How our survival instincts make it harder to create art. ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ This newsletter is about drawing. It goes out every Friday. Want to draw? Then check out my free workbook!

#145 - An Interesting Way Our Survival Instincts Influence Our Art (Part 2)

How our survival instincts make it harder to create art.

some of my sketchbook pages

Our human brains have developed quite a bit over the past millions of years, but at the center of it is still our “reptile brain,” which acts on instinct for our survival and procreation.

We are also a social species, and status matters for procreation. If you have a high status, you will attract more attention from the opposite sex, so your reptilian brain will try to prevent you from taking risks that lower your status within the group.

And here’s the thing: making art is risky. You risk lowering your status in the group if your art is ridiculed for its poor quality. And so your reptilian brain constantly tries to talk you out of making art. It tries to talk you out of starting to make art, and so you procrastinate. If you manage to start, it tries to talk you out of finishing a piece of art. It’ll tell you your art is crap and to throw it away.

Don’t Break The Streak!

some of my sketchbook pages
My streak habit tracker lets you track how many days you drew. You get stars, which allow you to take days off. After that, you can take a photo similar to the one above, with the day of the streak recorded in the image.

Streak Habit Tracker

You’ve probably experienced this also. Art is a status game in several ways. Being “good” has high status. Being “bad” at art yet still trying is perceived as having low status while owning works by well-known artists has high status. Knowing art history has a high status.

It’s a status game for the outside world but not for us artists. We just enjoy creating. But we still have that reptilian brain that tries to instinctively and compulsively increase our status and odds of finding a partner.

What works for me is to tell myself I won’t show it to anyone. I reserve the back of my sketchbook (which I don’t show anyone) for having fun with a pen. This lowers the barrier to starting. And there’s no such thing as finishing, as I’m not making anything. I’m just drawing.

There will probably be scientists who say the “reptilian brain” theory is an oversimplification, but that is beside the point. What is important is that telling myself that I won’t show my art to anyone shuts up the part of my brain that actively tries to stop me from drawing. It works. And if a bogus explanation helps, then it helps.

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