Selections from Art and Fear

Selections from "Art & Fear," by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Yet even the notion that you have a say in the process conflicts with the prevailing view of artmaking today--namely, that art rests fundamentally upon talent, and that talent is a gift randomly built into some people and not into others. This view is inherently fatalistic--even if it's true, it's fatalistic--and offers no encouragement to those who would make art. Personally, we'll side with Conrad's view of fatalism: namely that it is a species of fear--the fear that your fate is in your own hands, but that your hands are weak.

Artmaking involves skills that can be learned. The conventional wisdom here is that while "craft" can be taught, "art" remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so.

Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work.

Your job is to learn to work on your work.

The point is you learn how to make your work by making your work.

Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue--or more precisely, have learned how not to quit.

Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once.

Make friends with others who make art, and share your in-progress work with each other frequently.


I'm not an artist -- I'm a phony.

I have nothing worth saying.

I'm not sure what I'm doing.

Other people are better than I am.

No one likes my work.

I'm no good.

But while you feel you're just pretending that you're an artist, there's no way to pretend you're making art.

There is probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have--and probably no worry more common.

Even at best, talent remains a constant, and those who rely upon that gift alone, without developing further, peak quickly and soon fade to obscurity.

Talent is a snare and delusion. In the end, the practical questions about talent come down to these: Who cares? Who would know? and What difference would it make? And the practical answers are: Nobody, Nobody, and None.

The hardest part of artmaking is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over.

It is, after all, hard to imagine placing a full-time teaching career atop a full-time artmaking career without something going awry in the process. As the old proverb cautions: if you chase two rabbits, you catch neither.

Typically, the artmaking rabbit disappears first. If you teach, you know the pattern already. By the end of the school week, you've little energy left for any artmaking activity of more consequence than wedging clay or cleaning brushes.

The danger is real that an artist who teaches will eventually dwindle away to something much less: a teacher who formerly made art. The same system that produces new artists, produces ex-artists.

The greatest gift you have to offer your students is the example of your own life as a working artist.

Your experiences provide an affirmation to younger artists that the path they have chosen does lead somewhere, and that you are all really fellow travelers, separated only by the time you've already travelled down that path.

Most people stop making art when they stop being students.

Faced with such poor odds of artistic survival, upper division students migrate in droves toward the one job for artists that society does validate: teaching. This is a perilous course. There are many good reasons for wanting to teach, but avoiding the unknown is not one of them. The security of a monthly paycheck mixes poorly with the risk-taking of artistic inquiry.

Chances are that if you study art with a goal of teaching it, you'll end up with a career in sales.


Readers may wish to note that nowhere in this book does the dreaded C-word appear. Why should it? Do only some people have ideas, confront problems, dream, live in the real world and breathe air?

Q: Will anyone ever match the genius of Mozart?

A: No.

Thank you--now can we get on with our work?

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.