Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Here are some wise words from the landscape painter Birge Harrison, about 100 years ago.

But what is fearlessness in painting? Is it the same as courage? It is the opposite of timidity? What fears must each of us overcome? The fear of starting, of finishing, of failing, of not selling?

One thing I tell myself is that I can’t get hurt if I try something bold or different. So what if it doesn’t work out? I won’t sprain a finger. I might just wreck a piece of paper.

Fearlessness comes to mind when I’m working in pen and ink or watercolor. These two media require absolute commitment, or conviction as Harrison might call it. I also think about fearlessness when I’m embarking on a composition, to urge myself to avoid playing it safe--to push things to extremes.

Maybe fearlessness is really another word for letting loose that wild impulse, the artistic imp. We all have it, and it has to be let out of the cage more often, especially if the judicious, analytic part of us is the one usually holding the pencil. But fearlessness isn’t the same as recklessness. Both chaos and control must be at work together.
The excerpt is from Landscape Painting by Birge Harrison, 1910, available as a free PDF on Google Books.
Drawing by J.C. Coll. More about Coll at BPIB.


Colin Campbell said...

Thanks for posting this for all of us. At the best of times this is a great thing to be reminded of, and even more so when struggling with a piece or trying to find the courage to create.
Thanks again, sir.

Julian Wong said...

Well put.
Thank you.
Your blog has become my daily artistic compass. :)

jeff jordan said...

I always think of it like this: if I know what I'm doing, then I've probably already done it before. I'm really not interested in repeating myself.......

Celia said...

Thanks for reminding us, and it seems it's easier to tone down the fearless, wild ideas, than to shore up something less juicy.

Jim Maddox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Maddox said...

Oops had a misspell, that was me that just deleted. I'm a brand NEW Gurneyhead. I don't have the fear factor as much as I let the preconceived Frustration & Stress factor stop me from starting. I'm still wrestling with color & realism technique & get bent out of shape when things don't work out in my paintings.
Once I do go ahead & it works out half decent - I'm glowin' & crowin'. But come the next one I'm back with the reluctance again - but at least I'll eventually get back in the ring!

Libby Fife said...

As a woman who reads the blogs of other women artists (art quilts, mixed media, painting, illustrating)I often see that word "fear" applied to lots of things. Fear of choosing the wrong fabric or color, fear of using certain colors, fear of trying a technique, fear of messing up the project, etc. I have often thought that using that word was a gender based decision and have wished that as women, we could all choose a different way of expressing this emotion. I see though that men may have the same problem. Our choice of words is so important in conveying something about us to the world at large. Thank you for bringing up the topic. I wrote about it myself just recently and I don't think that it can be discussed too much.

Anonymous said...

I really needed to hear this..


Deborah said...

I call it "stepping off the cliff", being willing to try what you don't already know how to do. It so often turns out not to be a disastrous drop but a mere step off a curb, leading you across unknown territory to see what you need to learn, if nothing else. We all learned to walk despite a lot of falling down!