Thursday, April 01, 2010

Art and Fear

If you're serious about any form of art--writing, dancing, painting, photography, sculpting--the words art and fear go together. If you are trying to sell your form of art, if you have the audacity to actually make money at it, you no doubt haved faced fear about what you do.

Over two years ago we looked at the book Art and Fear. Today we take a second look--for the many new readers of Forensics and Faith, and to remind the older readers of this terrific book.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, is written by photographers
David Bayles and Ted Orland. Copyrighted in 1993, it has seen many, many printings. When I spoke to Ted Orland in 2008, he reported that was selling 500 copies of this little book every month. Why? Because the insights contained within its pages teach artists how to press on through their fears.

From the introduction:

This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart ... While geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time. Making art is a common and intimately human activity ... The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar.

...The observations we make here are drawn from personal experience, and relate more closely to the needs of artists than to the interests of viewers. This book is about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.

I began reading this book with pen in hand, underlining. Soon I faced a problem. I was underlining practically everything. Page after page, chapter after chapter spoke to me.

Here's a taste of the book--its chapters, subheadings, and some quotes along the way.

The Nature of the Problem
A Few Assumptions.

Art & Fear
Vision and Execution. Imagination. Materials. Uncertainty.

"Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be..."

"Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding..."

Fears About Yourself
Pretending. Talent. Perfection. Annihilation. Magic. Expectations.

"When you act out of fear, your fears come true."

"Were talent a prerequisite [for making art], then the better the artwork, the easier it would have been to make. But alas, the fates are rarely so generous. For every artist who has developed a mature vision with grace and speed, countless others have laboriously nurtured their art through fertile periods and dry spells, through false starts and breakaway bursts, through successive and significant changes of direction, medium, and subject matter. Talent may get someone off the starting blocks faster, but without a sense of direction or a goal to strive for, it won't count for much. The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts ... yet never produce anything. And when that thappens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented."

"When you ask, 'Why doesn't it come easily for me?' the answer is probably, 'Because making art is hard!'"

"To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done."

Fears About Others
Understanding. Acceptance. Approval.

"At some point the need for acceptance may well collide head-on with the need to do your own work..."

"...courting approval...puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts--namely, whether or not you're making progress in your work..."

Finding Your Own Work

"'re probably accustomed to watching your work unfold smoothly enough for long stretches of time, until one day--for no immediately apparent reason--it doesn't. Hitting that unexpected rift is commonplace to the point of cliche, yet artists commonly treat each recurring instance as somber evidence of their own personal failure..."

The Outside World
Ordinary Problems. Common Ground. Art Issues. Competition. Nagivating the Sytem.

"Once the art has been made, an entirely new set of problems arise, problems that require the artist to engage the outside world..."

"The unease many artists feel today betrays a lack of fit between the work of their heart and the emotionally remote concerns of curators, publishers and promoters..."

The Academic World
Faculty Issues. Student Issues. Books About Art.

Conceptual Worlds
Ideas and Techniques. Craft. New Work. Creativity. Habits. Art & Science. Self-Reference. Metaphor.

"Older work is offtimes an embarrassment to the artist because it feels like it was made by a younger, more naive person...[it] often feels, curiously, both too labored and too simple. This is normal. New work is supposed to replace old work... Old work tells you what you were paying attention to then; new work comments on the old by pointing out what you were not previously paying attention to..."

The Human Voice
Questions. Constants. Vox Humana.

"Answers are reassuring, but when you're onto something really useful, it will probably take the form of a question."

"To make art is to sing with the human voice. To do this you must first learn that the only voice you need is the voice you already have..."

Any of the above statements sound like you?

Buy Art & Fear at$9.20. 122 pages.


Kathleen Overby said...

This is a must have book. Helpful post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This book sounds so absolutely boring. I can't believe you recommended this book.


Sorry, that was probably in poor taste. But I couldn't resist. Art & Fear actually sounded pretty cool to me, so I checked to see if my library had it. Unfortunately, they don't, but I'm putting it on my "To Buy" list.

In honor of April Fool's Day, I'm writing a short story called "The April Fool's Day Wars." For the first prank, I took inspiration from a story my aunt told me and added to it. I'll see how it turns out!


Anonymous said...

Thank for sharing good and useful information. This information is very valuable.


Katie V said...

Thanks for introducing this great book to me. What a find!


Jessie at Blog Schmog said...

"When you act out of fear, your fears come true"

I'm learning this in my personal and faith walk right now. Circumstance doesn't change only our response to it. Ostriches still get bit in the butt so I'm learning to keep my head out of the sand. :)