The Laws of Nature

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fears About Others

Art & Fear: Observations on the Periods (and Rewards) of Artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

We've arrived at Chapter 4: "Fears About Others" where the authors reveal how we artists deal with the opinions of others. Before entering this chapter, I want to acknowledge that I DO care about what others think of my work to a certain degree (but not enough to change direction). In fact, I think that anyone who exhibits their work also cares about what others think of it. We want feedback, and we hope it will be positive. So, let's take just a few steps into chapter 4 and learn more about how we deal with the opinions of others.

First, we're asked to consider the expectations of others. As an artist you're expected to make each successive piece uniquely new and different - yet reassuringly familiar when set alongside your earlier work. You're expected to make art that's intimately (perhaps even painfully) personal - yet alluring and easily grasped by an audience that has likely never known you personally. That's a TALL order.

This reminds me of something that happened to Bob Dylan when he decided to lay down the acoustical guitar in favor of an electric one. The first time he appeared on stage wired, his audience booed and called him a "traitor." They couldn't stand the change - familiarity was more important than Dylan's creative ideas. I'm relating this story because I think that creating in order to fulfill the expectations of others is akin to being a traitor to oneself. It inhibits our ability to freely create.

The authors add that when we're feeling insecure or tentative about our own work we tend to listen more to the opinions of others. Conversely, when things are going well we listen less. I think that we tend to panic when things don't go well, and we actively seek solutions by turning to others. I used to do that a lot, but now I've learned to dig deeper within myself where the real solutions lie.

I think this chapter will be a good read. What I've covered so far is found in only the opening remarks. Next time, we'll consider the first section of this chapter, entitled "Understanding."

What are your thoughts?


bilby said...

The need for external validation has always been one of my most challenging obstacles. There is this inner voice, I think it is called the inner critic, that demands that I respond to the approval or lack thereof as the most important evaluation of my work. It lies.:-)

Sheila said...

Hmmmmm.... yes, I'm still looking to others for some sort of reassurance I'm going down the right path. I need to listen to my inner voice more. I am still befuddled when something I love gets a lukewarm reception and the paintings I am okay with get raves.

Casey Klahn said...

Dylan is the ultimate artist-do-your-own-thing guy. Love his work and attitude.

The paradoxes you name are so interesting, Kathy. We must be renewed in each painting, but recognizable and unified, too. Never easy.

That's why I write about courage- artistic courage is little understood, but I think well recognized in a few artists. I can tell by Sheila's experiences that she is on this path. Just recognizing the paradox of what you value versus the public is an act of courage!

Stan Kurth said...

"But you and I, we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late"

I love Dylan, he's still changing his art after all these years. I'm sort of like that too. Some are bummed that I don't paint the way I used to. That's why I struggle so much in a series. I've got to move. Can't stay in one place for too long; too many ideas wanting to be purged, released from imprisonment and I can't bail them out fast enough. Like I say sometimes I feel like a medium. No kidding! Not as concerned with what others think as I used to be. I'm currently gauging recognition based on certain invitations and awards given by nationally recognized jurors, but the truth is I'm aspiring to be nationally recognized. As you well know Kathy, I am a digger deeper of self and all I need is there. Wish I knew then what I know now, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. haha more Dylan

layers said...

I have read ART & FEAR twice now- and always highly recommend it when I teach my workshops-- I remember the first time I read it I started underlining sentences and soon quit when I realized I was underlining just about all their sentences-- it is an excellent book on creating art.

-Don said...

Validation from others is definitely something I find myself desiring more than I'd probably like to admit. I was just thinking along this line last night as I was creating. It came to mind that I always look forward to what my family thinks about my work as they wake up to see new stuff each morning. I look forward to what my blogging friends have to say about my new work when I post it. And, I look forward to what others have to say about my work when they see it hanging out in public. The natural progression of that thought came around to wondering why a predominance of freakin' jurors can't seem to get wrapped around my vision yet... Oh well, it'll happen... I believe in what I'm doing and it WILL punch through. The only fear I'll admit to is that I'm afraid it won't punch through until I'm gone and I won't be there to enjoy. But, until that last day comes, I'll keep producing work that feels right to me while hoping others will find it in themselves to like it.


Celeste Bergin said...

My husband is very supportive, but he rarely says anything about my work. That took some getting used to. He is a photographer and he doesn't like people to remark on his work until he is quite certain he is finished making it. For myself, I don't mind comments and I welcome them--but there are a few people who apparently do not get everything I am doing and they will offer unsolicited "advice". THAT irks me. I wish it didn't irk me...but it DOES. lol.

Kathy said...

Hi Bilby - yes, it does! It's good to recognize that.

Hi Sheila - isn't it interesting how our opinion of our own work often doesn't match that of others?

Hi Casey - well stated! Thank you.

Hi Stan - Dylan is my creative hero! Like you, I believe that the truth about my work lies deep within myself - that's where I go to find answers. And, like you, I do enter national/international juried exhibitions but I can't let that control what I paint. I like the direction your work has taken, but that's irrelevant to your process. Thanks for the Dylan quote!

Hi Donna - yes it is!

Hi Don - I like your conviction and persistence. That, coupled with the great work you do is all you need. Tastes and preferences change with time, so we must be true to ourselves and then maybe a "time" will match us!

Hi Celeste - unsolicited advice can be irksome. I've been guilty of giving it on occasion, and I've also been guilty of not taking it well on occasion. Thanks for reminding me about the importance of keeping my opinions to myself unless asked.

PAMO said...

Sally Warner advises- once an artist accepts that there will never be enough praise- they can then move forward. I think she's on to something.

Eva said...

Over the many years of my art career I served two masters. The buying public and the judges. I felt dishonest with myself as an artist, but both were necessary for my professional survival. I accepted the fact that I was really a commercial artist most of the time. I have always admired those who did not play the game, but were able to be true to themselves and survive without the financial help of others.

Mark Sheeky said...

Interesting reading the different comments. I suppose I don't have enough fans or friends to hear opinions. Sometimes, rarely, I want an honest appraisal of good and bad points but generally I'm my own critic, so more often prefer people to tell me that they like it. What they really think about it and what they tell others isn't important. I wonder, would I change my standards and guiding rules if I could se how an expert critiques my art and why? At the moment I'm aiming for my own target and it is me that judges how close or far I am.

hwfarber said...

When I visit a museum or gallery, I don't like or understand half of what I see. Why would I expect approval from everyone who sees my work? I've spent most of my life as a non-listener; and, the older I get, the less I hear.

Kathy said...

Hi Pam - an interesting thought, indeed! I think that praise is a two-edged sword. If we get too much then it raises our expectations and if we don't get enough we can become discouraged and quit. The only way to balance that sword is to skillfully avoid the blade.

Hi Eva - it IS difficult to be a professional in the world of fine arts. There's no guaranteed income, no assurances that our future work will be accepted, and too much competition. Most artists, including me, have been forced to supplement their income in some other way from time to time. It comes with the territory and is nothing to be ashamed of. We have to survive!

Hi Mark - I've subjected my work to professional critiques for decades. However, at this point I don't listen too closely because most of the critiques tend to be about taste and not technique or style. If you're proficient, and you are, then it's best to follow your own path.

Hi Hallie - indeed. Seeking approval is a dangerous thing in art. I need approval to get into juried exhibitions and galleries, but I still can't let that get in the way of executing my personal vision.