dot 30: fear

What if we thought of fear as an amazing act of the imagination?

– Karen Thompson Walker –

It’s hard to ignore the gnawing of (artistic) fear in my head at times. Not long after an initial mark-making of sorts, fear starts seeping into my mind. The result of this ever-encroaching problem is that I start fearing the result this may have on my creative process. And, as most creatives know, fear is the creative straight-jacket.

Any one that has ever raised a young child will remember the ease at which young children draw their inner stories. And, even though their fears are often extraordinarily vivid, the young possess the ability to link fear and imagination in a positive and productive way that propels them forward in play.

The novelist, Karen Thompson Walker, explores how fear propels imagination as it forces us to imagine possible futures. Instead of needing to ‘conquer’, ‘fight’, ‘discard’ or ‘overcome’ fear, Walker asks us to looks at fear in a fresh way which invites us to think of fear as stories. Sharing the same architecture, both fear and stories have characters (us), plots (life), vivid imagery, suspense, and most importantly, that time is projected forward by the question: ‘What will happen next?’

This takes me to the most interesting part of what Walker has to share:

If we think of our fears as stories, we should think of ourselves as the authors of those stories. But just as importantly as the readers of our fears.

To be honest, I have never considered reading my fears. Like many other people on the planet, I have been encouraged to understand fear as a hurdle to overcome. For me, the act of reading conjures up images of slow-time, openness, expectancy, relaxation, enjoyment, exploration, immersion and listening to what the author has to say. This is not a place of restriction, but rather one of learning and listening to what is to be read.

The painter Lisa Golightly (USA) says that fear propels her beyond and into future imaginative spaces. Reading what she has to say about the work of creativity (‘Don’t put up barriers that aren’t there – just get to work and make something’), Golightly has the combination of temperament that Walker says a good reader requires: the passion of the artist as well as the head-space of the scientist. Golightly is clearly both author and reader here. Following her lead, I am reminding myself of the following as I work on canvas for the first time in 20 years:

A college professor once told me that if I was afraid of something, that meant I had to do it , and that has basically shaped my life.

Reading one’s artistic fear thus becomes ‘am amazing act of imagination’ as Walker predicts.


  • Lisa Golightly:
  • In Creative Block (2014) edited by Danielle Krysa, Chronicle Books LLC ISBN: 978-1-4521-1888-8


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