Sometimes you stumble across a book that so perfectly describes the place that you are in your life... Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland is doing it for me now. From the opening sentences through each of the paragraphs that followed, I found myself thinking over and over "wow, this is me" and "I need this advice right now, this is perfect."
It's the kind of book that I never would have imagined existed because most people probably don't need a self-help book for their artistic anxieties. It's also the kind of book that I go back to and reread sections as a reminder to keep my head straight about certain things. This quote is one of those sections (emphasis added.)
"Today artwork does not emerge from a secure common ground... 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 or 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."
I'm usually uncomfortable talking to people about the art I do or don't make. There are a lot of reasons for that, most have nothing to do with the person I'm talking to. I'm most comfortable talking to someone who I know will not express any thoughts about what I should or could be doing in terms of making art. It's really a journey that I have to find my own way with.
When people find out that I like to make art, they often tell me about someone else they know who makes art and what that person has done. Or they ask me what I plan to do with this; or whether I have tried this, that or the other. I come away with a sense that I should be doing more than I am.
Maybe I've been projecting my own self-doubts into these discussions, because I do this to myself a lot too. "Well, so-and-so just finished another painting for her living room, what's wrong with me, why haven't I got any of my art hanging up?" This book is helping me see how invalid it is to make these types of associations and to feel more comfortable with where I am in terms of making art.
I don't feel any jealousy over what other artists are doing - I recognize that I am not them. It's not better or worse, just not the same. I admire them and I know I have much I can learn from them, but I don't particularly want to be them.
Once a friend asked me to paint a mural in her soon-to-be-born first child's nursery. She wanted a jungle theme and gave me an idea of a few animals she'd like to see in there and left the rest up to me. It was an unpaid work and I had a lot of freedom to come up with whatever I wanted. I might have been doing my full-time student gig at the time. Anyway, I enjoyed painting the mural and was fairly happy with the result so I got the idea that I might try it as a side job.
I found a classmate with a step-daughter who wanted a mural in her room. The father was a former corporate big-wig and entered into "negotiations" over the price with me. I was very uncomfortable dealing with him. The little girl struck me as a spoiled child with an inborn sense of entitlement. As I worked in their home, I felt humiliated, I didn't enjoy the painting, and I vowed never to do another commission work again.
You always hear about making art just for the sake of making art. I thought I understood what that meant, but I realize now that I am only just beginning to. It's kind of like gardening. Just because you enjoy gardening, doesn't mean you should quit your day job and start your own landscaping company.
I've already started to see how this perspective is changing the way I approach my work. I don't feel as much pressure to be creating a masterpiece every time I pick up the brush. There's another quote in the book related to this, but I'll save that for next time.