A Square-Peg People Book Review
Art and Fear
by David Bayles and Ted Orland
This book guides you into DEEP questions about your art, your relationship to your art, how you are influenced by others, what blocks you, etc. You may find, as you read Art & Fear, that the questions you brought to the book are not big enough.
Bayles and Orland discuss the hardships involved in artmaking. The first chapter "The Nature of the Problem" begins: The difficulties artmakers face are...universal and familiar...And they talk to all artists: writers, painters, photographers, dancers...
They speak hard truths:
We do not long remember those artists who followed the rules more diligently than anyone else. We remember those who made the art from which the 'rules' inevitably follow.
...if you're comfortable with what you're doing, you've probably been there before.
The work we make, even if unnoticed and undesired by the world, vibrates in perfect harmony to everything we put into it--or withhold from it.
And, quoting Gene Fowler at the beginning of "Part I":
Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.
They do not make artmaking sound effortless, nor do they suggest complacence, lazy artmaking, or waiting on your muse. But the book is not hard - they offer us good news. The book is not a how-to book per se - it doesn't advise you to draw this or that, work with your inner critic in such and such a way - but there are suggestions:
When things go haywire, your best opening strategy might be to return--very carefully and consciously--to the habits and practices in play the last time you felt good about the work. Return to the space you drifted away from and (sometimes at least) the work will return as well.
It is more a treatise on how to think about what you are up against (and looking for) when you work at artmaking.
Art & Fear covers what draws us to artmaking and what we often wind up tripping over - criticism (or neglect) of others, unexamined thoughts about perfection, talent, habits, competition and more. It includes a wise discussion of differences and similarities between craft and art.
Many Square-Peggers have noted being more intuitive than logical. Bayles and Orland have written a book that appeals to both ways of thinking.
In a section called "Books About Art", Bayles and Orland tell us:
What artists learn from other artists is not so much history or technique...what we really gain from the artmaking of others is courage-by-association. Depth of contact grows as fears are shared--and thereby disarmed--and this comes from embracing art as process, and artists as kindred spirits.
At the end of the book, the authors tell us that they have not given us the answer: Answers are reassuring, but when you're onto something really useful, it will probably take the form of a question.
So, we're left with wisdom about our similarities, hope about resolving our "perils", and a wide open space full of DEEP questions about our art - and our relationship to our art. Fearlessly (or at least, frequently) reflecting on those questions will show in our art.
The best news is - Bayles and Orland tell us we've got what we need and then offer us ways to access it.
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