Time to begin a new book: Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Several of you have read this book and enthusiastically recommended it, so I'm looking forward to our lively discussions over the next few weeks!
Diving right in, chapter 1 is entitled "The Nature of the Problem" and begins with the sentence: Making art is difficult. How true. In reality, it seems like most of what I imagine remains unresolved in my paintings. Lots of stops and starts, uncertainty, and technical errors pave the path of my career in art. So, the authors pose a number of questions:
How does art get done?
Why, often, does it not get done?
What is the nature of the difficulties that stop so many who start?
Bayles and Orland point out that these problems are more relevant to artists today that to our predecessors because contemporary art isn't very well defined (our recent discussions dealt with that subject). 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. (p. 2)
Geez, I'll hang up my brushes now! Maybe I should read on and look for motivation...
Indeed! A solution is offered. The authors offer up some basic assumptions about human nature that place the power of making art in the hands of the artist. Here's the list:
Assumption 1: Artmaking involves skills that can be learned. The contrary notion is that artists possess a form of "genius" or "talent" that sets them apart from all non-artists. The authors feel that art can be taught and that hard work and perseverance are key to success.
Assumption 2: Art is made by ordinary people. Our flaws and weaknesses enhance our ability to create art because we've learned to overcome obstacles.
Assumption 3: Making art and viewing art are different at their core. Making art is all about "process" for the artist. Viewers are concerned only with the finished product. This is why artmaking is a lonely and often thankless occupation. The majority of our time is spent creating work that is met with indifference by the rest of the world. The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. Therefore, even failed paintings are important. I think that the most profound comment stated here is: The best you can do is make art you care about - and lots of it! That statement alone is enough incentive to keep me in the studio. That, and the admonition to persevere until our "ship comes in."
Assumption 4: Artmaking has been around longer than the art establishment. This is a great perspective to adopt. The cave painters (as far as we know) had no art critics or scholars to answer to. They just did their own thing. Pre-Renaissance thinking treated art as craft. Today, the term "artist" has an entirely different connotation mostly due to post-Renaissance theorists and more recent art critics and experts. We have been defined. But, shouldn't we artists be in control of our own identity? Shouldn't we follow our own path?
Taken altogether, these four assumptions deal with our individual identity as artist - the one we formulate and choose to adopt. I've always felt that self-declaration as "artist" is key to being one. Of course, one must acquire technical skills, but without this important acknowledgement and adherence to a personal vision, skills don't mean anything.
What are your thoughts?