Creative Book Review 5: Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Part 2)

 “Once the art has been made, an entirely new set of problems that require the artist to engage the outside world. Call them ordinary problems.” -Davis Bayles & Ted Orland

Making Art. There’s not much more to it than that, right? When considering what an artist goes through to be a successful, it’s easy to forget the business end of things. Marketing, strategizing to get your work in front of the right people, building and meeting with clientele—the list goes on, of things that can take up your time.

The second part of Art & Fear another set of business related issues that most artists face. Critics and Criticism, Competition, and Academia. These issues are not “bad”, and can be used to an artist’s advantage, but it is important that those who pursue the arts have a proper perspective, so not to be discouraged or suffer harm to their career or mental state.

The Authors mention censorship and critics first in part of the book. Art ,in general, has always been at odds with censorship. It’s quite understandable, artists want to feel free to express themselves. On the other hand they don’t acknowledge that the general public has a say in what things let in their public spaces. Although the authors call it “debilitating”, the need for a certain level of restraint has become apparent in recent years. The artist should be mindful of the audience he/her is speaking to. It’s not being afraid to offend people but sharing your message in a way that doesn’t ignore the people who you intend to impact.

It’s easier to rate artists in terms of the recognition they’ve received (which is easily compared) than in terms of the pieces they’ve made (which may be different as apples and waltzes.) And when that happens, competition centers not on making work, but on collecting the symbols of acceptance and approval of that work… – David Bayles and Ted Orland

Competition is good. Bayles and Orland make this point by giving examples of athletes and artists thriving on deadlines for shows and publications. In moderation, the pressure of meeting a deadline keeps many artists productive and disciplined. Competition among artists also encourages them to grow , and try new things while remaining relevant. Although success and recognition are important, the quality of an artist’s work should not be judged by them, considering that being judgmental, as an artist, can lead to an unhealthy view of competition, ending in feelings of pride, or insecurity.

The dilemma facing academia is that it must accommodate not only students who are striving to become artists, but also teachers who are struggling to remain artists. -David Bayles and Ted Orland

While they admit that art schools are useful, and beneficial for artists, Bayles and Orland, along with many other artists, express mixed feelings in the area of Academics. “The same system that ignores the potential of the newcomer often discounts the achievements of the veteran.” Says Bayles and Orland, bringing attention to the faculty issues, and questionable hiring practices of Universities at the beginning of the Academic World Section. These opinions stem from the fact that some teachers are not adequately judged by their ability to teach, and only require a certain amount of experience, to be accepted as a teacher.

Having the title of a teacher, or professor is a good look for an artist. Not only do these titles garner certain levels of respect, they also look good on paper. However, securing a position as a teacher does not come without its own set of problems. In my experience, during my first three years of teaching, I was so burnt out that I found myself being either too tired to be inspired, or too preoccupied with my work to have time. Both left me creatively blocked, which hurt my ability to make art. This is common, says Bayles and Orland, however it doesn’t have to be.

It’s possible to flourish as an artist while teaching. it just takes some work. Teaching has something special to offer artists, that thing is the relationships you make with your students. It is how an artist with success can give back to the next generation and help shape the future of the art community.

Bayles and Orland had a very depressing view of art school, pointing out that a lot students don’t get to finish due to financial strain, or if money wasn’t an issue, left unprepared for the road ahead.

Graduating and leaving the academic environment can be difficult on anyone. Bayles and Orland state that it’s not uncommon for artists to go into MFA programs, then teaching jobs due to those issues. Though it is easy for an artist to go into a career, especially teaching, that guarantees a regular paycheck, having the wrong motivation will lead to stress and a sense of un-fulfillment.

The book concludes by going through other processes of making art, such as developing concepts and studying art books. All interesting stuff, but the last few sentences of the book really capture it all so I will end it with that.

In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice… 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 and Ted Orland


If you want to read the book you can buy it here

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