Need To Manage A Fear? Something From Georgia O’Keeffe’s Bedroom May Help
“It’s not enough to be nice in life. You’ve got to have nerve.”
— Georgia O’Keeffe
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
Sotheby’s might pass on the opportunity to auction off the few decorative objects Georgia O’Keeffe had lying around the adobe.
O’Keeffe was a minimalist who favored small piles of found rocks, sticks and bones, over big piles of Chanel tweeds and Limoges china.
O’Keeffe did keep a few inexpensive sculptures from the Far East around though.
Wisdom From O’Keeffe’s Bedroom
One Indian object of hers that fascinates me is the bronze abhaya mudra O’Keeffe had plastered into the curving wall of her bedroom to the left of her kiva/ fireplace. (No photos available.)
Mudras are symbolic hand gestures used in Indian dance, Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies, yoga and statuary. The abhaya mudra stands for, “have no fear.”
Have No Fear?
Did O’Keeffe put up the abhaya mudra to banish fear from her thoughts?
Or is it more likely she placed it there to help her deal with the fears she felt?
One of my favorite quotes of O’Keeffe’s is this one she gave to an interviewer in her 80th year:
“I’m frightened all the time. Scared to death. But I’ve never let it stop me. Never.”
— Georgia 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 O’Keeffe
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 friend of mine who actually displays “The Right Stuff.”
How To Tromp A Troll
Last month 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 my hero 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 even 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.”
Do you have a fear that is based on the opinion of others?
Is there a way to turn that fear into fuel?
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.
O’Keeffe and Christy teach me 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 gifted labor leader who often said: “Remember, on the right day, you can take on anything.”
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
It’s easy to forget but the life achievements you and I are most proud of, wouldn’t have come to pass unless we kept on despite our fear.
Please leave a comment below if you’ve ever been trolled or can relate to Christy’s story.