Hanna, fairy tales, fear and art

"Girl with Ladybug Skirt"

'Girl with Ladybug Skirt' Kate Forman Copyright 2005

This weekend I saw the movie Hanna. LOVED it. Loved everything about it: Saoirse Ronan’s mug, the soundtrack, the spunky best friend, and all of the fairy tale references and imagery. Mostly, though, I loved that it focused on a 16 year old girl who’s major problems in life weren’t a cute boy at school, a wardrobe malfunction, or an un-realistic curfew. Hanna fights for her life — and in that way the movie comes closer to an actual fairy tale than most that revolve around a young female.

‘Hanna’ made me think about a used book-store gem of mine: Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.‘  He asserts many interesting claims, but mainly that our sanitized approach to children’s stories in modern times (1976 for him) cripples their greatest value: the fear. It’s the heros’ and heroines’ fear and fight for survival that makes the story valuable, and any watering down of it, he states, doesn’t allow the reader, often a child, the valuable opportunity of imagining themselves in the same situation. By leaving fairy tales scary and dark, as opposed to Disney-fied, a child can confront their own dark fears and grow.

Bruno Bettelheim was a complex man who may have bought into his own mythology too much, and therefore leaves a controversial legacy, but I like that he embraces fear and darkness in fairytales. Art should provoke and inspire, especially if it taps into what we’re most afraid of. It’s not the axe wielding masked maniac in our closet: it’s our potential. That’s what really scares the crap out of us.

I know it scares me, and it took me a long time to realize that it was fear that kept me from making art. Many things helped me name it, including an amazing book that my even more amazing sister gave me: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ArtMaking,’ by David Bayles & Ted Orland.

The book, and years of wrestling, allowed me to confront the fear that I wasn’t good enough for the art: that I didn’t have a right to take time to paint, or assert to the world that I was an artist. That somehow ART was bigger than me, and who was I to claim it, and what would happen to me if I did.

Every time an artist comes to their art making place, they create a fairy tale. They confront their existence, their hands, their creativity, all crippling judgement has to be conquered and slayed: a giant critical dragon that stands in the way of allowing the artist space and time to just be.

So, with my own soundtrack, and with my own vocabulary of fantastical imagery: I’m off to slay the dragon — it’s time to paint.


2 thoughts on “Hanna, fairy tales, fear and art

  1. Wow, what a great post! And so true, too…. I saw the movie as well (loved it!) but didn’t even think of it in terms of a fairy tale. And now that I’ve read your post I like ‘Hanna’ even more.

    Both the books you mention are on my shelf; I’ve read ‘Art & Fear’ (found it in a used bookstore, began reading it in the car on the way home, and KNEW that the Cosmos had led me to it, it was that important) but not ‘The Uses of Enchantment’, at least not yet. The author’s idea that the fear in fairy tales is necessary is something I totally agree with.

    But it was when I read down to your sentence about the fact that it’s our own potential that really scares the crap out of us that I had a serious a-ha moment. Thank you! And I hope you don’t mind if I share your words, because they’re too poignant not to be shared.

    Again: awesome post, Kate! And the artwork linked to it is PERFECT. 🙂


    • That’s really cool that both books are on your shelves too! :0) I’ll be honest, though the material referenced is so juicy, I find Mr. Bettelheim’s writing style difficult to plow though — but his observations on fairy tales are (no matter how much of a dark mythological creature he seems to have developed into) really important, I think, and movies like ‘Hana’ are very much in line with what he was talking about.
      I’m really glad you had an ah-ha moment about ‘potential’ too, my own criticism and self doubt is the strongest anti-motivator I’ve got — so we’ll fight in solidarity!
      Along those lines, Delayne, it would be a great honor if you shared this — thank you so much for all your support and kind words!!

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