the fear project

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Julie M. Elman is conquering fear, one phobia at a time. An associate professor at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, the fears that she illustrates are not her own; they are visual interpretations of others' concerns. Though the genesis of the project came from a fear we all share—the trepidatious blank page and the pressure to be creative. "I teach courses in publication design, and in my classes, I talk a lot about moving beyond the fear of that scary blank page. ... The Fear Project sprang from my own fears, one of them being how to manage the creative process. I also watched my design students struggle with their own fears of creating and taking visual risks, and I wondered how to best encourage them to move past creative blocks."

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Since February 2012, Julie has explored topics that range from the somewhat silly to the serious. "The specific fear themes run the gamut and include failure, losing a child, centipedes in the shower, the impulse to jump off high places, small holes, escalators, dying alone and needles." The statements of fear are gathered from family, colleagues and perfect strangers.

"During my process of illustrating other people's fears, I have become much more aware of just how pervasive fear really is. I'm starting to notice more and more how the topic of fear creeps into the collective conversation (interviews, articles, essays, everywhere) — and I started to think about how fear can be either crippling to people, or a driving force to motivate people to move past it."

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"People often ask me if it’s depressing to work on these fear pieces. The short answer is no. It’s actually quite the opposite: Some people have expressed gratitude for giving them a chance to see their fear in a way that makes the fear less powerful in their own lives. Some tell me that they feel better knowing they are not alone with their particular fear struggles. I’ve discovered that this project has resonated strongly with people — simply because of how deeply embedded fear is in most of our everyday lives."

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"I have come to learn that many people feel validated after seeing their fears visualized in an interpretive, yet non-judgmental way. They can come face to face whatever fears they have in a non-threatening way."

To read more of Julie's insights gained from this project, please spend some time on her website. Perhaps you'll see one of your own fears illustrated and its grip will become less powerful.