The Fears That Haunt You

Your fears around building an art business are real to you. Whatever fears you have, you can bet that other artists share them.
Still . . . you’re a warrior! You can conquer your fears, but only after you identify them.
Here’s a look at 7 common fears that artists have shared with me.

Leah Palmer Preiss, G is for Gashadokuro
©Leah Palmer Preiss, G is for Gashadokuro. Acrylic on illustration scanned from Frank Leslie's Chatterbox, 1880-1881, 7.5 x 6.5 inches.

Fear that you are starting your career too late.
We all wish we had known then what we know now. But we didn’t.
Every moment you spend worrying about what you didn’t do is wasted energy. Get over it and move on. WWGMD? (What Would Grandma Moses Do? Stop painting?)
Fear that you’re not good enough.
What is “good enough?” Good enough for what? For whom? Yes, you need to be talented and know how to use your materials, but any artist worth his or her salt will be striving throughout life to improve.
There will always be a next level of “good enough.”
Fear that you don’t know enough.
This fear differs from the last in that people who experience this fear continue to search for the magic bullet that will bring them fame, fortune, and peace of mind.
Let me be as clear as I can: There is no magic bullet. Take daily action and keep moving forward.
Fear that people won’t take you seriously.
Some will, some won’t — so what? Are you going to let other people’s baggage define how you live your life?
My experience is that other people respond to us based on how we treat ourselves. The #1 thing you can do to get past this fear is to take yourself seriously.
Fear that your art will take you away from your family.
If art is truly a part of your soul, your family needs to understand this. They need to see that art is what helps make you beautiful and whole.
If you hold tight to this fear, you may end up resenting your own family members and regretting much in your life.
Fear that you will look stupid.
We all look stupid from time to time. At least once a day I hit my palm to my forehead and ask myself what I could have possibly been thinking. I’ll dwell on it for a bit too long, but I work through it during the self-pity party.
What choice do I have? Give up? Not likely.
Fear that you won’t make any money.
Most artists will never be able to support themselves from their art. You can choose to be different.
The fear of not making any money should spur you to think like a businessperson. You should have a plan and strategies in place that help you market your art consistently. Then you will know that you put forth your best effort.
(I can't help mentioning here that my new programs for 2013 are laser-focused to help you foster consistent business practices.)
What fears do you relate to this Halloween?
Decked out in your warrior duds, what fears have you overcome and how did you do it?

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60 thoughts on “The Fears That Haunt You”

  1. Wow great way to start the day. I believe each of these fear effect me. some days money, others that my new style is bad or that I am a fraud. Thanks for the help trying to get through them.

  2. My biggest fear is that I won’t make enough money. I am at point where I cannot continue spending money on art until I am able to make more money (catch 22). For decades, nearly everyone around me has said, “You can paint on Sundays, but you need a bread and butter job to meet your responsibilities first.” I continue to try but I always have to fall back to meet my responsibilities. I think that holds most would be artists.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Rick: We’re so lucky today to have free and inexpensive ways to promote our art, but we still need money to survive. That must come first. But I believe you can do both. Artists throughout history have held day jobs and built amazing art careers. It’s HARD! But it can be done.

    2. Rick, you are not alone in this. I am in the same boat. I also find that even with planning time to do art, domestic responsibilities can take over whatever time is left after working a FT job.

    3. HELLO! I am really grateful to reading about others’ challenges-we learn by doing it seems – as artists, or creative people. Rick, I have a suggestion – ask for the supplies in you local FREECYCLE website!!! I have actually donated art supplies to others, since I had an abundance of one material that I really didn’t use (oil pastels). Really & truly, ask. I scored a box of used brushes (some were new), and 2 easels from someone moving. FREECYCLE IS INCREDIBLE!!! Also, are you aware of the incredible natural plant pigments from which you can derive a huge palette? Seriously, you can look this up on the web–I’m not kidding!! Now, if you are looking for canvas, I’ve purchased painters drop-cloth canvas (the stuff they put down to protect furniture), washed, stretched and primed it myself. A huge 7 by 7 ft canvas drop cloth or maybe it was 8 by 8? – for about $15.00. Made the frame out of scrap wood from a building project at our house. I got to talking with the contractor and he saved some waste boards for me and actually cut them to size for me while his chopsaw was here. They were doing work on our house at the time, but I wasn’t not afraid to ask, as there is a whole lot of waste going into construction dumpsters which is perfectly fine to use as stretchers. I also paint on wood, and furniture and any kind of stable flat-ish surface! So think creatively and again, try to source your supplies from re-cycled goods! And don’t be afraid to ask if someone has leftovers they don’t use – for FREE, on FREECYCLE. I’m sure there’s one near where you live!!! BEST Of luck to you!!! THINK CREATIVELY!!! I also sell my wares at local coffee shops, and consignment stores and next year, I’m doing farmers’ markets!!! good luck & I hope you try freecycle!best regards, deb

