Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Art & Fear -- Part 5


Today we'll look at the next two subheadings in Art & Fear's chapter "Fears About Yourself."

[My comments will be in blue brackets.]

Annihilation

"For most artists, hitting a dry spell in their artmaking would be a serious blow; for a few it would amount to annihilation. Some artists identify so closely with their own work that were they to cease producing, they fear they would be nothing--that they would cease existing...

"Some avoid this self-imposed abyss by becoming stupendously productive, churning out work in quantities that surprise even close friends (and positively unnerve envious peers!)...

"Others...project instead a certain no-nonsense professionalism: precise, relentless, and narrowly aimed at making art--which, indeed, they may be very good at. History records that Anthony Trollope methodically drafted exactly forty-nine pages of manuscript a week--seven pages a day--and was so obsessed with keeping to that schedule that if he finished a novel in the morning he'd pen the title of his next book on a new sheet and plod relentlessly ahead until he'd completed his quota for the day...

"Still, there must be many fates worse than the inability to stop producing art...Annihilation is an existential fear: the common--but sharply overdrawn--fear that some part of you dies when you stop making art. And it's true. Non-artists may not understand that, but artists themselves (especially those who are stuck) understand it all too well. The depth of your need to make things establishes the level of risk in not making them."

Magic

"In a darkened theater the man in the tuxedo waves his hand and a pigeon appears. We call it magic...Imagine you've just attended an exhibition and seen work that's powerful and coherent, work that has range and purpose. The artist's statement framed near the door is clear: these works materialized exactly as the artist conceived them. The work is inevitable. But wat a minute--your work doesn't feel inevitable (you think), and so you begin to wonder: maybe making art requires some special or even magic ingredient that you don't have.

"The belief that 'real' art possesses some indefinable magic ingredient puts pressure on you to prove your work contains the same. Wrong, very wrong. Asking your work to prove anything only invites doom. Besides, if artists share any common view of magic, it is probably the fatalistic suspicion that when their own art turns out well, it's a fluke--but when it turns out poorly it's an omen."

[Agh! This is me.]

"Buying into magic leaves you feeling less capable each time another artist's qualities are praised...

"Admittedly, artmaking probably does require something special, but just what that something might be has remained remarkably elusive--elusive enough to suggest that it may be something particular to each artist, rather than universal to them all...But the important point here is not that you have--or don't have--what other artists have, but rather that it doesn't matter. Whatever they have is something needed to do their work--it wouldn't help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don't lack it. You don't need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period."

[Hardhitting final paragraph, huh? Confession time. Who out there has wished for something another writer has? I certainly have. Usually it's the ability to write faster. Doggone it, why can't I write 4-5 books a year, every year? Okay, so that's someone else's magic. Fine. So...where's mine? I'll bet we tend to see others' magic much quicker than we see our own...]


Buy Art & Fear at amazon.com. $10.36. 122 pages.

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Read Part 6

4 comments:

Nicole said...

My "envy" has been why can't I follow the current "rules"? "They" produce good writing, good books. Novels that sell.

But . . . I can't. It isn't in me. I'm a throwback.

The real and only solace comes in the Lord. It is He who made me. I don't write the way I write out of rebellion to the accepted norm, I write with voice He gave me. Regardless of where it is He takes me . . . or doesn't.

Ted Orland said...

First of all, thank you (!) Brandilyn, for shining a kindly light on “Art & Fear”.

I’ve wanted to offer responses to many of the comments you & your readers have made, but the truth is that I write so slowly that I probably wouldn’t even qualify as a writer by many defninitions of the word. Case in point: it took me (and my co-author David Bayles) EIGHT YEARS to write “Art & Fear”.

In fact when we were already a few years into the effort we actually went out and bought the smallest volume we could find that we could honestly label a BOOK -- and figured that if our manuscript ever reached that slim volume’s word count (26,000) we’d know we were getting somewhere!

And for what it’s worth, we never even took aim on writing for an outside audience. We decided early on, and quite consciously, to write a book that WE would enjoy finding if we came upon it accidentally in the bookstore -- and that if there were other people out there who thought as we do, well, then they would like the book too.

I have an alarming number of painfully funny stories that accompanied that long trek from handwritten file cards to perfect bound twelve point justified Palatino, and I’d love to sit around and compare notes with you and your readers -- but I’m not kidding when I say that this brief passage has taken me four hours to write, and that if I don’t send this note off now, you may well be on to the next topic before it ever even arrives...

Ted Orland

Nicole said...

Love the honesty. Wish we could hear those stories.

Tina Helmuth said...

"...when their own work turns out well, it's a fluke--but when it turns out poorly it's an omen."

Shhhh! You're giving away too many artist's secrets. Someone's going to come along and haul us all off to the loony bin.

Seriously, how do we go on with thoughts like that bouncing around it our heads?