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Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles
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“You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn't very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren't good, the parts that aren't yours. It's called feedback, and it's the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It's also called doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you're the closest person around.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Vision, Uncertainty, and Knowledge of Materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from: vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“To the artist, all problems of art appear uniquely personal. Well, that's understandable enough, given that not many other activities routinely call one's basic self-worth into question.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“The desire to make art begins early. Among the very young this is encouraged (or at least indulged as harmless) but the push toward a 'serious' education soon exacts a heavy toll on dreams and fantasies....Yet for some the desire persists, and sooner or later must be addressed. And with good reason: your desire to make art -- beautiful or meaningful or emotive art -- is integral to your sense of who you are. Life and Art, once entwined, can quickly become inseparable; at age ninety Frank Lloyd Wright was still designing, Imogen Cunningham still photographing, Stravinsky still composing, Picasso still painting.

But if making art gives substance to your sense of self, the corresponding fear is that you're not up to the task -- that you can't do it, or can't do it well, or can't do it again; or that you're not a real artist, or not a good artist, or have no talent, or have nothing to say. The line between the artist and his/her work is a fine one at best, and for the artist it feels (quite naturally) like there is no such line. Making art can feel dangerous and revealing. Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be. For many people, that alone is enough to prevent their ever getting started at all -- and for those who do, trouble isn't long in coming. Doubts, in fact, soon rise in swarms:

"I am not an artist -- I am a phony. I have nothing worth saying. I'm not sure what I'm doing. Other people are better than I am. I'm only a [student/physicist/mother/whatever]. I've never had a real exhibit. No one understands my work. No one likes my work. I'm no good.

Yet viewed objectively, these fears obviously have less to do with art than they do with the artist. And even less to do with the individual artworks. After all, in making art you bring your highest skills to bear upon the materials and ideas you most care about. Art is a high calling -- fears are coincidental. Coincidental, sneaky and disruptive, we might add, disguising themselves variously as laziness, resistance to deadlines, irritation with materials or surroundings, distraction over the achievements of others -- indeed anything that keeps you from giving your work your best shot. What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit. Each step in the artmaking process puts that issue to the test.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
tags: art, fear
“There is no ready vocabulary to describe the ways in which artists become artists, no recognition that artists must learn to be who they are (even as they cannot help being who they are.) We have a language that reflects how we learn to paint, but not how we learn to paint our paintings. How do you describe the [reader to place words here] that changes when craft swells to art?

"Artists come together with the clear knowledge that when all is said and done, they will return to their studio and practice art alone. Period. That simple truth may be the deepest bond we share. The message across time from the painted bison and the carved ivory seal speaks not of the differences between the makers of that art and ourselves, but of the similarities. Today these similarities lay hidden beneath urban complexity -- audience, critics, economics, trivia -- in a self-conscious world. Only in those moments when we are truly working on our own work do we recover the fundamental connection we share with all makers of art. The rest may be necessary, but it's not art. Your job is to draw a line from your art to your life that is straight and clear.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“to require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do — away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes. Believing that artwork should be perfect, you gradually become convinced that you cannot make such work. (You are correct.) Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit. And in one of those perverse little ironies of life, only the pattern itself achieves perfection — a perfect death spiral: you misdirect your work; you stall; you quit.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Art is a high calling – fears are coincidental. Coincidental, sneaky and disruptive, we might add, disguising themselves variously as laziness, resistance to deadlines, irritation with materials or surroundings, distraction over the achievements of others – indeed as anything that keeps you from giving your work your best shot. What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“When you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“ART IS MADE BY ORDINARY PEOPLE. Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making art. It’s difficult to picture the Virgin Mary painting landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots. The flawless creature wouldn’t need to make art.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“The only work really worth doing — the only work you can do convincingly — is the work that focuses on the things you care about. To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Fears arise when you look back, and they arise when you look ahead. If you're prone to disaster fantasies, you may even find yourself caught in the middle, staring at your half-finished canvas and fearing both that you lack the ability to finish it, and that no one will understand it if you do.

Fears arise when you look back, and they arise when you look ahead. If you're prone to disaster fantasies, you may even find yourself caught in the middle, staring at your half-finished canvas and fearing both that you lack the ability to finish it, and that no one will understand it if you do.

To which the Master replied, 'What makes you think that ever changes?'

That's why they're called Masters. When he raised David's discovery from an expression of self-doubt to a simple observation of reality, uncertainty became an asset. Lesson for the day: vision is always ahead of execution -- and it should be. Vision, Uncertainty, and Knowledge of Materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from: vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
tags: art, fear
“PERFECTION The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“At any point along that path, your job as an artist is to push craft to its limits — without being trapped by it. The trap is perfection: unless your work continually generates new and unresolved issues, there’s no reason for your next work to be any different from the last.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Nature places a simple constraint on those who leave the flock to go their own way: they get eaten. In society it's a bit more complicated. Nonetheless the admonition stands: avoiding the unknown has considerable survival value. Society, nature, and artmaking tend to produce guarded creatures.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“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. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. X-rays of famous paintings reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by overpainting the still-wet canvas. The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. The best you can do is make art you care about — and lots of it!”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“What artist has not experienced the feverish euphoria of composing the perfect thumbnail sketch, first draft, negative or melody — only to run headlong into a stone wall trying to convert that tantalizing hint into the finished mural, novel, photograph, sonata. The artist’s life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Art is human. Error is human. Art is error.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Between the initial idea and the finished piece lies a gulf we can see across, but never fully chart. The truly special moments in artmaking lie in those moments when concept is converted to reality — those moments when the gulf is being crossed.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“If art is made by ordinary people, then you’d have to allow that the ideal artist would be an ordinary person too, with the whole usual mixed bag of traits that real human beings possess. This is a giant hint about art, because it suggests that our flaws and weaknesses, while often obstacles to our getting work done, are a source of strength as well. Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Most of us spend most of our time in other peoples’ worlds — working at predetermined jobs, relaxing to pre-packaged entertainment — and no matter how benign this ready-made world may be, there will always be times when something is missing or doesn’t quite ring true.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot — and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“As far as most people are concerned, art may be acceptable as a profession, but certainly not as an occupation.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Your imagination is free to race a hundred works ahead, conceiving pieces you could and perhaps should and maybe one day will execute - but not today, not in the piece at hand. All you can work on today is directly in front of you. Your job is to develop an imagination of the possible.”
David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“And while a hundred civilizations have prospered (sometimes for centuries) without computers or windmills or even the wheel, none have survived even a few generations without art.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Computers are useless — all they can give you are answers. — Pablo Picasso”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“Training prepares you for a job; an education prepares you for life.”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
“But the important point here is not that you have — or don’t have — what other artists have, but rather that it doesn’t matter. Whatever they have is something needed to do their work — it wouldn’t help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don’t lack it. You don’t need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period. EXPECTATIONS”
David Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

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