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Appropriate Fear

by Jack White on 3/21/2012 9:54:30 AM

This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world.  Jack authored six Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. 

 

When I was in the eighth grade, my cousin and I spent our weekends during the school year out in the wilderness living off the land. We would leave when we got home from school late Friday and return Sunday night in time for supper. My uncle was a foreman on an 18,000 acre cattle ranch. There was plenty to explore, rivers and creeks were abundant with fish and all the wild game we could eat roamed the area.

 

On one of our trips we discovered a huge underground cave with a double entrance - much like a jug with two necks that extended from the ground level into a massive subterranean room. We lugged ropes to the cave, linked them together and then tied one end to a sturdy oak. I went first with the trusty candle. My cousin followed. The room must have been 60’ x 80’ with a 30’ foot ceiling. We discovered broken pottery and arrowheads.

 

When it was time to go back up my cousin, being older, decided it would be better if I followed just in the event he had to pull me up. Looking back, I realize he was scared and pulled age rank on me. When I got to the rope, my light illuminated the space under the ledge. My eyes caught movement. I’ve never seen so many rattlesnakes in my life. The ground was covered with slithering killers and, as if on cue, they all began to rattle at the same moment. I guess the light woke them up. I have never been that scared before or since. I could almost feel them biting my legs as I scurried up the rope.

 

This is what I mean by appropriate fear. There are times when it’s natural to have terror. I would have been brain dead not to have been frightened.

 

My uncle said the cavern had been the winter meeting place where the Comanche held council. I’ve always wondered if anyone else ever explored the big room. It was an archeologist’s trove of historical evidence.

 

This is not original with me, but I’ve used the illustration many times. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. Most of the things we fear will never happen. There are some wires in our brain that warn us of false danger with the same intensity of the real thing. This makes it difficult to train your children on what to fear. “Don’t get in cars with anyone but your parents,” you say. Then you ask your new next door neighbor to pick up little Sally because you are tied up in a meeting. Sally refuses to leave the school out of fear she is doing something wrong. Little Sally’s fear is appropriate, because she has no way to discern what is false from real danger.

 

In the Bible, Paul said, “When I was a child I thought like a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” He was saying, it’s okay for a child to have fears, but we adults need to only fear appropriate things.

 

One of my readers wrote. “At the moment it seems like there are so many fears to face: I'm afraid I'm just not good enough, not smart or cool enough to deal with galleries, that I'm too old and it's too late. At the same time, I'm "done" with setting my paintings up in the wind, cold and rain with only tiddlywink results...I want a respectful setting that showcases what I pour into it my work.” Speaking from their heart, they were able to express imagined fear much better than I can.

 

I will never forget my early fears with computers. I was afraid I was going to screw something up. Our first computer was a laptop that cost an outrageous amount. I knew if I hit the wrong button, the thing would explode. I mentioned my fears to the tech guy at the store. He smiled, “You can’t hurt the thing, all you need is a Phillips screwdriver and you can fix what you mess up.” That was a lot of comfort. I struggled with computer fear for several years.

 

We have two solid black shelter rescue cats. One loves to garden with Mikki. The other kitty will run out on the covered back porch until she gets to the edge. Looking up to the open sky, she whirls around and immediately scurries back into the house. The imagined fear of the outdoors is too great for her to give going out a try, while the other cat adventurously climbs trees and on our house. They are sisters, raised exactly the same, yet one is always frightened and the other doesn’t know the meaning of the word FEAR.

 

After I finished writing my fifth art marketing book and got feedback from scores of artists, I came to realize I had not sufficiently addressed their biggest career blocker. FEAR holds more artists back than lack of talent or opportunity. So I wrote Malady of Art: FEAR. Readers tell me this is my most important book. I was able to pull back the imagined and point out what was appropriate fear. If you can’t afford a copy of Malady, email and I’ll send you a free book. I gave away 35 free copies of Magic of Selling Art.

 

I exchanged emails with an artist who was about to visit her first gallery. I could almost feel her hyperventilation on the monitor screen. She had spent several days conjuring up in her mind all the bad things that could happen. She sent me a list of what ifs that covered a page. I wrote her and asked, “You didn’t mention that the gallery owner might eat your children.” She saw the folly of what she had been saying. She emailed back, “You are correct, the very worst thing they can do is say no.”

