The art of being afraid.

I just read about a study from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (so it must be true) that says that when people are exposed to abstract art they can register many of the symptoms of fear.  What are those symptoms? Uncertainty, meaninglessness, a loss of hope, even terror. Gulp.

bstract painting has always challenged the casual viewer. It’s tempting to judge art by how much it looks like its subject. We want to have a yardstick to measure it by, and ‘reality’ seems the easiest one. People don’t like ambiguity. We don’t want to be challenged or confused. We want our meat and ‘taters just like Mother used to make. So we turn away from difficult art, dismissing it as a con, a mess, seeking strength in denial.

But art has the power to go beyond confirming what we already know. It can stretch us past our comfort zones and prepare us to face the unknown. And facing the unknown is a crucial survival skill, one we have to exercise every day if we are to survive.

Get used to the fact that you can’t control everything in your environment. That there may not be an explanation or a code for all you encounter. Some things are strange. And instead of feeling helpless in their presence, empower yourself with the knowledge that you are resilient and resourceful, and trust that you will find you footing even on new ground.

Go and stand before a Pollock, a Rothko, a Kiefer, breathe deep, and plunge in. You will emerge tougher and more flexible, ready to deal with reality when the picture isn’t pretty.