Anxiety has always been my constant companion. And it exists in the art studio as well. It's a common topic and frustrated art students joke about drinking a glass of wine before painting, so I thought, maybe there is something to this. However, when trying to paint heartfelt emotion, wine only numbs the senses and works against me.
Despite still being anxious, and not finding a solution in red wine I have been able to break through the nagging self doubt and cruel critical voice that seemed hell bent on limiting my artistic pursuits. Without having resolved some of this, there is no way I would be painting abstract. Anxiety LOVES abstract work! The ambiguity leaves so many more doors open for self doubt. With representational work, you might think ugh it's terrible, but hey, I can still tell it's a flower. Embarking on working in an abstract style means less certainty, confidence and context.
I'm still anxious when I talk to people about my art, and with every compliment a friend or acquaintance offers, a little voice in my head says "they are just trying to be nice". Note: Please don't stop being nice. But in the actual studio. I am free! What I believe made the biggest difference was showing up and creating no matter how loud the voices in my head chanted that I can't, that I'm delusional, that I'll never be better. I read a meditation book (can't remember which one) that helped me realize that those voices are voices of love. That rather then wanting to hurt me, those voices are trying to protect me from disappointment, vulnerability and pain. If they stopped me perhaps I'd never know the pain of failure of the possibility that I'm not good enough. So rather then fighting against those voices I thanked them. I meditate before I start painting and part of that meditation is thanking those voices for wanting to protect me. It helps me react differently when I hear them. Instead of thinking, hmmm, maybe it's true, I think, thank you for wanting to keep me safe, but it's okay, I am safe.
Over time that has helped me quiet the anxious voices. Sharing paintings in progress and my messy studio is also part of it, it feels a bit like immersion therapy... I'm the person with arachnophobia touching a dock spider every time I post these images... Listening to podcasts when the voices emerge has also helped. Focusing my thinking critical brain on something analytical seems to satisfy it. I have been more able to turn podcasts off in favour of music these days. And the music is so absolutely necessary. The right music connects me to what I'm feeling so that I'm more able to apply that feeling to my canvas. If I want to create paintings that result in contemplation and feeling, I need to put that in there to begin with. I've been listening to the same Eva Cassidy songs for months now and there isn't a day where her soulful words don't bring me to tears. That emotion is also sometimes overwhelming, but not like anxiety, and I do thank my anxiety for stepping back and making space for me to genuinely experience them all...
Working with anxiety in my art practice has improved my struggle with anxiety in other parts of my life. I also know how to hide it well. But I use the same strategies in my day-to-day life as I do in my studio, meditation and gratitude, and in all honesty, when those two fail.... Distraction and a glass of wine.