 

 

Beatin' the Rain ~ Jack White

 

Artists have more imagined fears than writers. Writers will boldly continue to send their manuscript to agent after agent, to publisher upon publisher, until they run out of names. They wear their rejection slips as a badge of honor. Stephen King received several dozen rejection notices for his first novel Carrie. He kept them on a very long spike in his bedroom. One rejection slip read, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. IT DOES NOT SELL.”

 

William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, was rejected by two dozen publishers. John le Carré submitted The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and was told, “You have no future as a writer.” One publisher wrote, “The Diary of Anne Frank is scarcely worth reading.” J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (later Sorcerer’s) was rejected dozens of times by publishers including Penguin, Harper Collins and many others. Blooomsbury, a very small London publisher, only took the project on at the prodding of the CEO’s eight year old daughter. She begged her father to print the book. Her relentlessness helped her father win the lottery of publishing.

 

I love what Frank Sinatra is credited with saying, “The best revenge is massive success.”

 

How many artists reading this have NOT gone to a gallery to seek representation or have NOT entered a show because of their fear of rejection? I suspect the number is larger than we will ever know. Artists shamefully keep those ugly imagined fears secret. Let me tell you something about art galleries. They all quickly learn how to brush artists off. Some are so adapt at telling artists NO that when it happens, you believe their excuse. An artist, I’ve been helping finally worked up the courage to make an appointment with a lower level gallery. When he walked through the door at the appointed time, the owner exclaimed, “I forgot to email you last night. I wanted to save you the drive. We took inventory and have too much art. We are going to have to get rid of some of the artists. Sorry you made the trip.” He is still naive to the industry and bought into her lie. Instead of being honest when he called, she allowed him to fill his heart with hope and drive half the day to reach her gallery. She knew when he called she was not going to carry his work.

 

Here’s the truth about galleries. They ALWAYS have room for an artist whose work sells. Every art gallery in the world has art that is not selling. They are happy to replace that work with some that people will buy. If you make art that people will buy, you will never be without gallery representation.

 

Shows are different. There’s a lot of politics in outdoor shows and festivals. I know of several cases where an artist sold as much as anyone, some were even the top seller. These artists would plan their year of shows and take for granted they were going to be accepted again into Cottonwood, because the past five years they had done very well. They fill in their calendar with Cottonwood and are shocked when they receive a rejection letter with no reasons given. This happens all too often in the tent show world.

 

It’s appropriate to fear being rejected from outdoor shows. Juries change. Maybe at last year’s show you failed to pay proper attention to some lower level administrator who ended up being the head honcho this year. I didn’t mention traditional juried shows because I think they are not worth the effort. Even if you are accepted the chances are 97 to 3 that you will find rejection. One artist will win the first prize and two others a lower level. If you don’t place in the top three, you consider yourself rejected.

 

Artists take rejection much harder than writers. They will mope for weeks trying to recover from a show rejection. Or worse yet, the artist in the booth next to them wins the blue ribbon. The fear of rejection is the core of failure. Artists have a deep memory of how the sting of rejection feels. We go to great efforts not to experience that pain again.

 

It’s very difficult to help artists. If I don’t tell them the truth, I’m not helping. When I tell them the truth, they get their feelings hurt. One guy offered to kick my 80 year old butt for telling him he was not gallery ready. In truth, he had a lot to learn. He didn’t understand warms and cools, how to bring light into his paintings or perspective.

 

I was a baseball pitcher in high school and college. I found batters didn’t like chin music so I would throw my fastball up under the batter’s jaw. The next pitch I threw high and inside, the batter would bail out for fear of being hit. I wasn’t going to hit them because that would award them with a walk to first base. I wanted to create the fear that I was a little wild and could hit them with a ninety mile an hour fast ball. I caught the eye of the then Brooklyn Dodgers scout, but a knee damaged in football ended my professional baseball career before it even began. Yet after all these years, I can still remember the fear in a batter’s eyes when I came in tight. A curve ball low and away always struck him out. Once I had established fear, I owned him.

 

In the art world many are controlled by imagined fear. There are actually very few situations in art that merit appropriate fear. The rattlesnakes artists face are imagined. Unless, of course, you just happen to have found our secret underground cave.



