Tag Archives: Mark Twain

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 , , , , , , , |

Your Best New Year’s Resolution: Sing Like a Bird

It's Hard to Sing With Your Mouth Full Adult Carolina Wren digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2013 All Rights Reserved

It’s Hard to Sing With Your Mouth Full
Adult Carolina Wren
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2013 All Rights Reserved

First edition originally published January 3, 2015

The start of January naturally symbolizes new beginnings to most people as they take down last year’s calendar and pin up a fresh one, but the New Year’s Resolution is an often dreaded thing. Of those who do not scoff but earnestly attempt to shift habits, most try to take on too much in one way or another when they make such grand proclamations of change.

“New Year’s Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” – Mark Twain

Others talk of reasons why resolutions often fail. Perhaps someone has listed way too many things they want to change about their life, thus he or she becomes easily overwhelmed and discouraged. Maybe others give up because the change seems too vast, too deep, and too high; instead of taking small stepping stones to eventually reach the goal, these people try to leap to the top of the tall building in a single bound, so they give up.

“A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one Year and out the other.” – Anonymous

I offer an additional reason why you may have given up on a resolution in the past — it may have been something you tried because it was something you thought you should do — something that someone else thought you needed to change, but it wasn’t an earnest desire stemming from within you.

My Kundalini Yoga teacher reminded me last week that there are no “shoulds” — only your personal truth regarding what you want to do or not. Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga address each other by saying “Sat Nam” in the way that other yogic traditions say “Namaste.” The mantra Sat Nam means “Truth is my identity.” In that spirit, I offer a potential resolution for you to consider.

My suggestion for a New Year’s Resolution is a one-size-fits-all goal that will fit every person according to individual need. It is a message I have been seeing in a variety of ways for the past month or two, popping up in quotes and other forms like dandelions in my organic yard.  It is a simple yet profound thing:

To be your authentic self.

You may have read of another way to say this in my previous blog post, A Relaxed Mind is a Creative Mind. One of my favorite inspirational tea tag quotes I mentioned in that post is by Traditional Medicinals:

Be yourself  1 

This can mean whatever it needs to according to each individual. What would this mean for you? It can be general or specific, and could pertain to the spiritual inner aspect of your life as well as the outer physical.

For example, are you in a job you dislike because it is a path that someone else dictated for you, or are you following your dreams? Even if you are walking your chosen road to prosperity, are you being true to yourself?

If you are a fellow artist — are you creating from your heart, then finding the matching target market, or are you only trying to paint, sculpt, or photograph what you think will sell?

Being your true self — listening to your own inner voice of guidance each day and not worrying about what the Peanut Gallery thinks — is a concept beautifully encapsulated by Rumi in a quote I came across recently:

I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.

This quote seems particularly important for artists. We put our heart and soul into our work, and then we display these tangible symbols of our innermost secrets and insights to the public in hopes that someone will like our expressions enough to purchase the product. Artists can feel vulnerable when their unproven new work is on display.

This is a good time to remember how subjective art is, and that doing your best and speaking your truth are all you can do. Art is a “visual opinion,” and there is someone out there somewhere who will agree with that point of view. It is merely a question of finding the right fit of audience to artwork.

For a solo show in 2012, my creative team and I built The Wishing Tree installation. Visitors tied their paper wishes to the removable oak branches. After the exhibit was over, I cataloged all the open wishes before burning them, and am now creating drawings from the wish categories using the resulting ash and charcoal. One thing that some participants wished for was “To be my true self.” A powerful wish.

My most memorable and best New Year’s Resolution was one I made over ten years ago: to start practicing yoga. Always the last picked for teams in gym class, the non-competitive, spiritual, and holistic nature of yoga appealed to me, so it was a perfect fit.

The practice was something that had been calling to me for some time. I was fueled by the desire to do it, and I did not try to overload myself with a lengthy resolution list. I think these are two reasons why I bought the beginners’ DVD and my first purple mat. Since the day I made those purchases, I haven’t looked back — unless the asana I am practicing is a twist that calls for it.

I chose a photograph of the Carolina Wren to accompany this post. They are songsters, but I consider them to be curious, spunky birds that constantly delight us with their vast array of loud, wacky noises. Wren seem to be a bird who makes the precise sound it wants to make at any given time without a care in the world what anyone else thinks.

What is your New Year’s Resolution? Does it fall under the heading of being your authentic self? I look forward to seeing your own Resolutions in the comments.

Happy New Year, and all the best,


 1 “Be Yourself” is a tea tag quote from Traditional Medicinals, www.traditionalmedicinals.com .  Used with permission.


Posted in General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Meditation and yoga Also tagged , |