Art & Fear

This is a book you sit down with on a rainy day, tucked into a window seat, to read a sentence then look out into the rain, consider the authors’ point, nod and look back at the book to read more. Excellent, phenomenal, inspiring. Sprinkled with the kinds of quotes you want to emblazon on banners for the world to see, like Oscar Wilde’s “When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.”
This is the kind of book where I dogeared nearly every corner, as each page contains some shining gem that will guide me in my own creative pursuit. It is a book about making art, ordinary people making ordinary art.
Sample excerpts:
“But while you may feel you’re just pretending that you’re an artist, there’s no way to pretend you’re making art. Go ahead, try writing a story while pretending you’re writing a story. Not possible…. 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.” (p 26)
“There is probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have – and probably no worry more common. By definition, whatever you have is exactly what you need to produce your best work.” (p 26)
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.” (p 29)
“What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece… Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work… Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.” (p 35-36)
“Cowboy wisdom: when your horse dies, get off.” (p 45)
“… courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts – namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work… Audience comes later. The only pure communication is between you and your work.” (p 47)
“The details of artmaking we do recognize tend to be hard-won practical working habits, and recurrent bits of form that we can repeatedly hang work on… The discovery of useful forms is precious. Once found, they should never be abandoned for trivial reasons. It’s easy to imagine today’s art instructor cautioning Chopin that the Mazurka thing is getting a little repetitive… For most artists, making good art depends on making lots of art, and any device that carries the first brushstroke to the next blank canvas has tangible, practical value.” (p 60-61)
“The hardest part of artmaking is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over – and that means, among other things, finding a host of practices that are just plain useful.” (p 61)
“The writer Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artist’s work: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did s/he succeed? Was it worth doing?” (p 93)
“For the artist, a notebook is a license to explore – it becomes entirely acceptable to stand there, for minutes on end, staring at a tree stump… To see things is to enhance your sense of wonder both for the singular pattern of your own experience, and for the meta-patterns that shape all experience. All this suggests a useful working approach to making art: notice the objects you notice…” (p 101)
************
Recommended via Kottke via Kevin Kelly


auth=Bayles, David & Ted Orland
pub=1993
sub=Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
isbn=0961454733