  3. My “do overs” at the easel yesterday while developing a new style and body of work heightened the fear of leaving the old behind to reach for the new. Stepping out with a new body of work can feel like jumping off a cliff.

    1. I’ve got all of the above, plus a combo of these two — giant blank canvas waiting for me to do what’s exciting to me, while I finish pieces that are more likely to sell into my market. Combo fear of blank canvas/new direction with fear of inability to earn money. Boo! Happy Halloween!

    2. Good question, Alyson. I’m hoping to do both — make enough “marketable” pieces to justify time spent on my exploration. As a slow producer, though, it could be a while before I get to take risks!

    3. Deborah, jump and don’t look back. I have radically changed my body of work twice and that has allowed me to grow both technically and aesthetically. It’s hard because there will be some people who will be very resistant to the change (customers who put off buying and now you don’t do that work, galleries who want the “sure thing” you’re making and won’t take the leap with you). In the end you’ll draw new followers who will support the work you want to do and not keep you locked into something you’re finished with.

  4. This sums up my typical thinking pattern. I wonder if I have whatever it takes to push through and act. What does it take? Is it just a decision each one of us needs to make? What will it take to accept responsibility for this choice, or the choice of not making a decision? Fear and self doubt are an incredible force to push through.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Wendy: Think about the opposite fear: What if you never live up to your potential? What if you give your time over to fear and wake up one day “ready” to act? I don’t believe that the Universe ever says, “Okay, now is the right time!” I believe we act and the answers follow.

  5. Every single one that you listed is quite familiar. Not only did I have to overcome these… I now have to remind myself that I have overcome these. What a great blog post! Thank you.

  6. The physical feeling that comes along with fear is what I don’t like. When a friend was making a major life change (moving to another country) he said he kept going back and forth whether he was doing the right thing or not. When he remembered the feeling that goes along with change is one of discomfort but that it was normal, he found it was easier to continue with plans. When I feel the fear of change, I try to remember to embrace it as it is just a part of moving ahead.

    1. Eileen: Yes! “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” If you’re not uncomfortable, you probably aren’t growing.

    2. Speaking of “feel the fear and do it anyway” — isn’t it sad that we just lost Susan Jeffers? Her writings are helpful to so many people on so many different levels.

  7. Thanks Alyson, especially for the Grandma Moses reminder. For me the big fear is “I am too old for all of this!” Another self responds,”How can I live without being an honest to gosh working artist?” Thankfully I’m not dead yet!

    1. Thanks Marge, I especially liked the Grandma Moses reminder too. Sort of gives you a kick in the derriere reminder to get going, and take yourself and your art more seriously!

  8. Thanks Alyson for all of the above. You hit on everyone of my fears. I’m at a point where I might need to find a part time job to help us get through. So one of my fears was feeling like I failed my family by not making enough with my art financially. I need to remind myself I can do both and I’m not a failure at my art. Thank you again for all your newsletters and support.

    1. Toni: You are doing the right thing. You must provide. You’re just taking a different path. You’d be silly not to adjust when the times call for it.

  9. Alyson and All:
    You know, I just discovered that my greatest fear is success. I have been afraid that success would carry me away from everything and everyone I loved. I can get tremendously focused and “forget” the world when I am working.
    Change (even for the better) can be scary! Boo!
    Victoria — your book SLEEP MAGIC looks good!

