My work feels alien, raw and unstable. It makes me feel uneasy and worried. Should I still pursue it?

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People love comfort zones. They offer low levels of stress and anxiety, and represent temporary safe havens. While being in constant comfort might sound perfect, it also includes the risks of boredom and stagnation; in the right amounts, anxiety can actually improve one’s performance. Since art strives towards the unknown and unestablished, artists need to find realistic ways to be exploratory and productive.

In the best case, exposure to unknowns would let you thrive: your courage would increase, and your life would become larger and less vulnerable. Reality is often different: departing from established routes can make you feel alien. That’s weird, since pursuing individual standards is an essential human trait: how to dress, what music to listen to, how to dance or talk or think – how to live and be. Yet humans also want to belong and feel embedded. The conflict between one’s individuality and social attachments requires self-empathy, and knowledge about one’s deepest hopes and fears: do you feel loved and appreciated? Why not? What are the sources of your worries? The challenge is to balance one’s individuality (one’s need for personal expression) with one’s needs for external appreciation (one’s need for belonging). This topic touches deeply: it represents another aspect of your lifelong quest to find a place in the world, and to understand what it might mean to be ourselves.

What aesthetics you pursue (“Yes, I really wanted to install the work like this!”) and enjoy (“Yes, I loved that movie, even though you didn’t!”), what tools you use and how you use them, which materials and semantics you focus: the more you pursue standard, established processes, the more aligned you might be with public tastes. The more you deviate, the less you might be understood by the general public; yet the more appreciation you might receive from society’s avant-garde. Even though today’s world is more diverse than ever before, there are endless unwritten rules on what’s right and what’s wrong, and what codes to follow – differing by individuals and sub-group. You might realize that your way of being isn’t compatible with the people whose attention you crave. In addition, creating work that feels deviant and new to you, doesn’t imply it feels like that to your surroundings: instead, it might say more about your lacking knowledge of art history and pop culture, which can feel diminishing on yet another level. The only way to get through this is to stay radically open-minded towards knowledge transfer, and to breathe in all of society’s past, current and future offerings. 

Yes, you want to pursue exactly what makes you feel uneasy. To an art practice’s curious apprentice (a status we should never abandon), there can’t be stupid questions, and nothing can be alien or unstable enough. It’s mostly ego or fear that hold you back, that let you refrain from experiments. Yet feeling uneasy is predominantly a sign of needing further information about your work and what it could be, if you only followed through with it for some more weeks or months. Maybe you’re lacking knowledge about how to position it for others. Maybe you’re overworked and don’t see what’s right in front of you.

Imagine a process that would never feel alien, wouldn’t ever feel raw or unstable; a process that would always feel easy and worry-free: while this might sound magical to someone who’s stressed and anxious, it would represent the one thing that artists usually can’t afford long-term: stagnation.

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