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Topics: advice for artists | art appreciation | Art Business | art gallery tips | art marketing | exposure tips | FineArtViews | inspiration | Jack White | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online 

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 22 Comments

Susan Roux
via faso.com
Just as fear can be debilitating to artists, self confidence can win you undue success. If a gallery sees how confident you are in your work, it often sparks them to give you a chance. But if you approach with your tail between your legs, they'll sooner turn you away feeling if you can't be proud of your own creations, why should they?

This happened to me in a gallery in Blue Hill Maine. I blogged about it.

http://susanroux.blogspot.com/2010/06/without-class.html

Karen Norris
via faso.com
I love your wisdom and insight. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it with the rest of us.

Teresa Madsen
via faso.com
Wonderful article! It was something I needed to hear.

tom weinkle
via faso.com
in my fake boston accent, I say "a real smat post Jack."

Thank you

Nancy Romanovsky
via faso.com
Great article with appropriate analogies! I think I will purchase your book as I know I suffer from fear as you describe. I just started a website and selling my art on dailypaintworks.com but have a plan to build my body of work and start approaching galleries in the coming months. So this is very timely and helpful!

jack white
via faso.com
Nancy,
I need your email address. I think reading Mystery of Making IT will help you the most. I cover the basics of being successful and how to deal with galleries.
Jack
jack@jackwhiteartist.com

Brian Sherwin
via faso.com
Jack -- There is so much imagined fear going around concerning art dealers... artists who automatically assume that all art dealers are out to 'get them', as in cheat them in some way. I often wonder if that extreme, and unwarranted, fear is what has held so many artists back. Caution is a must -- but it must be grounded in reality... not hear-say. This article should hit home with many. Great piece as always.

Sheila
via faso.com
Once again Jack, your analogy and your insite is something I can relate to. I don't fear hiking in the mountains or woods, I don't fear rattlesnakes or bears...I respect them mind you! or bicycling for miles and miles, many things...And I'm not reckless with these things...I have a healthy "fear" and respect for caution and safety....But it is strange that I am more fearful in putting myself out there into the world of galleries...I think for me it is just a big unknown and when I'm ready, I'll tackle it. I do like a challenge, but one where I know I'm in control, I think :-) Great article!

Kathy Chin
via faso.com
Thanks Jack for the great post!
Other than the "normal" fears like heights and big ugly spiders, most of my art fears are small...but for some reason they stay around. Don't really know if it's a fear, but for some reason find lots of ways to avoid.

From now on, unless it's rattlesnakes, hairy, ugly, humongous spiders, or high places, I will dive in head first!

Thanks again for providing common sense and a great visual!

Donald Fox
via faso.com
As soon as I started reading about your cave descent, I thought about snakes at the bottom before you even mentioned them. In the eighth grade I wouldn't have known that though. Now some places I won't go without proper preparation and equipment. This includes galleries or job interviews. A bit of advance research makes dealing with either much easier. If I consider that I'm interviewing them as much as they are interviewing me, it's much easier to go in on equal footing. What's the worst they can do? Say no. I heard more no's growing up from my parents than from anyone else since. A few more won't hurt.

John G Olson
via faso.com
Hay Jack;

I have only just started to paint for the first time in Oct of 2010 I have not taken any class up to this point, but I get so much great Information on the web, and This great site FASO I just get excited and go paint ,I have put my Art in two local Art shows,one in Greenbay and Shawano. I have some of my work displayed in our church and the Libary.
Sorry I will get to the point?
I like it when I get the fed back from anyone at the shows ,I am not that good but I just want to paint I have no fear of rejection I guss that I am not trying that hard to sell any of my work .Idonot have the Art schooling that most have but it is people like you and the many others that give me the inspiertion to do the work and you make us all feel pretty darn relaxed. thanks for your great Blog i read them all and save as many as I can,to refer back to them.You are a true inspiertion to me

Sandra Reeves Cutrer
via faso.com
Jack,
When I read your articles, I feel like I am sitting around a camp fire. I can feel the slight evening breeze as it whips the roaring flames while our marshmallows are roasting! You have such beautiful prose. You remind me of Louis L'Amour,one of my all time favorite authors. I forget what the subject's point is when I'm reading, because I am so caught up in the bones of the story!
Keep writing, while we all learn so much from you!


Marian Fortunati
via faso.com
As part of the curriculum when I was a principal we taught "character". I found it interesting that one of the elements of character is "risk taking".

