Art and Fear

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Art and Fear

Thank you, John!

My sincere thanks to John McCloskey, who mentioned a book to me on one of my blog posts (Slightly Better Day On The Painting Front), called 'Art & Fear' by Bayles and Orland. John quoted a few extracts from the book for me on the blog post and I found them spookily close to how I often feel when I sit down to paint. I am easily overtaken by a fear of failure and I usually end up going and making a cup of tea rather than getting down to any work. As soon as I read some the quotes John put on my blog post, I promptly ordered the book from Amazon and I have to say it is a fascinating read and so very, very true. I began to think that Mr Bayles and Mr Orland had been reading my mail! The books deals with all the fears, hang-ups, expectations and the problems in producing art and even having the confidence to feel justified in calling yourself a genuine artist, rather than feeling like a fake (guilty as charged here, m'lud). The book has opened my eyes and given me some clarity and understanding about the role emotional and mental elements play in producing art. I am a mass of insecurities about painting so anything that clears some of that out of the way has to be a bonus. I can't recommend the book too highly especially as I think that a lot of artists have a wobble now and then and it is encouraging to find out how you can mentally shake yourself out of it and see a clearer path. Intriguing.

It has been really interesting to read all the comments about the book which I am very tempted to buy for myself. I have periods of painting activity and then hit the doldrums when I can't get enthused about anything. I also identify with the need to have a finished product - I really want to let go and splash around in paint to see what happens - then the little voice in my head will say 'that's rubbish!' I will order the book!

Hi Carole, I do like challenges of any sort, from POL or in the art mags as I think, as you say, they are less under pressure. Milly is totally spoilt anway but I recall I gave her an extra bikkie for being a good girl!

Yes it is good for constructive comments, but sometimes I think people are being just kind to encourage us, but I like to believe they mean it😉 anyway the site is good fun especially the challenges as these are not 'under pressure' and are just good fun. Hope you rewarded Milly for being a patient observer!

Well, Carole, I have churned out four pen drawings this morning - none masterpieces but then I told myself I was just going to enjoy myself. Roger has gone to London for the day, so it is just me and Milly (dog) and she isn't much of an art critic so I don't feel under pressure. I have one more drawing to do and then I will be done for the day - painting tomorrow I think. I always feel better when I have something down on paper, but I can't tell you the mental excuses I can come up with as to why I can't start a drawing or painting at that particular moment. I must write them down one day - or I might put them on a thread on the forum to see if anyone identifies with any of them. Therapy sound good - but then POL often fulfills that role don't you think?

Haha. I think we should go for a session of cognitive therapy, wonder if Paul McKenna could help? 😆😆

Ah, Carole, I've played that mind game as well but although I tell myself that this is just a bit of fun, a little devil leaps onto my shoulder and whispers in my ear that perhaps this will turn out to be my best work ever. Not a lot of relaxation about it after that! That was one thing the book highlighted. It isn't the lack of skill which holds people back - it is their minds that do that. Have to agree wholeheartedly with that one.

Thanks Thea, words of wisdom from C R. I also read somewhere that one shouldn't think about painting a masterpiece when one sets out to paint, just paint for the fun of it. I try!

Hi Carole, I think fear is an issue with so many artists. I also tell myself how silly it is as it is only paper and paint, but I can see from reading the book that it isn't as simple as that because it is paper, paint but also a lot of your inner self - much trickier. The book cleverly observes that we all think that earlier work is better than what we do now. I think that! I look back at paintings I did years ago and definitely feel I produced much better work then. My husband says he is amazed that I think that as he thinks my latest work is miles better, but I can't seem to see it? Also I get so busy that I am just not in the right frame of mind to be creative and there was me thinking that being retired was going to give me all the time in the world to pursue my interests!! I am reading the book for the second time now as there is so much to take in. It might also help you to hear one of the gems of wisdom that Charles Reid uttered when I went on that course with him. He said 'I always sit down to paint like it is the first time and I don't know how to do anything' To re-capture that blissful, beginner's luck freshness would be wonderful.

Hi Thea, after reading this bit about your book I have ordered it from Amazon. I too get really scared when deciding to paint! I usually have to wait for some real inspiration in order to get cracking and take the plunge His stupid is that? I usually say to myself ' if I had only one day to live I know I would just paint a picture'. That usually gets me going:) I have tons of art stuff and feel guilty that I am so lucky to have it when some really talented people have nothing. So Get On With It!! I tell myself 😳

John, the book is so good that my husband has ordered his own copy from Amazon. He is struggling to learn to play the piano and although it is not producing art in the conventional sense, a lot of the mental and emotional issues apply to this as well. I am finding that I have to read the book several times to take it all on board and am enjoying it a lot.

I am so pleased, Thea, that you found Art & Fear as uplifting and inspirational as I did. I remember that another of my favourite quotes is, I believe, at the very end of the book. I don't have the book to hand but I have scribbled it in a note book: 'In the end you have the 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.'

That's interesting, Robert, as you know I love my white paper and it instills distress and fear in me if I lose it! How different we all are, aren't we? Actually this book dealt with a lot of fundamental issues and you have to read it to see what it is saying. A couple of the quotes that John put were - "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 are looking for, some strategy for how to find it and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy" That one says it all about me because I like certainty and order in my life and I struggle to make risky or spontaneous art - so I think that hits the nail on the head. In a nutshell, my innate character is at odds with what my heart wants to produce. Another quote - "If artists share any common view it is probably the fatalistic suspicion that when their own art turns out well, it's a fluke - but when it turns our poorly, it's an omen". How very true! The book is full of insight like this and gets more fascinating the more you read. So in the end, it seems to me that it isn't the white paper that scares us and it is more our own preconceptions about our ability, lack of ability and often a struggle between who we are and what we want to produce.

I've not read the book, but am certainly familiar with the fear when confronted with white paper or canvas; and many others are too - if they weren't why would so many of us say "tone down the canvas to kill off the stark white"? Let's be quite honest here: it doesn't REALLY matter at all if you paint on stark white; yes, applying a wash of colour over it helps a little bit to enable you to judge the tones, but it really doesn't matter THAT much - you'll be painting that initial colour wash out anyway. In watercolour, which is your medium more than mine by rather a long way, I have tried applying a raw sienna wash on the paper before starting, but did it help? Really - no. We do it to calm our fears - and then pretend we have good solid artistic reasons for so doing. I do often find it helpful to paint a strong colour over, say, a field, and then paint over it (more in acrylic and oil than in watercolour, where it wouldn't work anyway) but the initial wash, the toning of the paper or canvas? Let's be honest - it really hardly makes any practical difference at all. We could paint over the white, but we seek an intermediary. I'm not criticizing this - I usually apply a burnt sienna imprimatura to work in oil or acrylic: but I've never REALLY thought it made a lot of difference to the end result. It doesn't matter, really - if it helps us get there in the end, which it certainly does, then anything is legit. The best antidote to fear, I think - which if we're honest we all feel - is to keep on keeping on: a bit like the dentist - if you keep on putting it off, the more frightened you'll get about going at all...... I know all about that, too......

Very interesting Thea and thank you for taking the time to comment on my artwork, always appreciated. Look forward to seeing your next masterpiece,

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