Merriam-Webster defines fear as, “to be afraid (of something or someone); to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant); to be afraid and worried”.
Fear is the emotion we feel when there is a specific and immediate threat to our physical self. We address this threat through the “fight or flight” response, or, in cases of extreme terror, through the “freeze response”.
Fear is a basic emotion tapping into a very primitive involuntary circuit. When we encounter fear, it takes over the brain and the body, elbowing out all other thoughts, and leading to bodily processes of sweating and shaking. Other rapid and instinctive actions include expanding sensory surfaces to take in more information by raising eyebrows, opening eyes wide, and stretching lips horizontally to scream or shout.
Fear can also be a story that we tell ourselves. This story may involve the future development of a threat towards something we value – security, health, life, money, or property. These fears are often learned, can be as real as the those involving imminent physical danger, and are different but closely related to anxiety. While fear is the focus on “a known external danger”, anxiety is “a generalized response to an unknown threat or internal conflict”.
In the Caricatures series of sketches, the artist depicts Fear by a person cowering under the bedcovers at the sight of spectral arms reaching out towards the person. The hair is standing on end, the face is covered, the eyes are wide, and danger is imminent. Everyone will recognize this feeling of fear – where all you want to do is to make the fear inducing object go away.
The artist preparing the Watercolors series of sketches used different imagery, but equally evocative of the feeling of fear. A person is entering a pitch black room and is becoming aware of something inside the room. The image plays up our human unease with threats that lie waiting for us in darkness. It also represents imminent personal danger and the story we tell ourselves of a developing threat.