Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils And Rewards Of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland
This is a strange book, not a bad book, but definitely one that deliberately sets out to be unusual and even a bit combative. Few books contain as much material that is useful to the field of creativity studies whole showing a deliberate aversion to the word creativity itself. While the authors share some of the assumptions of most others within their field as being hostile towards revealed knowledge and traditional standards of behavior, the authors do show some distinctive elements in seeking to encourage artists of various kinds to engage in the regular process of artmaking and developing a sound degree of self-knowledge when it comes to knowing how one is most productive in creating art and in cultivating those personal and idosyncratic habits to produce the most and therefore the best art. Admittedly, this is a bit of a heady subject for a book as small as it is, but the authors seek to break down the mysterious and overly reflexive nature of much of contemporary art by pushing people to create without having to fear if they are geniuses or creative types, which is something I can definitely get behind.
Overall this is a short and thoughtful book that is just over 100 pages in length. The book is divided into two parts. The first part begins with an introduction and discusses the nature of the problem of art and a few assumptions as well as the relationship between art and fear and the problem of uncertainty. The authors spell out these fears in greater detail by discussing the fears of oneself including fears that one is pretending, that one does not have enough talent, that being an artist requires perfection, as well as fears about annihilation and expectations. After that the authors discuss fears about others, including whether one will be understood, accepted, and approved of, with the grim but honest realization that none of those three is particularly likely to happen. The authors then examine how someone finds their own work in a relationship with an existing canon. The second part of the book then discusses how one deals with the outside world in terms of the ordinary problems of life, common ground, art issues, competition, and how one navigates the system of marketing art. After this comes a look at the academic world and how it often fails both students and teachers, before looking at various conceptual worlds that art finds itself involved in. The book then ends with a discussion of the human voice and what remains constant about art.
One of the more entertaining aspects of this book is the way that the authors seek to encourage writers to take their craft seriously by doing it. As is the case with Christianity or any other religious practice, the main thing is not so much to quibble about one’s identity vis-a-vis other people but to get about to doing the practices that give one a just claim to that identity. One does not become an artist by thinking about art or talking about it, but by engaging oneself in the practice of making art. One does not become a writer by becoming published, but by writing. It is a somewhat missed opportunity, but if the authors had been less reflexively hostile to biblical practice and morality they would see that one does not become a Christian by one’s affirmations so much as one’s behavior. The same is true when it comes to art. One’s identity as an art depends on one’s behavior, not on one’s claims, and that is a useful reality when it comes to questions of identity as well, in that they ultimately matter on what one does or what one is and not what one says or happens to think. This point is hammered home in the book in various ways and it is one well worth reflecting upon.