Laura Fowle: overcoming the fear of messing up

#FOMU: Fear of Messing Up – Progressing as a young artist in the real world is tough. Pressures of money, time, and the self-inflicted relentless questioning of ‘what am I doing?’ is enough to cause the toughest of young artists to waver. We get it, who thought it was ever going to be easy? However, something that tops all other fears, for me, is F.O.M.U. The fear of messing up.

It’s all very frustrating, because its self-provoked and self-detrimental and something that needs to be quashed. Shifting from the university environment where talking about your work and ideas was a constant requirement that it almost becomes second nature to an environment where you no longer have a captive audience – it almost feels like starting from square one once entering the big bad real world.

It’s as if any chance conversation you may have at a private view, an opening or even just in your local pub could hold potential to bigger and better things – and no one wants to mess up or miss out on getting bigger better things?! It’s the fear of messing these encounters up that will, annoyingly, in turn probably make you mess them up. It has become apparent that you need to learn how to engage and convince strangers of your work without seeming too self-involved or too pushy or too needy – but how?

First off, probably an obvious one but Practice Makes Perfect. It’s true. I think back to cringe-worthy conversations I have had where every sentence starts with ‘kinda’, ‘sorta’, ‘ummmm’, I was not confident and don’t get me wrong I am certainly not a totally transformed character now, but it has been so helpful to repeat these types of engagement in work to clarify and build an air of certainty in what it is I am doing. Whether it’s a studio visit or quite literally a stranger you met on the train, it is important to own the idea of saying ‘I’m an artist’. I found this the hardest at first, but I guess I can’t expect others to trust in my work or me if I can’t even myself.

Having the benefit of sharing a studio with three artists I admire and that share similar ideas to myself has been an amazing tool to practice these types of conversations on. It is really important to keep asking yourself or getting others to ask you simple questions that will come up when engaging with strangers about your work outside of the studio environment.

‘So, tell me about your work?’
‘What made you use this method instead of that ?’
‘How did you find yourself pursuing this line of enquiry?’
‘What is it about this that you find engaging?’

To name a few

Secondly, I say with caution, but tell the truth. I recently had a studio visit with someone who had found and contacted me, a dream situation! A captive audience! But I was unsure on what to show, what to say, how honest to be about my work and where I was at. I took the angle of honesty, and to be honest, I think it paid off. It made me relax, I wasn’t over thinking what I was trying to get across or say. When a question was asked I wasn’t quite sure how to answer, it was easier and more helpful to be honest and talk further about it than it would of been to try and blag it and hope for the best.

Sometimes your practice will hit a point where you literally have no clue what it is you are doing or why. I have been told this is completely normal. It happens to everyone. However, more often than not this is when a studio visit would have been arranged and you will be uncomfortably forced to try and pull it together to convince not only yourself but also the visitor of your capabilities and your practice. This is where honesty helps. The wonderful Ceri Hand gave us all some brilliant advice on how to handle this situation. Keep talking! Be honest! Talk about a book you have been reading, a TV show you have watched, your journey to the studio – all of these things you are interested in feed into your practice and give the visitor a better understanding of you.

Although a studio visit is about seeing your work and talking about your ideas, it’s also a far more intimate insight into you as a person and as an artist. If they just wanted to learn more about your work, they could read a press release, a studio visit is the opportunity to give more than what the general public would get from coming to one of your shows. And even more of a relief, 9 times out of 10, you are not fighting to convince or engage the visitor of your work. Its a different type of conversation to that, they would have already had some interest in your work and are genuinely wanting to learn more – so relax!

As a final thought, I would say is fundamentally important to just keep trying. Lose the fear! Keep working, keep talking to strangers at private views and openings and keep practicing talking about your work in more relaxed situations. This will help you to get a clearer idea of what it is about your practice which is most important and which must be conveyed. If the person you are talking to has to leave remembering one thing about your work what would you want it to be?

Some homework here: the challenge to set yourself is to not allow yourself to leave a private view or opening without speaking with at least one new person. Terrifying, I know, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

Relax, more will come, seize the moment, don’t over think it, take your own advice

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