Thursday, January 10, 2008
Art & Fear -- Part 2
As mentioned in yesterday's post, chapter three of Art & Fear, "Fears About Yourself," is divided into six subheadings. We'll look at the first today--"Pretending."
Pretending (my personal comments will be in brackets and dark blue)
"When you act out of fear, your fears come true."
Authors Bayles and Orland begin this chapter by noting that fears about our artmaking fall into two categories--fears about ourselves, and fears about our reception by others. "In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work."
[Whoa, stop right there. Read that again.]
"The fear that you're only pretending to do art is the (readily predictable) consequence of doubting your own artistic credentials. After all, you know better than anyone else the accidental nature of much that appears in your art, not to mention all those elements you know originated with others (and even some you never even intended but which the audience has read into your work). From there it's only a short hop to feeling like you're just going through the motions of being an artist. It's easy to imagine that real artists know what they're doing, and that they--unlike you--are entitled to feel good about themselves and their art. Fear that you are not a real artist causes you to undervalue our work."
[So one day I receive an email from my agent. Paraphrasing here--"Got a call from bigwig guy at your publishing house, says he wants to talk to me about you. Not sure about what. I'll report to you afterwards." EGAD! My immediate response, straight from the gut: "Great, they're gonna fire me. I KNEW one day they'd find out I can't write ..."
I was half serious. Point is--that was my first blush response. Why is that?
It's because, as the authors note, I see the process of writing my novels. The manuscripts are pure shlock most of the way. I think, "If readers only knew how I struggled! How the novel ever amounted to anything is a miracle..."]
"The chasm widens even further when your work isn't going well...If you buy into the premise that art can be made only by people who are extraordinary, such down periods only serve to confirm that you aren't...In moments of weakness the myth of the extraordinary provides the excuse for an artist to quit trying to make art, and the excuse for a viewer to quit trying to understand it.
"Meanwhile artists who do continue often become perilously self-conscious about their artmaking. If you doubt this could be a problem, just try working intuitively (or spontaneously) while self-consciously weighing the effect of your every action. The increasing prevalence of reflexive art--art that looks inward, taking itself as its subject--may to some degree simply illustrate attempts by artists to turn this obstacle to their advantage. Art-that's-about-art has in turn spawned a whole school of art criticism built around the demonstrably true (but limited) premise that artists continually 'redefine' art through their work. This approach treats 'what art is' as a legitimate, serious and even thorny topic, but expends little energy on the question of 'what art making is.'
[Haven't we all fallen into such topics at different times--the erudite arguments about what is art and what isn't? I don't find this book's statement as saying those things are never worth discussing, just that, bottom line, time spent discussing the topic is not exactly time spent doing. And, perhaps on occasion, such discussions only deepen our self-consciousness about what we write and whether or not it's worthy.]
"Clearly something's come unbalanced here. After all, if there were some ongoing redefinition of 'what chess is,' you'd probably feel a little uneasy trying to play chess...Then again you might conclude that since you weren't sure yourself what chess was, you weren't a real chess player and were only faking it when you moved the pieces around...
"But while you may feel that you're just pretending that you're an artist, there's no way to pretend you're making art. Go ahead, try writing a story while pretending you're writing a story. Not possible. Your work may not be what curators want to exhibit or publishers want to publish, but those are different issues entirely. You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn't very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren't good, the parts that aren't yours. It's called feedback, and it's the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It's also calling doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you're the closest person around."
[The unpublished start writing a novel wondering, "Will anybody want to publish this thing?" That end goal sets up the fears that trip us up in our work. The published/contracted start writing a novel wondering, "Will my editor like this? Will my readers like it?" The latter is where I am in my journey today. I wonder--if I started writing a novel without those thoughts/concerns/fears, if I just trusted my instincts and the story--how might my process in creating the work be different?]
Buy Art & Fear at amazon.com--$10.36. 122 pages.
Read Part 3