Friday, January 16, 2009

Book Report: Art and Fear

I read this book years ago, and I didn't realize how much it had influenced my thinking until I recently opened it to look up a quote to bolster my argument in a discussion, and found that I've lifted my own philosophy about talent and artistic training directly from the authors.

So, I re-read the book in full, and decided to write up a little book report and give them credit for their theory which I have been trumpeting as my own.

I don't agree with everything is the book, but it has some fabulous ideas that were very liberating to me at a time when I was terrified to make art.

"The prevailing view of artmaking today [is that] art rests fundamentally upon talent, and that talent is a gift randomly built into some people and not into others. In common parlance, either you have it, or you don't.... This view is fatalistic - and offers no useful encouragement to those who would make art.

"Artmaking involves skills that can be learned. The conventional wisdom here is that while "craft" can be taught, "art" remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your voice, which makes your work distinctive. Clearly these qualities can be nurtured by others. Even talent is rarely distinguishable over the long run, from perseverance and hard work."

"... our flaws and weaknesses, while often obstacles to our getting our work done, are a source of strength as well."

"Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did."

"Your job is to learn to work on your work."

"Those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue -- or more precisely, have learned how not to quit."

I have learned the hard way (and I am sure the authors have learned this too) that this philosophy can raise ire. But I do think their words might resonate deeply with many people who want to make art but for one reason or another feel they are not "real artists".

All we can do is come up with a philosophy that helps us keep making art. So if this philosophy resonates with you, read this book, and then go forth and make art.

Also, I'll be teaching a drawing workshop for art-makers of all stripes soon, so if you think the philosophy would be helpful to you in the classroom, come to San Francisco in late April - details coming soon!