Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Art & Fear -- Part 1

Art & Fear. If you're serious about any form of art--writing, dancing, painting, photography, sculpting--those two words often 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.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, is written and now self-published by photographers David Bayles and Ted Orland. Copyrighted in 1993, it has seen a total of 17 (perhaps now more) printings. Ted Orland reports that sells 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.

We will be covering Chapter 3--Fears About Yourself--in detail. But for today, 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? Which ones? Why? Somebody better speak up and say "yes," because they all sound like me. (By the way, Ted Orland will be following these posts and just may pop in on our discussion.)

Tomorrow--An indepth look at Fears About Yourself.

Buy Art & Fear at$10.36. 122 pages.

Read Part 2


Anonymous said...

A discussion on this book is perfect timing for me, Brandilyn.

I've been locked in fear regarding my writing (and so haven't written) for the last year or so, and was just telling God last night that I don't want to live paralyzed by that anymore.

So, thanks! The quotes you shared are already totally on point, so I ordered the book off of Amazon today.

Pam Halter said...

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

Oh boy, I actually have to SHOW my writing to somone? HA! Well, if I want to be published, of course I have to show my work. But then there's the fear of being rejected and what if I keep getting rejected? Do I go on? Do I stop?

Fears. I reek with them. But for some unknown reason, I keep writing and submitting. Some things have been accepted. Most have not.

I'll be checking out this book on amazon, too!

Tracy Ruckman said...

I'm a writer AND a photographer and this book hits too close to home. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. "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."

I've been struggling through a prolonged dry spell and this sums the cause up beautifully. Your timing in bringing this book to our attention couldn't be better. Thanks! I'm off to Amazon to purchase a copy.

Carol Umberger

Unknown said...

I needed these snippets today. Thanks, Brandilyn. Now this a great reason to use I never would have known of this book or how to get it. :)

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I'm in this boat. Every time I'm close to putting something out there for the public to read, I suddenly wonder if what I thought was a good piece of writing is total garbage, and I don't even know it.

Does that insecurity ever go away?

Angie A. said...

I agree with all of these statements, as an artist and as a writer. Yet, as Christians, we have the advantage all of these fears.

Elizabeth George reminds us, in "Loving God with All Your Mind," that Phil. 4:8 exhorts us to think on "whatever things are true."

This would be a good question to ask ourselves when we're paralyzed or hindered by these fears, "Are any of these true?"

Domino said...

"your perfectionism denies you ther very thing you need to get your work done."

Many of these quotes really hit that guarded place of truth, that place we all want to hide from. But knowing I'm far from perfect and wanting my WIP to be perfect before I send it out is a scary diving board.

How can I send out anything that is my best work and still has flaws?

Yes, apparently, I need to read the book and get comfortable with my flawed self.

There comes a time when "it's not good enough yet" is a lame excuse for not submitting.

Thanks Brandilyn.
You rock!

Cara Putman said...

Wow! This looks great.