Art and fear

Another interesting book has crossed my path. “Art and fear: Observations on the Perils  (and Rewards) of Art making” by David Bayles and Ted Orland is mostly telling me things I already know, but in a new way. In a beautifully written way which fully engages me. I like that. And I like how being reminded sends little sparks throughout my body.

“This book is what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.”

What I really needed to be reminded about is Life as Art. Each time I begin to narrowly focus on art as making books or assemblages, I start to feel cheated because there are not enough hours in the day for those creative endeavors. And I am VERY fortunate: I do get about an hour a day for art making. But it’s not enough. However, if I expand my idea of art and take into account that sewing canvas is creative, designing a brochure for a client is creative, building a report in Excel is creative, I feel wealthy.

So why do I continue to forget this?

I forget because I live in a culture that encourages us to think that happiness is “out there” instead of inside. That product is more important than process. “Art and fear” says it like this:

“Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.”

They may be talking about the work of making art, but their choice of words reminds me that my paying work is also art. Which means that all of the tools and techniques for artmaking apply.

This week I got stuck on a new upholstery project because it is a stretch for me.


It requires that the staples be covered with trim pieces called gimp and those pieces are glued on. The work is messy and nerve wracking because the glue can get everywhere.

So I found myself happily doing other things because getting distracted is so much easier than getting started. Then I read these words:

“What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears continue; those who don’t, quit.”

In the middle of upholstering for someone else, quitting is not really an option. The chair is naked except for its cotton batting and the idea of handing it back mumbling something about how afraid I was to continue prompts a smile. In fact, it makes me laugh. The work won’t get any easier by waiting or wishing. The work gets done by beginning and any artist will tell you that the same is true for making art.

4 Thoughts

  1. I’m wondering lately at what age do I get to NOT challenge myself. When can I just relax and do what’s easy, not what I HAVE to do? Sadly, all self-imposed. Sometimes I feel compelled to sit endlessly with my eyes on the trivia of tv, but then feel guilty for doing so. oy

    1. Good question! I suppose we can relax just as soon as we give ourselves permission and I, for one, have so much ambition and that ambition drives the desire to challenge myself. All self imposed as you say. On the other hand, I am never bored!

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