The Laws of Nature

Friday, May 14, 2010

Magic & Expectations

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles and Orland

The last two sections of Chapter 3 conclude the authors' discussion of our fears about ourselves. The first section, "Magic," begins with an insightful quotation from Mark Matousek:

There's a myth among amateurs, optimists and fools that beyond a certain level of achievement, famous artists retire to some kind of Elysium where criticism no longer wounds and work materializes without their effort.

This is the "magic" and it isn't real. But, many aspiring artists are under this spell and this leads to constant disappointment in their work. Maybe they don't have what it takes - that special spark of magic that's necessary to create great works of art. And, when something turns out well it's a "fluke," and if it turns out poorly it's an "omen." The authors note that buying into magic leaves you feeling less capable each time another artist's qualities are praised. This leads to a defeatist attitude. It's more important to recognize that each artist has "something" that gives them the ability to create. But, one artist's "something" can't be substituted for another artist's "something." As artists, we arrive at solutions for our work as individuals. My magic isn't your magic and vice versa. There isn't a single universal type of "magic."

Moving on the the second section, "Expectations," we're reminded that our expectations are a delicate balance between imagination and calculation; between intuition and logic. The temptation is to become too fanciful in our expectations so that we can't begin to fulfill them. Unfortunately, expectations based on illusion lead almost always to disillusionment.

But, the authors point out that expectations can also be one of the most useful tools that an artist can possess. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. The last piece taught us about our materials, designs, and ideas. Our work is our guidebook. It shows us where we've been and helps us intuit where we might go. From that, expectations arise. The trick is in finding a way to look at our work objectively so that we may learn from it. That's the only way we can develop realistic expectations.

Now that we've concluded chapter 3 and considered a number of fears about ourselves, it's plain to see that all these fears are self-inflicted. Isn't it interesting that we'd engage in emotional and psychological self-destruction when we'd never, ever do it to someone else? We often treat ourselves worse than we treat others. That's sad and destroys our ability to create uninhibited truthful works of art. The authors have exposed these fears as lies, and that's the first step to banishing them from our thoughts. Next time, we'll begin chapter 4, which is "Fears About Others."

What are your thoughts?


Sharmon Davidson said...

It's a strange coincidence (or is it? lol!) that I have just finished a post about expectations. I read Art & Fear many years ago, and found it to ring true in almost every instance. I have just observed firsthand how destructive negative expectations can be for an artist. I had been out of the "art world" for several years, and expected that it would be impossible to get back in. I let my fears discourage me from even trying, in some cases. This book sheds a lot of light on how attitudes can alter our reality; it really is "all in how you look at it." Thanks for reminding me!

Sharmon Davidson said...

p.s. BTW, I've been meaning to tell you how much I love your "Laws of Nature" series; the meshing of science and art is one of my favorite topics! These pieces are elegantly complex and gorgeous!

Unknown said...

Hi Sharmon - it's a great coincidence! And, I also think that we artists think about these things fairly regularly. It's not easy being an artist and we have a lot of psychological battles all the time. Thanks so much for your generous comments about my work. I like melding together my two passions.

Dan Kent said...

To me the idea of "magic" in art, is just like the idea of "talent" and (I hope I'm not skipping ahead) the idea of "artist's block" (that the muse leaves you dry). I think it may be because so much of the subconscious is involved in art making. It's all effort - the book says somewhere that an accountant does not decide he can't do his work because he lacks that special something - he just plods along.

Still, the practitioner's art probably seems close to magic to the potential purchaser too, and that's a good thing.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I will say "Me, too" to Dan's comment. I'm following. Look forward to Chapter 4.

-Don said...

What? There is no Elysium?!?!?! That's IT! I quit.


Celeste Bergin said...

I like peanut butter.


I can't identify with much about this at my stage. I may get into yet another stage just around the corner..but right now--I apparently don't have this fear thing AT ALL. Confession: I can sometimes feel irked with the super fearful people. I mean. What is there to be so fearful about? It is paint. only paint. it is not Viet Nam or cancer.
I am glad you are reviewing the book---because I don't "need" it right now. Never say never--perhaps I'll go fearful down the road...but for right now....nope!

Unknown said...

Hi Dan - that's a good analogy, and what you wrote makes a lot of sense. Isn't it interesting that we don't always use good sense??

Hi Hallie - thanks!

Hi Don - the day you quit we'll all know it because the Earth will stop rotating on its axis :-)

Hi Celeste - like you, I'm not plagued by self-doubts at this time, but you never know what's around the corner. I'd like to think that I'll never succumb to them.

Eva said...

If any artist at one time or another having has not experienced self doubts or dry spells, they haven't been painting long enough or in denial. The more one learns, usually, the more one realize how far they have to go. I think you stagnate if you become too satisfied.I've been painting for almost 50 years, most of them as a professional and I'm still learning and fighting all of the above. The day I'm completely satisfied, I'm through! Nothing else to challenge me.

Unknown said...

Hi Eva - I think you're correct. This is a lifelong struggle and I admire anyone who sticks with it! Thank you.