Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

I’ve just finished reading Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I immediately bought a copy for a writer friend of mine.

It’s short and amusing and incredibly good at breaking through the angst of making art. I draw cartoons (over at Excitable Dog and for the odd birthday card) and write blog posts here. In these endeavours I have struggled with  typical artist stuff, including:

  • what if it isn’t good enough?
  • It’s certainly not good enough
  • I’m not expressing what I want to express
  • this isn’t how it looks in my head
  • everyone can see I’m a fraud
  • nothing I’m contributing is worth anything
  • this is just the same as the thing I did before
  • this is too different from the thing I did before
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.

What is lovely about Art & Fear is that it describes all these insecurities, unpacks them a bit, and then says do art anyway. These fears and insecurities are inevitable, and you need to accept that and get on with it. It’s full of really useful reminders, such as this from the introduction:

“This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart.”

And this:

“Art is made by ordinary people… It’s difficult to picture the Virgin Mary paining landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots.”

The book also makes some useful distinctions about different points in an artistic journey, during which certain skills are experimented with and then discarded while others are developed and perhaps even finally mastered. And these practical skills of using physical tools lead to a certain restriction in possibility but also a freedom of expression and a new level of artistic possibility.

In many many ways there are parallels to be drawn with life. As we go down roads in terms of relationships, career or lifestyle we close options elsewhere, but reap the rewards of those choices as well. For example, I have practised taekwondo on average twice a week for the past 10 years, sometimes more, sometimes less. That time and effort has led me to a point with my taekwondo ability that can’t be reached by shortcuts, but it’s also closed options in other areas that could have received that attention. For example, I can’t play a musical instrument. And I’ve lived in London, where I am surrounded by people and culture, but not mountains and sea.

The book also covers criticism and the world of art, including this useful way of thinking about art.

“Writer Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artist’s work. The first two were disarmingly straightforward: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did he/she succeed? The third’s a zinger: Was it worth doing?”

These questions have already helped me think about art I’m experiencing, but also art I’m producing.

Heartily recommended to anyone with any artistic angst that stops them from working on, or committing to, their art.

Some of my art. yay!
Some of my art. yay!

Vichy Catalan water

Vichy Catalan water is only sold in about 4 outlets in London, one of which is Monmouth Coffee. It comes from the Catalan region of Spain and has unusually ‘hard’ bubbles and a salty taste. If you don’t mind the salty taste, it’s wonderful for hangovers. Get a large bottle. I noticed it wan’t exorbitantly priced, either.

As told to me by the friendly woman in Monmouth.

Things I’ve learnt from strangers: “I’ve been to Poland, I’ve been to Ukraine. I’m telling you no black man is safe there”

I just walked past a couple of large black guys in the street. It’s just gone midnight and one of them was wearing a reflective vest, I think working as a security guard. They were chatting like they didn’t know each other, but had just engaged in conversation. One said to the other: “I’ve been to Poland, I’ve been to Ukraine. I’m telling you no black man is safe there”. I believed him.

Things I’ve learnt from strangers: fit men running in the cold

I didn’t actually talk to this stranger, but was eavesdropping on his conversation. The person in question is a tall man who I often see running and stretching in all weathers in my local park as I go to work in the morning. He wears quite distinctive clothes and stands on top of a small hill doing his stretching, so he’s hard to miss, even when dodging the kids and their mums going to the local school.

This week I happened to follow him as he walked up towards the tube, in his regular running gear, chatting to another man and trying to convince him to take up similar exercise. I didn’t pay much attention until he started getting conspiratorial and delivered the ‘killer’ reason: “you get lots of attention from the ladies”.

It made me smile. Perhaps the hill and the mums aren’t such a coincidence.

Things I’ve learnt from strangers: chickens

According to the man selling chickens in Borough Market this morning (who had a range of chickens), traditional breed chickens have less meat on the breast and more on the leg, and are far tastier. We bought one, so tomorrow I’ll find out if it’s true.

Things I’ve learnt from strangers: Bermondsey St. antiques

Last weekend I got chatting to a woman who owns one of the properties on Bermondsey Street and trades antiques and furniture from it. She originally bought the house over 10 years ago to store the items that she couldn’t keep in her space in the market at the bottom of the street. At the time, the other traders said she was mad: who would go that far up the street, beyond the established trading area? In reality, she had an established group of customers happy to walk the distance, and she brought more trade to the other shops, stalls and spaces in between. Now, the market is tiny, all the other shops on the street are gone, and the trade dying due to the rise of Ikea and eBay. She doesn’t own a computer. She’s going to shut up shop and rent the space to architects.

Think I’ve learnt from strangers: Maltby Street

I’m trying to speak to more new people at the moment and appreciate the things I learn from them.

Yesterday, a stall holder on Maltby Street told me about the plans for the businesses that formed the original collective there. Apparently, they are currently on quite short term leases and all sorts of other people keep appearing along the arches. They have found some railway arches further away from London Bridge and are likely to be moving that way quite soon.