    1. Victoria Pendragon

      Thanks gets the job done, that’s for sure! (I recognize the whole ‘success’ thing…but I can’t imagine you carried off by it!)

    2. Amy: Ooooo. I smell a breakthrough! Fear of success is HUGE. So, whatchya gonna do about it?

  10. I’d say my overall fear is not overcoming these fears. I have no doubt that eventually I can overcome each of these points but I just fear giving up before I can prove to myself I’m wrong to have these fears. I know that if I stay consistent, learn about the art biz, work hard, pay attention, stay positive, I can work through all of which has held me back in the past.
    Blogs (and books) like yours help tremendously though!!! They’re like artist lightsabers cutting through the darkness of these fears! Happy Halloween!

    1. Monica: It’s also important to find support systems. That’s why I’m upping the ante on my programs in 2013. I want to provide high levels of support (and accountability) for artists who really need it.

  11. I can relate to all of these but never all on the same day thank goodness!
    Usually action moves my fears away. Often, the action is to paint more paintings. Also, I joyfully and playfully named the fear monster: Mr. Doubt. That way I can talk to “him” and have something tangible to move away from. My closest friends know about Mr. Doubt – they can talk me through my fears when I am not strong enough myself.
    Alyson, having the Mr. Doubts in a list is great! Right now I cannot think of any others, except maybe that I should paint representational works instead of abstracts, but that fear is thankfully weaker.

    1. Suzanne: I love it. You identified and named the fear. And you have a support team to help talk you through it.

  12. I think everybody has a fear of somewhat. And we´ll not be able to get rid of the fear, but what we could do is to conquer it. For example if I have a fear to contact the gallery, then I try to transform the fear in such a way that I have a fear not to contact it. I imagine it´s one time opportunity now, & the fear of losing it is much bigger than just rejection.
    So, the fear can bring positive results, but we have to understand how to react.
    Have a wonderful evening!

  13. My fear is that I can’t possibly do it all, but must do it all. ALONE. (que violins)
    Woke up this morning with solutions. I have a budget to work with on a big commission, I can use it wisely!.
    Today’s steps forward were to hire an strong assistant to help with the roughing out and chainsawing. Money well spent to not blow out my shoulders again. Too painful.
    Other insight was to interview a videographer to document the entire process. It makes me crazy to stop the working flow to document. Documentation is necessary for engaging and educating, and publicizing my work. Now it sounds like fun instead of overwhelming. End result will be a surviving artist, a public art sculpture and a short documentary, To Grandmother’s House.

    1. Excellent idea, Patrick! Hiring a videographer is a brilliant move and I know will pay off for you. I have started hiring photographers for my workshops and events (not all, but some). It makes a huge difference in the quality of the photos and my ability to be present for everyone in the audience.

  14. i do make money from my art but my fear is not making enough money to support myself and my two kids, especially with one in college and the other only 2 years away from it. i really am so tired of the 9-5 gig…not that i haven’t learned a lot and grown from my different jobs…but they are just jobs. So, I am going to go look at your post now on acting like a CEO and do the work so i can retire from my 9-5 in 2 to 4 years.

  15. I have had to reinvent myself several times during my 35 years of creative work. To stop what you know and the familiar rhythm of that work some times requires a knock on the head, a friend’s suggestion or the realization and introspection that you have come to the end. It happened to me recently. Unsuccessfully, I continuously tried to pick up my painting after several life altering situations four years ago. A friend helped me to clarify my life situation and that now is not the time to paint. My fragmented time was better put to use creating art journals, teaching and writing about creativity and art journaling.

  16. Several of the above mentioned fears have hit at some point, but the worst has been the money issue and along with that a time issue. I work a FT job…and I’m on-call. I have “Art Night” with other creative friends to work and socialize and try to keep a schedule for doing art work, but that schedule can get blown away rather easily. I need my FT job, but I find I resent the time it takes away from doing art. One specific fear is not being consistent in a “style.” Whenever I seem to settle into a particular style of working, the work starts to lose its energy, life or whatever you want to call it…it loses something. I am trying to embrace my natural flightiness by working between different styles for different things.

