Risk is an Indispensable Ingredient for Creative Growth

Why artists need to take chances

Christopher P Jones
5 min readMay 23

Photo by Svetlana Pochatun on Unsplash

In 1972, the performance artist Chris Burden devised an artwork in protest against the Vietnam War: he asked his friend to shoot him with a .22 calibre rifle.

He explained his motives:

“I had an intuitive sense that being shot is as American as apple pie. We see people being shot on TV, we read about it in the newspaper. Everybody has wondered what it’s like. So I did it.”

The bullet hit his arm and he survived the ordeal with a memorable work of performance art to his name.

Risk in creativity comes in many different forms: extreme performance works like these are not the only way — or indeed the preferred way — to explore creative risk. It was the right sort of risk for Burden.

Still, it’s necessary for every creative person to take a risk at some point, to venture into the unknown and learn something new, whether the result is success or failure. Pablo Picasso captured the spirit when he said:

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

In relation to creativity, risk is about experimenting with and stretching your normal patterns of behaviour. It means choosing the things you wouldn’t typically do, moving beyond the expected and perhaps even doing the very thing you’re most afraid of.

Forging New Paths

In their own time, the Impressionist painters were risk-takers.

“The critics are eating us alive,” wrote Camille Pissarro in a letter to a friend after the opening of the First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874.

Born out of a collaboration between Pissarro and fellow artist Claude Monet, the Impressionists mounted their own exhibitions as a challenge to the annual Paris Salon after many artists found that their works failed to adhere to the Academy’s traditional standards.

Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet. Oil on canvas. 63 × 48 cm. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, France. Image source Wikimedia Commons

And so the Impressionists took the gamble of organising their own shows. Despite…