from art + fear, pt. I


It will probably sound a little overdramatic when I say that this book changed my life, but it did.  It shifted my outlook on art, fear, identity, work, many things I did not even close to expect.  In fact, the truth is, I probably would not have chosen this book for myself.  It was a gift -- isn't that the best?  when a gift becomes something you so needed? -- and when I picked it up to read it, I would have told you I identified infinitely more with the second word in the title than with the first.  I did not consider myself to be an artist...I'm still not sure that I do.  But this book taught me that undoubtedly, I have an artistic soul -- and that it's worthwhile to learn what that means, so that I can bette live with it.

I've been wrestling with writing a reflection of some kind in the months since I've finished reading it, and I've had time to realize that my motivation for doing so is two-fold: first, I want to more deeply absorb the content myself.  But already I feel like a second read-through will be required for that to happen.  The second and perhaps more dominant reason is that I want to persuade as many of you as I possibly can to please read this book.  If you are an artist, have an artistic soul, know and love an artist or artistic soul, are afraid, are learning how to live into your own given identity, are a human...please.  If any of these apply to you, please read this book.

In the interest of starting somewhere with this long-overdue reflection, I've decided to compile a list of some of my favorite quotes from the book, as I think to read these words yourself will accomplish my aim to commend you this book better than I could in my own words.  

This by itself will not be all that simple a task...most of my copy is underlined, and full paragraphs are bracketed with "yes" and all manner of asterisks drawn beside.  So, so, many enlightening words to be found in these short 100-ish pages.  It's possible I was just living in some state of denial, for this to be SO extremely eye-opening??  But I don't know, I kind of think it's just that good.  Really gets at the heart of some very important questions/internal dialogues when it comes to creation.

I've also written down some of the quotes that are included in the book as chapter headers.  I will cite those individually; quotes without citations are credited to the authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland.  I also went back through and bolded the phrases that were (and are) the most impactful to me.  

There are nine chapters in the book total, so here are the first three!  It's all I've got time for today -- and honestly a lot to take in.  I hope you'll enjoy!!


Chapter 1

"Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult" - Hippocrates

"Often the work we have not done seems more real in our minds than the pieces we have completed."

"Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward."

"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 this is something to be genuinely thankful for.  Yet however much they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world: learning to make your work is not their problem."


Chapter 2

"Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working" - Stephen DeStaebler

"Those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue -- or more precisely, have learned how to not quit...quitting means not starting again -- and art is all about starting again."

"Most who begin, quit.  It's a genuine tragedy.  Worse yet, it's an unnecessary tragedy.  After all, artists who continue and artists who quit share an immense field of common emotional ground...what separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit."

"Your desire to make art -- beautiful or meaningful or emotive art -- is integral to your sense of who you are.  Life and Art, once entwined, can quickly become inseparable."

"Making art can feel dangerous and revealing.  Making art is dangerous and revealing.  Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be."

"The poem in the head is always perfect.  Resistance begins when you try to convert it into language." - Stanley Kunitz

"People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive, or spontaneous...tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding."


Chapter 3

"We have met the enemy and he is us." - Pogo

"It's easy to imagine that real artists know what they're doing, and that they -- unlike you -- are entitled to feel good about themselves and their art.  Fear that you are not a real artist causes you to undervalue your work."

"You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn't very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren't good, the parts that aren't yours.  It's called feedback, and it's the most direct route to learning about your own vision.  It's also called doing your work.  After all, someone has to do your work, and you're the closest person around."

"To require perfection is to invite paralysis" - Ansel Adams

"Annihiliation is an existential fear: the common -- but sharply overdrawn -- fear that some part of you dies when you stop making art.  And it's true.  Non-artists may not understand that, but artists themselves (especially this who are stuck) understand it all too well. The depth of your need to make things establishes the level of risk in not making them."

"There's a myth among amateurs, optimists and fools that beyond a certain level of achievement, famous artists retire to some kind of Elysium where criticism no longer wounds and work materializes without their effort" - Mark Matousek

"Asking your work to prove anything only invites doom...the important point here is not that you have -- or don't have -- what other artists have, but rather that it doesn't matter.  Whatever they have is something needed to do their work -- it wouldn't help you in your work even if you had it.  Their magic is theirs.  You don't lack it.  You don't need it.  It has nothing to do with you.  Period." be continued!!  so good, right?!  I'd love to hear your thoughts.




Mallory OvertonComment