Need To Manage A Fear? Something From Georgia O’Keeffe’s Bedroom May Help
“Courage is […] mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”— Mark Twain
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
Why did artist Georgia O’Keeffe have a sculpture of a hand displaying the abhaya mudra (no fear) plastered into her bedroom wall?
Fear was O’Keeffe’s lifelong companion. And how she walked with her fear is instructive.
One of my favorite quotes of Georgia O’Keeffe was taken from an interview she gave when she was 80 years old. O’Keeffe admitted:
“I’m frightened all the time. Scared to death. But I’ve never let it stop me. Never.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
Fear as Fuel For O’Keeffe
“Whether in modulating physical risks or forcing professional ones, fear never became the enemy in O’Keeffe’s life; instead it served as an energizing fuel,” writes Sharon Rohlfsen Udall in her excellent book, Carr, O’Keeffe and Kahlo:Places of Their Own.
Fear As Fuel For Creatives
If fear is fuel, NASA should be calling me any minute to have me donate my vast quantities of high-octane fear to cleanly power their next space launch.
But I guess just sitting around waiting for someone else to transform one’s fear into fuel isn’t the answer.
So I offer a real life example of a colleague of mine who actually displays “The Right Stuff.”
How To Tromp A Troll
A while back Christy, a kind, vivacious British artist I know, logged in as usual to her DA account (the art sharing site where we met.)
But on this particular morning Christy saw something that would freak out most creatives — a nasty comment from an internet troll.
“It was incredibly juvenile, said Christy. The troll had written: ‘Wow your art sucks ass. My grandma makes better art than you.’
I wasn’t feeling real confident about my art at the time. So it was as if I was kicked by someone after I was already down.
Being vulnerable as an individual in front of a pack is really scary.
I shut down my account.
But time went by and I thought about it.
I remembered that for me, art is not supposed to be about people liking what I make. (Although of course it makes me happy when people do!) I also realized that fear of vulnerability dogs all artists. I was no different than everyone else.”
Christy’s a hero of mine because:
1. She mustered up the courage to open a new DA account despite her fear.
2. She was brave enough to reach out to her friends on the site and share her experience for the benefit of others.
Christy received an outpouring of support.
I believe that thwarting a troll, combined with the uplifting support of her true community, contributed to a renaissance in Christy’s art practice.
In my opinion Christy’s post-troll work is better than pre-troll.
How do you tromp a troll?
Christy showed me how.
You feel scared but make a ton of new art anyway.
“The troll experience seems to have done a turn around in my head after which I’ve come back fighting,” said Christy. “Oddly— I feel more secure in myself. It’s as if someone’s throwing rocks at me has allowed me to grow a kind of rock-resistant veneer.”
Not engaging with trolls usually leaves you more time and energy to make new art.
“Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.”
Cross the River Anyway
O’Keeffe and Christy teach me I don’t have to deny when I feel terrified.
Nor do I need to stay frozen in that terror or shame.
The new game plan is to admit my knees are shaking… and get my butt across the river anyway.
“I’m still not completely rock proof,” said Christy.” I’m still human. I still think a future comment from a troll would hurt me.”
“But the difference is; I feel like I’ll stay standing this time.”
This post is dedicated to the memory of my Dad, a crazy-brave union organizer who told me: “Remember, on the right day, you can take on anything.”
Please leave a COMMENT below if you’ve ever been trolled, can relate to Christy’s story or have troll-related advice.
If you liked this post you might like to read my post on O’Keeffe, Dali, Rachel Carson , van Gogh , Hopper & Matisse or Frida Kahlo.