The Anxiety of Choosing

Posted August 25 2016

The Thirty Day Art Challenge begins this week. I’ve decided to focus on small collaged owls. And this is how that dance goes. First: Excitement. I have a solid goal and I imagine all the possibilities of working with owls, something that brings me real joy. Followed by second: Panic. I can’t help but feel anxiety about all the ideas I won’t be working on because I’ve chosen to work on owls. What if I’ve made a bad choice? What if I’ve missed out on progress in another area like florals or figures?

Choosing is hard and can be a great source of artistic anxiety. Unless you have incredible mental discipline, choosing isn’t a simple game. We’re not machines. It doesn’t involved choosing to turn in a direction and never looking back. It means choosing to turn in a direction and then spending 80% of our energy trying to not look back.

Part of this is that before we choose, everything is possible. What an amazing land to live in where everything is possible. We all know, however, the perils of getting stuck there. Have you ever known a person who talked about all the ideas she had but she never actually tried any of them? The siren song of endless possibilities was stronger than the work it takes to choose. And I’ll admit, for a long time, that person was me.

David Bayles & Ted Orland write in their much loved book Art & Fear, “The development of an imagined piece into an actual piece is a progression of decreasing possibilities, as every step in execution reduces future options by converting one- and only one- possibility into reality.”

That is true for a single piece and it’s true for choosing a direction for focus. Bayles/Orland write, “A finished piece is, in effect, a test of correspondence between imagination and execution.”

So as I go into this challenge or really, any day in my studio, I will try to keep this correspondence in mind. Because as much fun as it is to revel in all the possibilities at our fingertips, getting better means stepping out of the ideas into the realty of choosing and getting to work.

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Artist Kelly Anne Powers is getting to work over at her blog. You can also find her on Instragram and Facebook.