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Professor Julie Elman draws fears on paper. Here, she depicts a girl’s fear of falling asleep. (Via Julie Elman)

Art exhibition will show pieces on fear

Facing fears never looked so good.

Tuesday night the biggest fears of various people, as interpreted by visual communications professor and artist Julie Elman, will be on display.

Elman called it The Fear Project, a mission she said could become her “life’s work.” The premise is simple: someone tells Elman a fear, she takes those words and puts them on paper using gouache, a water based paint, paired with her drawing as an interpretation.

Although a few works come from her own fears, almost all of Elman’s inspiration comes from other people. Her first piece came from her husband when she talked with him one mid-February night.

“I ask Jody (her husband), ‘Jody, what’s one of your fears?’ and his fear was ‘I fear that my kids will think that I’m irrelevant to them in their lives because there are so many things going on,” Elman said. “Then I drew something and that was the first one. And I didn’t stop.”

Since 2012, Elman said she has lost count, but she thinks she has drawn at least 150 fears.

People can submit fears via her website,, through email and in one-on-one interviews with Elman. An August story on the NPR website brought more submissions.

“After the NPR story came out, I got dozens of fears. Not hundreds, but dozens,” Elman said with a laugh.

Through all of her work, Elman has come in contact with many different fears, spanning from common fears such as loneliness, illness, spiders and needles, to less common varieties, such as trypophopia, or the fear of small holes.       

The Fear Project has allowed for people to realize they are not alone, including the three who submitted trypophopia as their fear, Elman said. After Elman did one dedicated to the fear the other two “were thrilled” to find out they were not alone, although one of the submissions of lotus seed pods made them feel sick.

It’s this ability to see the fears expressed visually that makes the project successful and is comforting to people, Elman said. It’s also why Rabbi Danielle Leshaw asked for Elman to show her art at Hillel.

“Professor Julie is an active member of the Athens Jewish community and she has shown off this project over the years as it has developed ... and people are very excited about it,” Leshaw said. “We thought it was time to welcome her and invite her so we can celebrate and show her art.”

The opening takes place Tuesday and the exhibition will go through April, Leshaw said. People will be able to view the Fear Project whenever Hillel is open.


If You Go

What: The Fear Project  

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Hillel, 21 Mill St.

Admission: Free

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