Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
David Bayles and Ted Orland
At the same time that I started painting again, I started re-reading my art books. I was looking for a more specific vocabulary to think (and eventually talk) about my artmaking in this new phase of work. While I still love a good exhibition catalog, I’ve also moseyed into another section of the bookstore. I finally picked up a book I’ve heard about many times called Art and Fear (1993). It was in the self-help section.
This little book helped myself think about the cold, hard truths of being an artmaker. Three years in as a (nearly) full-time painter, I see how difficult it is to sustain an artist’s lifestyle. It’s lonely. No one cares about most of what I make (I show only what’s decent, which is a small percentage). I am solely responsible for every aspect of the job. No colleagues, no clients (some when I take commissions), no vendors. No feedback. No hum, buzz, energy found in a shared space. It was helpful to have these authors verbalize this reality so that I can try to verbalize my response to it. This book has the greatest compilation of Dose-of-Reality quotes. A few of my favorites:
“Art is hard because you have to keep after it so consistently. On so many different fronts. For so little external reward.”
“If you think good work is synonymous with perfect work, you are headed for big trouble. Art is human, error is human. Inevitably, your work will be flawed. . . To invite perfection is to invite paralysis.”
“In fact, there is no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist’s work. The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of it that soars.”
“There is no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have. . . Talent may get someone off the starting blocks faster, but without a sense of direction or a goal, it won’t count for much.”
“Until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your well being. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours—and that is something to be genuinely thankful for.”
Later is what?
After settling into various desk jobs, I always said I'd get back to painting later in life, and later is now. Again means that I tried once before. I decided to write about my painting endeavor, too, as a learning tool, an accountability tool, and to stay sharp in case I have to go back to a desk job. Again.
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