Anthony's Reviews > Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

Art and Fear by David Bayles
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's review
Jun 25, 2012

it was amazing

If you know me, you know I write songs, a lot. I've written about three albums of solo material and one black metal EP, not a bad output (I would think?) for someone who's been doing this rather steadily for only about 5 years (although I wrote perhaps 20 songs in high school, but never did much with them). Enjoying the smell of my own farts aside, I definitely come across a common problem when I'm writing (or rather, trying to write) songs.

I often feel inhibited, have self-doubts, and worry about how other people will react to what I perform or record. Apparently I am not alone in this! The authors of Art & Fear have, without resorting to self-assuring new age crap, have made me feel a good bit better about the progress I've been making in my art-making, and have given me a set of tools to move beyond self-doubt and just, you know, _do the work_.

I won't give away too many of the gems in this kind of self-help book for artists, but I will mention two points that really hit home with me that I've thought for years. 1) Once in a blue moon I write a song that somebody else really enjoys. That is totally worth it for me, even though I know maybe 5 people in the world will hear my music. In this rare scenario, I'm asked quite regularly "how do you write such catchy songs?" and I invariably reply "I had to write a lot of shitty ones first, and I continue to write a lot of shitty songs." This is confirmed in this book, quantity eventually yields quality. The example they give is great and I don't want to ruin it by spelling it out here.

2)You can learn a lot from your own work by going back and looking for patterns. This point really helped me out, because after I read this book, I immediately opened up my notebook and reflected about lyrical and structural themes within my songs. I identified five lyrical themes that recur over and over again, two or three broad musical/structural themes, and a few harmonic and melodic themes too. These patterns create boundaries which are kinds of points of resistance from which progress can be made by making small variations around the boundaries.

A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend about how I wanted to make an album in a particular style of music, and I was asking him how he conceives of his albums. He said he just does what comes naturally, and this book kind of inadvertently emphasized that point. The inner editor provides a resistance that is ultimately blocking to creative 'flow', and taking home some of the messages in this book may help you to find the right strategies for blocking out the inner editor and just doing your work, because that is the most valuable part of what you do as an artist, or at least it should be, because that's what you likely spend the most time doing.
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Reading Progress

June 25, 2012 – Started Reading
June 25, 2012 – Shelved
July 1, 2012 – Finished Reading

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