Welcome to my Art & Fear review. Art & Fear is a classic philosophical non-fiction art book by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It is deep enough to become ponderous at times, but readable enough to keep my attention from start to finish.
Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
The title of the book is Art & Fear – so, you might wonder:
“What is there to be afraid of? Art is easy, for artists. They have nothing to fear!”
But that’s just not true.
Some artists may create masterpieces with wild abandon, but many if not most artists are deeply concerned about the outcome of their art – and that’s a sad thing, considering that art-fear stops a lot of people in their tracks. A hobby that should be joyful and freeing is instead a stumbling block when we worry more about the product than the journey.
Yes, art is a journey – from blank canvas to finished painting. We who create art need to respect and love that journey. Each stroke of the brush is an adventure. Each new idea is an invitation to create. Every moment spent painting is a challenge to be enthusiastic about, not a problem to be feared.
Yet that fear persists, for many of us. I too have been full of fear – especially at seeing that my intents are not fully achievable, by me. I am no great artist… I have come to call my work “folk art” – the art of the untrained yet creatively hopeful participant.
At one time, that could have been Vincent Van Gogh. He learned by doing it, and though he achieved no great recognition during his sadly short lifetime, we know great art when we see it and his art is so original and unique, it is highly prized and revered.
About the book – Art and Fear – review of the chapters
Chapter One – The Nature of the Problem.
The book starts with a statement – that the creation of art is difficult. Striving for perfection in art challenges the self-esteem of the artist.
Wisdom of the writers: “…becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself…”
Who really cares about your art?
The answer is – usually only one person – the artist.
Most other people have no real interest in it, unless, of course, it is commissioned. And then you’re working under a blade, hoping that your art is acceptable to the buyer. That’s the kind of stress I can do without.
Chapter Two – Art & Fear.
Many wannabe artists are simply quitters.
Wisdom of the writers: “Quitting means not starting again — and art is all about starting again.”
Bayles and Orland warn that your current work of art should not be your only goal. This chapter takes us through the issues of vision, execution, imagination, materials, and uncertainty.
Chapter Three – Fears About Yourself.
The writers tell us there are two main fears about making art. The first is a good healthy fear about yourself. Who am I, anyway? And will it show in my art work? The second fear is about what other people think of our artistic creations.
This chapter covers self-introspection fears.
Wisdom of the writers: “…the seed of your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.”
This chapter covers the issues of pretending, talent, perfection, annihilation, magic, and expectations.
Chapter Four – Fears About Others.
This is the chapter that discusses how we feel about other people’s opinions of our art work.
Today I got wisdom from a Good Earth teabag: “One of the greatest mental freedoms is truly not caring what anyone else thinks of you.” – Unknown.
I’d love to think that I never have to think of what other people think of me. Wouldn’t that be great? But seriously, that’s just not my life. For one thing, I write for the internet – and aside from this blog, I’m a fairly serious internet marketer type of person. If I don’t have any concern for what others think of my work, I’d probably have no income at all. Sometimes, we do care!
With art, however, it is probable that our best art will be produced when we don’t care what others think of it. We have to stop being what others expect to produce the art our heart sings about. Be true to your own vision, and your true artistic self can emerge.
Wisdom of the writers: “…artists themselves rarely serve as role models of normalcy.”
This fourth chapter is about understanding, acceptance, approval.
Chapter Five – Finding Your Work.
(Mine is sitting on the easel, waiting for me to stop quitting.)
Wisdom of the writers: “Between the initial idea and the finished piece lies a gulf we can see across, but never fully chart.”
My experience of art is that my execution never meets up with my original imaginative inspiration. I could blame that on my lack of skill, or could reason that a benefit of art is in showing us that imperfection is absolutely acceptable. After all, if the Lord expected all of us (his creations) to be be perfect, we wouldn’t all be sinners.
In accepting the imperfections of our art, we align ourselves with reality. And by noting those imperfections we can prepare ourselves for the next big thing we plan to do. Every work of art becomes a teacher, and we learn what yet needs to be overcome.
Chapter Six – A View Into the Outside World.
This chapter addresses commonalities shared by artists.
Wisdom of the writers: “…it’s hard to claim victory when your imagined competitors may be entirely unaware of your existence…”
This entire book is full of gems of wisdom. Please don’t take my word for it – get your own copy of the book and think over the conundrum of the life of artistry.
This sixth chapter addresses common ground, art issues, competition, and navigating the system.
Chapter Seven – The Academic World.
(Better you than me.) Now we’re getting on toward the end of the book, and by this time I’m nearly ready to start reading something else – perhaps something with characters and a plot. But we come upon a heavy-weight chapter about academics, and art-academia. My eyes start to cross as I read about faculty issues, student issues, and books about art.
I love to read about books, so books about art seem awesome to me, but I long-ago promised myself never to take another college class. I’m trying to avoid stress. (Don’t need it. Can’t handle it. I’m too old for that now.)
Upon re-reading the chapter, a exposé on the private inner lives of teachers and students, I came upon many gems of wisdom. The entire book is full of art-wisdom, and this chapter is no exception. The writers acknowledge that university studies are detrimental to the production of art, for teachers, but also show how to overcome that obstacle by eliminating excessive administrative clutter from their schedules.
Wisdom of the writers: “Often the best strategy for cultivating quality time is to simply avoid like the plague all activities that don’t.”
Students have an opposite challenge – to continue their art after college. Most apparently quit.
Chapter Eight – Conceptual Worlds.
Here, we delve into art philosophy, with questions like, “Was that art worth making?” Or: “Is it better to follow the rules, or create them?”
Wisdom of the writers: “It’s easier to paint in the angel’s feet to another’s master work than to discover where the angels live within yourself.”
Sections in this chapter are ideas vs. technique, craft, new work, habits, art & science, self-reference and metaphor. I loved the discussion of art vs. craft.
Chapter Nine – The Human Voice.
The time has come to take our work out of the shadows, and accept the changes needed to create the new paradigm in personal art making. We can’t forge ahead by imitation – what we do next, with all we’ve learned, has to be a solo journey.
Wisdom of the writers: “The only work really worth doing — the only work you can do convincingly — is the work that focuses on the things you care about.”
The ninth chapter topics are questions, comments, and vox humana. The authors comment on the inspiration that started the long collaborative process of writing their book.
Chapter Ten – Just kidding, there’s no chapter ten.
The book is over. It was brief – only 118 pages. Even though this is a book of deep art philosophy, it was very readable and enjoyable. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll probably read it again because doing so was a constant discovery of insights worth pondering.
Lessons about art & fear, life, and reality
Did I learn anything? I think the most important lesson I learned is that I am not the only artist struggling with issues of self-identity in art-making, finding my “voice” as a visual artist, following the lead of my own unique talent, and the fear of inadequacy via comparisons. These are human issues often brought into the equation as artists create each new work of art.
Barbara Radisavljevic says
I know any art I try to do is just to express myself, since I’ve never really explored what I can do artistically – unless it’s with a camera.
LJ Martin says
Art is the challenge I set before myself when my youngest child flew the nest. I’m not a naturally great artist but I’ve had a lot of fun trying new things, and have produced a few paintings that I’ve hung in my living room.