July 7, 2013

Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland

There is an amazing little book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  I picked it up because of the title- I was intrigued. It confirmed what I have believed for years.  Here are a few of the many important points it makes:

1.  Self Doubt (and the Doubt of Others) Needs to be Eradicated

We are all taught at a young age that making art is fine, but not a serious “educational” endeavor.  Therefore, growing up we are predisposed to believe, at least in the back of our mind, to not take it seriously (12-13). From this cultural norm, we feel that making art can be ‘dangerous and revealing’- which it is.  From that self-doubt, coupled with the criticism of others, deters us from becoming actualized artists. Personally- I know that self-doubt is the number one reason we don’t succeed- whether it be at making art or any other goal.

2. Expectations need to be Real (Making Art is Not Magic)

There seems to be a mystique around successful artists, like they have some kind of special power or magic unattainable by others. Of course, this makes you question yourself- I am not special, I don’t have some kind of magic ability, so I am not an artist (33).  We end up obsessing over what others have or are able to do.  Some may see this as intimidation.   Every minute you do this you waste a minute YOU could have used to make your own creative world.  You can only be intimidated when you let someone do it. Big mistake.

3. Work (Yes, and Then Work Some More)

According to Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell believes that it takes 10,000 hour of doing something to be an expert at it.  He may have underestimated the number.

Probably the most important take away from this book was the concept of work, then work some more.  The authors use an example of a ceramics class that would be graded in two separate ways.  One group would be graded on quantity- the other graded on quality.  The first group had to make as many pieces as possible, while the second only had to make one perfect piece.  Interestingly, the quantity group, the ones who churned out piles of work, had the highest quality.  It turns out that by making so much work, they learned from their mistakes and improved, while the others “theorized” and had less quality work.  It’s like I say to my middle school students, “Less talk, more work.”

There were other valid points made, but the take away from the book for me was:

  1. Don’t worry about what others think
  2. No one has any special super human ability
  3. My fear is irrational, and most importantly…
  4. The more I work, the better my work will be.

When we are going after any goal- be it making art, succeeding in business, being an entrepreneur, even being a great mom… it doesn’t matter.  Fear paralyzes us.  Fear crushes creativity.  It’s amazing what we can accomplish if we are fearless.

Pick up this book and give it some thought.  Let me know if you agree.


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  1. Thank you- The book is fascinating- and it translates to events and challenges in our daily lives, not just making art.

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