Fear and Creativity

This article discusses the links between fear and creativity and shares some perspectives that may be helpful in pursuing our creative impulses. There are some typical impacts of fear that have more to do with our physical being. Fear is one of the most powerful, natural and primitive human emotions. Fear can come from real threats, or from dangers that we imagine.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

NIKON 1 V2 + 10.0-30.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ ISO 3200, 1/20, f/5.0

Fear can be exciting.

Watching suspense or horror movies, or riding on rollercoasters can create fear which some people find exciting. Perhaps almost addictive. The rush of adrenaline and other chemicals in our bodies create unique physical sensations.

Colored pencil filter, example 3

Fear can keep us safe.

Feeling fear is a basic human emotion and can help to keep us physically safe. Responding to the fears that we may face while hiking along a remote trail may be necessary and prudent. While responding to our need for physical safety, our fear may come into play as we ponder innovative ways to capture a particular image that we have in our mind. Especially when the physical access needed simply is not available to us.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 32mm f/1.2, efov 86.4mm, f/1.2, 1/1250, ISO-160

So, while fear can help keep us safe, it can also be self-limiting in terms of our physical experiences. On the positive side, it can serve as a mental catalyst to find a solution to a physical barrier that we may face.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 41mm, efov 111mm, f/5, 1/20, ISO-3200, extension tubes

Fear builds self-awareness.

When we are engaged in the creative process and experience fear it can be a signal that we are bumping up against, or perhaps crossing, a recognized creative boundary. This could be a societal one or may be a self-defined limitation. Either way, our fear builds awareness about the potential we face to cross into new creative territory.

Nikon 1 j5 + 1 Nikon 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 72mm, efov 194 mm,, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

Fear can be caused through social interaction and rejection.

From a creative perspective one of the most common sources of fear arise from our social interactions with others and the risk that we may face rejection. The level of our fear can be directly proportional to the degree to which we place value on our social relationships.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 60mm, efov 162mm, f8. 1/320, ISO-160

In situations where we place a very high value on being accepted by others, or eliciting praise from them, our level of psychological fear can increase.

Frame 4, Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm, f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-800

Fear of rejection.

One of the roots of creative conformity is the fear of rejection. Our consumption of social media can contribute to this fear becoming insidious. Operating somewhat under the surface of our every day existence, we may not be fully aware to the extent that our fear of rejection is holding back our creativity. We begin to focus on ‘likes’ rather than exploring our creative impulses and our potential desire to experiment and innovate. Our goals may become pleasing others and conforming to their definitions of what is acceptable.

Jpeg made using the Bas Relief filter.

Fear of failure.

For many folks the fear of failure can be debilitating. To them, failing at something means that they are failures in life. They experience failure as something deeply personal. Their levels of self-worth and self-confidence may be shaken to their very core. In extreme cases they may completely lose connection with their potential worth as human beings.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 75mm, ISO 160, 1/50, f/8.0

When we look through history at people who were great creators in their chosen fields of endeavor, we find people who viewed their failures as important milestones along their creative paths. They didn’t fear failure, but rather embraced it. To them experiencing failures were important opportunities for increased knowledge and personal growth.

If most of us were asked to define failure we would likely be able to quickly identify a list of factors, or could describe a specific situation. When the definition of failure is taken to an extreme and we are asked to describe ‘rock bottom’ many of us would have a very clear idea of what that means to us.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 12.1mm, efov 32.7mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-160

In that context the fear of failure does have a limit. Once we hit ‘rock bottom’ there is nothing else left.  We have reached the worst possible of human conditions, potentially on both physical and psychological levels.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-640

It is fascinating to learn about the struggles of many of the world’s greatest creative minds and the societal rejection and physical conditions that they endured, as they produced what became seminal life works.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 22.9mm, efov 61.8mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160

Fear of success.

Achieving some level of success can cause fear. The root of this fear is anchored in our self perception that we may have just reached the pinnacle of our creative output. We may fear that we may not be capable of improving upon that success. The result can be that we ride on our own coat tails and live life retrospectively… looking back on our past success… but avoiding creating anew. Hitting ‘rock bottom’ can be a well-defined state. Achieving our personal potential through our creativity is not.

A simple look at the musical careers of many artists reveals a litany of ‘one hit wonders’. Doing an internet search for ‘one hit wonders’ will even provide lists of musical artists broken down by decade. These artists achieved their momentary glimpses of market acceptance and fame, only to quickly disappear into history.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 52mm, efov 140mm, f/5.6, 2.0 sec, ISO-160

Success can be defined in many ways. If we create with the specific goal of achieving fame and fortune, we are chasing fool’s gold. Relying on others to define our ‘success’ is to put our future in the hands of subjective and fickle people.

Olympus TG-5 @ 12 mm, efov 66.7 mm, f/3.8, 1/50, ISO-1600

Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

Regardless of the fears that we may face, the key is to feel the fear, and do it anyway. None of us can predict how our creations will be received by others. For creators, the joy is in the act of creation. Creativity is an innately human quality. It matters not where you find your creativity. It could be with your camera, or with a keyboard. With a paint brush, or with woodworking tools. In your garden, or in your kitchen. It could be in business, or in your personal hobbies.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 46 mm, efov 124 mm, f/5.6 1/20, ISO-3200

Our individual creativity is one of the most important gifts that we each have been given. Find it. Understand it. Use it. Share it with others. When you do, you will help make the world a better place. Even if just for a few, fleeting moments.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD, 20mm, efov 54mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-450

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. This is the 1,038th article published on this website since its original inception.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 57mm, efov 154mm, f/4.2, 1/125, ISO-3200

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