Tonight is the start of the spring semester for me. It is a source of nervousness for me and, I assume, my students. They are nervous because they are entering an environment full of unknowns: who will be their classmates, what the class will be like or if the professor will be an ass or not (yes, yes I will).
I am nervous due to self-doubt. I enter every semester with this feeling that I am not good enough to teach, that I just don’t know my shit well enough to get the lessons across, or that the students will see through this façade of competence. It is amazing to me how that feeling occurs at the beginning of every semester, yet within the first 30 minutes of the first class it always fades away.
It is the exact same feeling I get whenever I approach a blank piece of paper or a new piece of wood or stone. I was told by grandfather when I was a kid that it is in the moment before that fear lives. For me it is always the fear of failing; that I am not up to the task before me.
The thing about making art, and teaching, is that you have to overcome that fear in order to get anything done. You are going to fail a lot when making art. This is not just a product of learning the techniques and building skill level, it is the natural outcome of pushing yourself and your art into new directions. It is my belief that if you aren’t failing in your art making process you aren’t stretching yourself enough. Not all ideas are good ideas, or, at the least, not all ideas are realizable in their original form. But you cannot determine what ideas are good or how an idea will morph until you begin and accept that you will fail and find within your failures a nugget that informs your next step.
In making art and teaching it is not failure you need to conquer, but the fear of it. As Paul Atreides said:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing…only I will remain.