Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking.
by David Bayles and Ted Orland
Chapter 2, "Art and Fear," begins with an interesting quotation by Stephen DeStaebler:
Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the paint of not working. I've never been a procrastinator, so this isn't my experience. I LOVE showing up to work in my studio every day. But, I think that it's true that when we face uncertainty and indecisiveness in our work we tend to engage in avoidance.
On a larger scale, Bayles and Orland remind us that throughout history, more people have quit art than continued. I guess there's no way to be certain of that statement but it's a pretty good guess. Those that stick with it have learned how not to quit. That's an essential skill!
The authors make the astute observation that while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit. What are those moments?
1) When we're convinced that our efforts will only result in failure. But, there's a difference between stopping and quitting. Quitting happens once. Art is all about starting again.
2) When we can't find where our work belongs - we see no future for it. Avoiding this fate has something to do with not letting your current goal become your only goal. Another important remedy is to associate with other artists and share your in-progress work frequently.
I'd like to discuss these two "moments" with you. The first type of moment - failure - occurs over and over again. Each time I produce a painting that just isn't "right" I wonder if I even have it in me to overcome failure. Maybe my previous successes were a fluke. Maybe, as the movie asks, this is "As Good As It Gets!" Self-doubt arrives unimpeded and is very difficult to drive away. Why is it that I'm more prone to believe something negative about myself rather than something positive? This seems to be a common trait among us, and one that is particularly destructive to artists. But, art IS all about starting again! I keep reminding myself that I'm not a "one hit wonder" and that exploration is an important part to finding myself again and again.
The second type of moment - seeing no future for our work - is also easy to succumb to as paintings pile up in the studio with no place to go. The authors' advice is terrific! There are short-term goals, but also long-term ones that always give me hope for new venues and new opportunities. A series of paintings might be stacked in the corner of my studio for a few years and then suddenly find itself in one or two solo shows. You never know! The key is to remain open to all possibilities.
I've only covered a small portion of this chapter in this particular post, but will continue tomorrow. There are so many gems that it's good to savor only a few at a time.
Before I close, I'd like to thank and acknowledge a fabulous artist named Donna Zagotta who recently featured my work on her well-written post about the creative process. You can read it by going here.
And now, what are your thoughts?