of it and then you can find the right target market for your work.

If you fall into the trap of trying to match everyone’s sofa, then you end up with a lot of framed wallpaper that camouflages the furniture. Then how will you know where to sit down? Be bold and sing with your own unique voice.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

As I read Rogers’ description of his artist friend who never finished a painting because she was terrified of it, I thought of certain unfinished works in my own studio. I vowed to pick up my brush and palette like a sword and shield at my next earliest opportunity.

I am always surprised when people who haven’t seen me for awhile ask me if I am still painting. Those who ask must have seen other creatives leave their path for some reason, or perhaps their inquiry is a reflection of their own experience. As Rogers astutely points out, “That’s why the top is such an exclusive place – because fear stops so many people from reaching it.”

Being waylaid by fear or doubt is often part of an artist’s story. For me, however, I agree with one of my artist friends, Jeremiah Miller. As he put it, as long as he is still breathing, he’ll still be painting.

Be sure to visit David J. Roger’s blog to read his eloquent post in full.

An internet poll called David’s book Fighting to Win the best motivational book ever written. He is working on a “how to be a writer” book. His blog is followed by creative people of all kinds. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife Diana.

1. David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. (Santa Cruz, CA and Eugene, OR: The Image Continuum, 1993)

I highly recommend this book for creatives working in any discipline.

Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, will also enjoy the book I am currently reading:

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear. (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2105)

2. David J. Rogers, “The Perfect Creative Personality,” davidjrogersftw (blog), June 10, 2016, https://davidjrogersftw.com/2016/06/10/the-perfect-creative-personality/

3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays, First Series, 1841

4. Emerson, “Self-Reliance.”

Posted in Archetypes and symbolism, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques Also tagged , , , , , , , |

Seeking “whelment”

First edition originally published April 8, 2014

As my husband once cleverly pointed out, people never talk about feeling “whelmed.” They only go on about being overwhelmed. At very busy periods like we’ve been recently experiencing, we would prefer to just feel whelmed.

In the lovely book The Tao of Pooh, author Benjamin Hoff takes us on a tour of the Hundred Acre Wood as seen through the lens of Taoism and illustrates this Eastern wisdom through A.A. Milne’s characters. Hoff describes the Western, Type A, doing-too-much-without-enough-time personality as a Bisy Backson.

One day, Christopher Robin left a note on his door that should have read “Busy — back soon,” but instead he spelled it “Bisy Backson.” Hoff describes this personality as being “almost desperately active.” As you may recall from the A. A. Milne classic, Rabbit was the perfect example of a Bisy Backson.1

During overwhelming, Bisy Backson times, I remind myself to prioritize; whatever I don’t get done can wait. I remember to breathe as I try to quiet my mind. Hopefully, the screeching monkey thoughts that race quickly through the trees of my brain turn into puffy clouds, gently floating above the green canopy as they slowly drift across the cerulean sky. At such busy times, I am happy to come across an inspirational quote as if it was a mental life raft.

My sister-in-law Judy gave me a wonderful birthday gift last year. I call it the Judy Jar. Purple ribbons hang out of the top of the jar like the lush center of a peony, each tied to a different quote Judy selected for me.

One of my favorite quotes from the Judy Jar is often on my mantle:

“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy.”

This seems a particularly good quote for springtime, a time of new beginnings — by putting down that which is heavy, we become lighter like all the things we associate with this time of year. I did not know the origin of this quote until I did a web search for the purpose of this blog post. It comes from author C. Joybell C., and the remainder of the quote is:

“So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” 2

One of my favorite yoga books is by Judith Hanson Lasater: A Year of Living Your Yoga: Daily Practices to Shape Your Life. 3 This small volume is a perpetual calendar of daily quotes and short meditative paragraphs to accompany them.

For those of you who have seen my painting Savasana — The Release with its grainy hardwood floor, you may be as amused as I was by the entry for my birthday. “We are seeking wholeness, not perfection,” Lasater begins. What a good meditation for someone who, ahem, may have tried not to paint every splinter within those wooden boards, but somehow managed to do it anyway.

Lasater then suggests you look at the knots and irregularities in a wood floor, pointing out that “these imperfections are what give the floor its beauty and character; they make it real.” True enough, had I painted each board of that hardwood floor like identical soldiers in a row, it would never had looked accurate, but would have become my stylized symbol for the floor. This, however, is one of the very things that led me to work in a photorealistic style — I wanted to make my surreal subject matter look real.

Forgetting that it is about painting “the masses, the whole,” as one of the Old Masters said, is admittedly one of my heavy things to put down. Why not let the viewer’s brain and eye fill in some of the blanks? There is no need to paint every blade of grass when the viewer could perceive the holistic massed texture of the grass instead. Advice I have given to many painting students I now give to myself so as to paint in a more “whelmed” way.

Johannes Vermeer painted in this manner — his clean style is what I love about his paintings. Everything you need is there; the extraneous is omitted. He may have only completed 35 attributed paintings in his short 43 years, but visually, Vermeer had no weights around his ankles.

What then is the best way to find whelment?

I think the secret lies my very favorite quote — Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your Bliss.” I will leave it to you to look up the remainder of his statement, but the essence of Campbell’s wisdom is encapsulated in those three introductory words.

All the best, and Namaste,



  1. Hoff, Benjamin.The Tao of Pooh. Penguin Books/Viking Penguin, 1982. ISBN 0-14-006747-7 Used with permission from the publisher.
  2. http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4114218.C_JoyBell_C_ This quote is available under Public License via http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/
  3. From Year of Living Your Yoga: Daily Practices to Shape Your Life, copyright © 2006 byJudith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T. Used with permission from Rodmell Press.

All material, unless otherwise noted, is copyright Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Inspirational Quotes, Meditation and yoga, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques Also tagged , , , |