I am a self-taught artist. My parents were both artists, but that doesn’t mean they were supportive. To be honest, they were only supportive if I was helping out my dad finish his commissions. While I’ve been drawing all my life, I didn’t really see it as anything to be invested in until I moved here to Massachusetts. I’ve come a long way since my first bottle of Acrylic craft paint from my local craft store. I’ve learned about perspective, lighting, and color theory, but there was something that isn’t really taught.
Being an artist is a highly emotional endeavor and if all you’ve been told over and over is “it’s not a real job” or that you’re going to be the proverbial “starving artist” then you’re going to feel fear despite enjoying your passion. I am no different.
There was a book that changed a lot of that for me, and if I taught an art class it would be mandatory reading. This book is called “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It’s a self-help book for artists. If you prayed to the Universe or whoever for them to recommend a self-help book that was designed specifically to build confidence and help you explore why you’ve even chosen to do this in the first place; This book would have floated down from heaven on a cloud accompanied by two fat baby cherubs and the sounds of a holy choir. Yes, I do love it that much. My husband knows how much I like a book based on how much I write and underline in it and this book is very much loved. Every sentence seemed to address an ever unspoken fear I had around being an artist.
The first sentence I underlined in the very first chapter says “In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive”. I think artists, especially ones who are catching the Instagram and online art fads, often forget that art isn’t about the number of upvotes you get. It’s about expressing who you are, and not everyone will be okay with that, and hell, I’ve had my share of critiques. But if I’m painting me, then that means I’m expressing something I can stand behind.
But expressing yourself in an unapologetic way is hard, and is something I’m still working on. Therapy has helped a lot and continues to help me, but if for whatever reason you can’t see a therapist, this book really delves into what embracing yourself through your art looks like.
The chapters are broken up into fears. The first chapter is more of an introduction to “Art and Fear” which addresses everything from vision and execution to uncertainty. Even that idea that I come across frequently which is “Oh no…what if this is the last good piece of art I every make!?!?”…which this book assures is not the case.
The next chapter is entitled “Fears about Yourself” which covered “Pretending Talent”, “Magic expectations”, and my personal favorite: “Perfection Annihilation”. I loved this chapter so much because it spoke so deeply to me that I underlined the title of the chapter. I underlined a lot in that, but two sentences that stood out where “Art is human; error is human; ergo, art is error”. This also drove the point home to my gut; “To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you NEED to get your work done”. Yeah, that hit me right in the heart where I needed it.
The next chapter is called “Fear about Others” which I don’t completely struggle with but it’s still a nice read which covers “Understanding” which addresses “In following the path of your heart, the chances are that your work will not be understandable to others”, “Acceptance” that as an artist you naturally “risk rejection by exploring new worlds, or court acceptance by following well-explored paths”, and lastly “Approval” which says “courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hand of the audience”.
In Part 2 “The Academic World”, it talks about the bias around going to an art school to get a grade and even alter your art style to please a teacher who may or may not even know what “good art” means to them! It also talks about the insecurities of not using a “classical” medium. Often times it can be difficult for artists such as me who use acrylics to be recognized. Why? Because there’s this elitist movement around using either watercolor or oils, and because acrylics are cheap, better for the environment, and more available to the masses, it’s considered lesser than- which means the artists who use it must be some grandma painting some crappy picture of her cat….right? WRONG! This book talks about how much art selling and art school comes from snobbery trying to limit self-expression to only those rich enough to procure the necessary media! Also, as a side note, out of oil, acrylic, and watercolor can you guess which one ages the best? That’s right! Acrylics. They don’t fade like watercolor, and they don’t yellow with time like oils. Now, if you happen to prefer oil or watercolor, please don’t feel attacked. All media are wonderful media to use! It’s just that some are taken more seriously than others and that’s just not fair.
Regardless, if you grew up in an artistic yet discouraged world like myself, or if you studied art abroad in Italy, the chances are at some point or another, you will experience fear in regards to your work, and when you do, please know this book is waiting and will not discourage you from embracing who you are and giving you the strength to show the world.
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