Review: "Art & Fear" by David Bayles & Ted Orland

While I had already read Art & Fear as an undergrad at Ball State, it was nice to revisit the book and to be reminded of some of its comforting ideas. The book resonates with me on a personal level. I had forgotten how nice it is to hear some of the things it discusses, and to know that I am not the only one that feels the way I feel about my art making process.

One of the things the book discusses heavily is the fear that comes from making your own work. In the beginning of my education (and still to this day) I had a hard time making new work because I wanted every piece to be perfect, or at least portfolio-worthy. I wanted to prove that I could continue to make good work. More often than not, this thinking prevents me from finishing, or even starting, a piece. Art & Fear reminded me that I will make a lot of bad work, but that from that bad work I will learn what I like and don't like, and that will eventually become my voice, or "style."

Something else I think about a lot, which the book gets into, is what most people call "imposter syndrome," that is, the fear of others finding out you have no idea what you're doing, or that you are only faking being a "real" artist. Most artists feel this way, and as the book puts it, "you know better than anyone else the accidental nature of much that appears in your art, not to mention all those elements you know originated with others." I often feel that much of what is successful in my work is purely accidental, and that makes it more difficult for me to determine what pieces in my portfolio are actually "good." It also often makes me think, "can I replicate this? Is this my style or was it a lucky mistake?"

The final excerpt that I found interesting, both now and the first time I read it, was its criticism of art education. Obviously an art education is valuable for many reasons, but is it entirely necessary? No. And most artists know this. The specific line I found interesting was one that described many art graduates as considering themselves "survivors of their formal education." This line sticks out to me because it was certainly how I was feeling as an undergrad. I felt that I was simply surviving from critique to critique, not really creating work that I felt was indicative of the type of work I would like to be known for (I later found this was because I had wanted to be an illustrator, not a fine artist). My response to this statement was to change the way I thought of my education, especially as a grad student with greater freedoms, and to manipulate my assignments and experiments to be focused on developing my portfolio and career direction, and not just "going with the flow" to meet a deadline.

This is one of few books that have been recommended to me by an educator that I chose to hand onto, and I will likely recommend it to other artists and revisit it again in a few years.


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