    1. Bonnie: Style is something that can’t be forced. You have to make a lot of work to develop your own style.

  17. I often struggle with some of those fears. I really hate the “not good enough” one. I pick up a brush and remind myself of all of the people that have paid me real money to what I do and the bloggers that continually feature and promote my work without payment from me. I have to tell myself that not everyone will like my work even if I become world famous but at least some people do. Thinking those things helps and painting something that I think is wonderful is a good antidote too.

  18. Thank you Alyson. This post was inspiring, having been told by someone yesterday who has been doing what I do for 35 years that you cannot make a full time living! I am not listening to her of course because I am following you and taking action!

    1. Victoria Pendragon

      Just thought you’d enjoy my mother’s advice back when I was trying to decide between majoring in journalism and going to art college. “Art college, for sure. Writer’s never make any money.” (She was a doctor!) LOL

    2. Jo: I love it: “I am following you and taking action!” Thank you! And do share what happens as a result.
      Victoria: That was great.

  19. Thanks so much Alyson! I fit in the “maybe too old” and the aspects and venues for promoting my art. It is rather silly, as everyone who sees it gives me big props. Another fear is that in this economy, there is not much of a market for my art.
    Happy Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, andBoo to all!

  20. Thanks Alyson you’re comments came just at the right time, after having a bad attack of “I can’t do this” I now realise I have to look at things differently.

  21. All those fears,CHECk!
    I used to think it was more important that your art lived on but I changed my mind. I rather experience the success than not. Van Goh’s life was probably horrible and heartbreaking,did he sacrifice it for our pleasure? I wouldn’t want that for my kids so I don’t think VG’s mom did either.

  22. Thanks Alyson for bringing up what bothers me daily. Am I too old or is my art good enough and all the other fears you stated. I decided a year ago. That 1 I may be alot older now but also have the life experience that alows me to see things diferently than I did 20 years ago when I first started painting. The big thing was to finally accept that yeah I am an artist. Now as I work my 9-5 I can look forward to getting back to the easel after work and on weekends. I figured to slowly step into the art world prior to retirement and figure out where I am and where I am going. Your articles really help me get more focused on what I need to do.
    Thanks again.

    1. Raymond: I’m so happy to hear that I help you focus. And that you have accepted your role as an artist and what you can do with that at this point in life.

  23. Alyson, thanks for your insights. I think all artists have these fears at one time or another. I’m learning to work through them and realize they’re part of this creative life I’ve committed to. Finding the resources to keep my spirits up in those times is critical to moving forward. Thanks for being such a great resource!
    I also re-posted this article on my Facebook page:

  24. This is so fantastic. Thank you for crystalizing this for me. All these fears are nipping at my heals. I have found a mantra that helps me move on. “It is not my job as an artist to be perfect. Trying to be perfect is about ego and machines. My only job is to try to get better.” It tends to knock back every one of those fears…they come back the next day but as I said, I’m just trying to get better! Thank you again for this wonderful blog.

  25. Very interesting points.
    I am just wondering about the last ones. Are you suggesting that one should paint what the market likes or seem to like?

    1. Just recently I have found that the pieces I thought I was doing just for myself have sold more quickly. I am starting to believe that when I paint what I think people want, my work is more flat. When I experiment and paint what makes me happy to shows up as a better piece of work. I will often get really scared and lost half way through but finding a way to get it done has become part of the joy of painting.

    2. Karin: Not at all! I’m talking about just the way you market the work – not how/what you create.

  26. Thank you for this great post. It’s strange to think that established and talented artists go through the same fears as someone new to the practice, like me. With your help I shall kick some of these habitual negatives out the way by degrees whilst I am on my course of study. I’m printing your list and it’s going on the wall for constant reference.
    One of the phrases that really struck me was “studio time”. “Studio Time” I thought – “what’s that?” I immediately had a chat with hubby and we have agreed to have undisturbed time (diarised what’s more!). I hereby challenge myself to take myself and my art seriously enough to deserve allocated slots of my time.
    Thank so much Alyson.

  27. This post just came to me in your Dec. 31 “Most Active Posts” blog. No wonder it is included in that list. The first three fears are mine. Were. I just thought those things without realizing they were fears. Calling them fears makes them ridiculous and therefore easy to dump. Thanks for this post.

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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