People need to learn to take APPROPRIATE risks. It is an essential part of character building.

I always enjoy your advice and encouragement, Jack.

jo allebach
via faso.com
Yes, you hit it right on target for me. I know my work is good enough and yet I hold back from approaching galleries for representation. I sell on line some and through a very small gallery in Phoenix.FEAR keeps me from going to other venues. Thanks for clearly telling me that it is irrational fear that needs to be overcome.
I am ready now I just need to do it. Thanks for the motivation.

jack white
via faso.com
Donald Fox

Galleries are a myth to most people, including artists. Only 5 percent off American's have visited an art gallery. I think the unknown is what frightens artists.

You always have such good insights.

Jack

jack white
via faso.com
John,

I'm totally self taught as an artist. I have never attended a workshop. Your not going to art school can be a plus.

I'm helping an artist from the west coast. He has a masters in art, but is struggling to sell his work. The extra education has not helped him in the least.

Make what people like and you will be fine. The client will not care what school you attended or professor you had. I graduated from college with a 5th grade education.

Stay the course, keep asking clients what they like and don't like about your work. DO NOT ask family members. (smile)

Jack

jack white
via faso.com
Thanks to All that had so many nice things to say.

It's hard to be humble when you are a Texan, but you folks have managed to do just that. I feel unworthy of your words of encouragement.

Much obliged, jack

Donald Fox
via faso.com
Thanks for the acknowledgement, Jack. As you well know, your posts are always a delight and appreciated by all. You're an excellent teacher.

Brian Sherwin
via faso.com
Jack -- A lot of people still cling to the 'but you can build a great network of contacts at art school' idea. That may be true -- but there are contacts to be made without ending up $100,000 in debt.

I think art school can be a great experience. That said, if you view attending art school as part of your art marketing goal... well... there are better ways to invest that kind of cash. LOL

There are art collectors who tend to only collect art by artists who attended specific schools, Hunter for example, because it is assumed that work by those artists will be more apt to increase in value. Dealers, at least in NY and other big cities, really took advantage of that mentality prior to 2008. I'd like to think that most collectors are more cautious today -- and think beyond just investment and art market trends.

Now... with the above in mind -- I'd suggest that your average art collector collects for the enjoyment of owning and displaying art. I think the investment-minded collectors make up a small percentage of art collectors overall. That is something each artist must think about -- do you want to be, in a sense, 'stock'... or do you want to cater to those who truly love art for arts sake.

I may be wrong about that, but I also know that some art mags have suggested that there are only about 300 power art collectors in the world -- as in wealthy art collectors who collect based on investment potential alone. the Charles Saatchi variety of art collector.

jack white
via faso.com
Brian,
Yesterday was crazy, I didn't get to respond to your piece.

The galleries we deal with are those we can be on a personal level with. We make ours a team effort and not a gallery/artist deal. The gallery owner and their people become family, so in our case we do bio's that appeals to clients. We don't do a CV.

I suspect there are only a few hundred heavy hitters collecting art. Our target is not art collectors, but folks who collect Senkarik. We are looking for loyalty to us. That's why we call them Members of Team Senkarik.

With that said, we do have two whales that buy her work. One has a house full of old masters and the other collects expensive contempos.

stephen cobleigh
via faso.com
Jack,
Beating the rain.......Holy cow! When people speak about the eternal question "what is art? I think of Beating the Rain. I know people have their unique preferences,lately someone told me cuss words included that" Art Is Art, I know what I like!" Well, I cannot really argue with that to a certain extent it's true. I ponder on just how much thought is involved with this opinion. Still, we are here visiting a life experience and the range of quality from the lowest reflective capacity to the highest is extremely diverse and wide. Once again though when I view works such as Beating the Rain....there is present such an array of various elements that it goes beyond articulation into Holy Cow!
Stephen

Delilah
via faso.com
Hi Jack,
Love the rattle snake story.
The best revenge is massive success.” Isn't that the truth. I have read your book Malady of Art: FEAR. and it has helped a lot. Maybe it's time for a re-read. Now I sit and wonder how I am going to crank up sales an extra $1000.00 a month to cover the increases in insurance and taxes I will be getting in 2014. Sometimes the fear makes you feel like you are swimming up stream.

Again:The best revenge is massive success.” That is my line of attack for 2014.

Hugs
Delilah










 

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