“Becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.” David Bayles and Ted Orland
Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (A&F) is a book about the difficulties faced when making art. I have read this book several times because it offered so much insight and hope. It is a good book for anyone who lives with an unquenched craving to make something beautiful, significant, or valued but struggles with fears of failure or rejection.
I used to believe that either you are artistic or not. But A&F exposed this to be untrue – along with several other assumptions I had about artists and the art world. What surprised me most was that apparently artists believe these same lies. Making art isn’t making magic; but it is constant hard work. Therefore, mistakes and failures are inherent to the process. And, Bayles and Orland contend that there is much to be gained by studying the work that you make because “the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further”(pg 31).
I count a book successful if one concept changes how I think about a subject. Perhaps the most significant change in perspective that I experienced reading A&F was regarding talent. Bayles and Orland define talent as “what comes easily” – which is exactly what it is! Although they pragmatically acknowledge that people differ in ability, in the end, “talent is rarely distinguishable from perseverance and lots of hard work” (pg 3). So, they consider it a waste of energy to worry about how much talent you have.
Even though the book deals with conceptual issues, there are many tangible suggestions inserted in the philosophical discussions. Their understanding of the universal fears common to all artists and their sensible approach to dispelling those fears will encourage artists to keep making art.