“Art and Fear” – David Bayles and Ted Orlando - Some pertinent quotes!

Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgement difficult. – Hippocrates (460 – 400 B.C.) (p1)

Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself. (p2)

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. … Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work. (p3)

Fiona Huddleston who took the time to read the book Art & Fear and pull out these amazing quotes, retype them and reference them for us... Thanks Fiona..

Fiona Huddleston who took the time to read the book Art & Fear and pull out these amazing quotes, retype them and reference them for us... Thanks Fiona..

Art is made by ordinary people … 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 getting our work done, are a source of strength as well. (p4)

If artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. (p5)

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. (p5-6)

Your desire to make art – beautiful or meaningful or emotive art – is integral to your sense of who you are. (p12)

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. (p15)

Art is like beginning a sentence before you know its ending. The risks are obvious: you may never get to the end of the sentence at all – or, having got there, you may not have said anything. In making art you need to give yourself room to respond authentically, both to your subject matter and to your materials. Art happens between you and something – a subject, an idea, a technique – and both you and that something need to be free to move. (P20)

Control, apparently, is not the answer. People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you’re looking for, some strategy or how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy – it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding. (p21)

Fears about artmaking fall into two families: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others. In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work. (p23)

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. (p26)

Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work. They commit themselves to the work of their heart, and act upon that commitment. (p28)

Enchanted forest walk, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania © Leonard Metcalf 2015

Enchanted forest walk, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania © Leonard Metcalf 2015

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. … To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done. Getting on with your work requires a recognition that perfection itself is (paradoxically) a flawed concept. … For you, the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further. (p30-31)

Artmaking probably does require something special, but just what that something might be has remained remarkably elusive – elusive enough to suggest that it may be something particular to each artist, rather than universal to them all.  … 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. (p34)

Being one of the higher brain functions, expectations provide a means to merge imagination with calculation. But it’s a delicate balance – lean too far one way and your head fills with unworkable fantasies, too far the other and you spend your life generating “To Do” Lists. (p35)

Expectations based on the work itself are the most useful tool the artist possesses. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work. … Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace. …. (p35-36)

The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes. Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen. (p36)

… for most art, there is no client, and in making it you lay bare a truth you perhaps never anticipated: that by your very contact with what you love, you have exposed yourself to the world. How could you not take criticism of that work personally? (p38)


… the real question about acceptance is not whether your work will be viewed as art but whether it will be viewed as your art. (p45)


Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it. (p45)

The work we make …vibrates in perfect harmony to everything we put into it – or withhold from it. In the outside world there may be no reaction to what we do; in our artwork there is nothing but reaction. The breathtakingly wonderful thing about this reaction is its truthfulness. Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; 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. (p49)

Rising mist, Cradle Mountain © Leonard Metcalf 2015

Rising mist, Cradle Mountain © Leonard Metcalf 2015

Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you can experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago, but the art you can make is irrevocably bound to the times and places of your life. … Making art is bound by where we are …. As viewers we readily experience the power of ground on which we cannot stand – yet that very experience may be so compelling that we may feel almost honour-bound to make art that recaptures that power. Or more dangerously, feel tempted to use the same techniques, the same subjects, the same symbols as appear in the work that aroused our passion …. (He relates a story about being utterly and completely moved by a particular photograph.) … That photograph was mine to experience. But neither it, nor anything like it, was mine to make. Yet it took a decade to dispel the gnawing feeling that my work should do what that work had done. And more years still before I thought to question where the power of such art resided: In the maker? In the artwork? In the viewer? (p52-53)

If, indeed, for any given time only a certain sort of work resonates with life, then that is the work you need to be doing at the moment. If you try to do some other work, you will miss your moment. (p53)

What you did got you there, and if you apply the same methods again you will likely get the same result again. This is true not just for being stuck but for all other artistic states as well – including highly productive states. … When things go haywire, your best opening strategy might be to return – very carefully and consciously – to the habits and practices in play the last time you felt good about your work. (p57)

… the undeniable fact is that your art is not some residue left when you subtract all the things you haven’t done – it is the full payoff for all the things you have done…
— (p56)

That’s to say that usually – but not always – the piece you produce tomorrow will be shaped, purely and simply, by the tools you hold in your hand today. … The dilemma every artist confronts, again and again, is when to stick with familiar tools and materials, and when to reach out and embrace those that offer new possibilities. …In time, as an artist’s gestures become more assured, the chosen tools become almost an extension of the artist’s own spirit. In time, exploration gives way to expression. (p59)

And, in truly happy moments, those artistic gestures move beyond simple procedure, and acquire an inherent aesthetic all their own. They are your artistic hearth and home, the working-places-to-be that link form and feeling. They become inseparable from the life of their maker. They are canons. They allow confidence and concentration. They allow not knowing. They allow the automatic and unarticulated to remain so. Once you have found the work you are meant to do, the particulars of any single piece don’t matter all that much. (p62)

What artists learn from other artists is not so much history or technique (although we learn tons of that too); what we really gain from the art-making of others is courage-by-association. Depth of contact grows as fears are shared – and thereby disarmed – and this comes from embracing art as process, and artists as kindred spirits. To the artist, art is a verb. (p89-90)

Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artist’s work:

  1. What was the artist trying to achieve?
  2. Did he/she succeed?
  3. Was it worth doing?

The first two questions address art at a level that can be tested directly against real-world values and experience; they commit you to accepting the perspective of the maker into your own understanding of the work. In short, they ask you to respond to the work itself. … But it’s that third question that truly opens up the universe. What is worth doing? (p93-94)

Mary's Hut, Cradle Mountain © Leonard Metcalf 2015

Mary's Hut, Cradle Mountain © Leonard Metcalf 2015

Artists who need ongoing reassurance that they’re on the right track routinely seek out challenges that offer clear goals and measureable feedback – which is to say, technical challenges. The underlying problem with this is not that the pursuit of technical excellence is wrong, exactly, but simply that making it the primary goal puts the cart before the horse. We do not long remember those artists who followed the rules more diligently than anyone else. We remember those who made the art from which the “rules” inevitably followed. (p95)

Simply put, art that deals with ideas is more interesting than art that deals with technique. (p97)

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. The difference between art and craft lies not in the tools you hold in your hands, but in the mental set that guides them. For the artisan, craft is an end in itself. For you, the artist, craft is the vehicle for expressing your vision. (p99)

Old work tells you what you were paying attention to then; new work comments on the old by pointing out what you were not previously paying attention to. (p100) To see things is to enhance your sense of wonder both for the singular pattern of your own experience and for the meta-patterns that shape all experience. All this suggests a useful working approach to making art: notice the objects you notice. Or put another way: make objects that talk – and then listen to them. (p101) Most early work, in fact, only hints at the themes and gestures that will emerge as the artist’s characteristic signature in later, mature work. At the outset, however, chances are that whatever theme and technique attract you, someone has already experimented in the same direction. This is unavoidable: making any art piece inevitably engages the large themes and basic techniques that artists have used for centuries. Finding your own work is a process of distilling from each of those traces that ring true to your own spirit.  … The habitual gestures of the artist appear throughout any body of work developed enough to be called a body of work. Style is not an aspect of good work, it is an aspect of all work. Style is a natural consequence of habit. (p102 -103)

Mr Curly, Cradle Mountain  © Leonard Metcalf 2015

Mr Curly, Cradle Mountain  © Leonard Metcalf 2015

The need to make art may not stem solely from the need to express who you are but from a need to complete a relationship with something outside yourself. As a maker of art you are custodian of issues larger than self. … Making art allows, indeed guarantees, that you declare yourself. Art is contact, and your work necessarily reveals the nature of that contact. In making art, you declare what is important. (p108)

Making art depends upon noticing things – things about yourself, your methods, your subject matter. … As your art develops, conceptual relationships increasingly define the shape and structure of the world you see. In time, they are the world. Distinctions between you, your work and the world lessen, grow transparent, and finally disappear. (p109)

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. … Your job is to draw a line from your life to your art that is straight and clear. (p115)

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. (p116)

To make art is to sing with the human voice. To do this you must first learn that the only voice you need is the voice you already have. Art work is ordinary work, but it takes courage to embrace that work, and wisdom to mediate the interplay of art and fear. Sometimes to see your work’s rightful place you have to walk to the edge of the precipice and search the deep chasms. You have to see that the universe is not formless and dark throughout, but awaits simply the revealing light of your own mind. Your art does not arrive miraculously from the darkness, but is made uneventfully in the light. (p117)

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. p118)