Art & Fear… and Mostly Fear

Last August I read the call for entry for an art quilt competition.

Last September I decided on the general theme for my entry in that competition and obtained the photos that would serve as the basis of the image.

Apres Matisse

  • On January 1, online entries opened.
  • In March I begin work on the piece.
  • On April 30, I completed the piece and submitted the entry online.
  • On May 1, online entries closed.

Now, submitting entries at the last minute is nothing new for me. Earlier this year I managed to complete an online entry at 11:14 PM; the entries closed at midnight. And each time this happens – each time I’m sewing down a binding or taking a photo or writing an artist statement and realize I cannot make a mistake because there is NO TIME to correct it – each time I ask myself: “Why?”

I know it’s usually about procrastination. There is time to work on a piece but instead I choose to do something else: make dinner, check out FaceBook, work on some knitting because I’m “just too tired” to concentrate – I’ve even been known to clean house so I don’t have to sit down to work.

The difference this time was that when I asked myself “Why?”, I felt compelled to answer: “Because I’m afraid. I’m afraid the piece won’t be good enough, that it won’t live up to my vision for it, that it won’t be accepted into the exhibit, that people who see it won’t like it, that I won’t like it.”

This sudden burst of honesty was triggered by reading and thinking about Chapter 2 of Art & Fear by David Bayes & Ted Orland. Lynn Krawzyck continued the read-along on her blog, Fibra Artysta, with a posting on April 1, and I’ve been thinking since then what I might add to the discussion.

For me, a core point of the chapter is this: “What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit.” The authors point out that fears can disguise themselves as “laziness, resistance to deadlines, irritation with materials or surroundings, distraction over the achievements of others – indeed as anything that keeps you from giving your work your best shot.”


Now I have another deadline approaching. Fortunately the work for this competition is already completed, and the photos are already uploaded and indexed in my computer. But I do have to burn a CD and fill out an entry form and get it in the mail.

But it’s almost time to make dinner, and there’s a brand new project on my sewing table……..

Mozart or Bust!

Art & Fear

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a small child taking piano lessons, my teacher told me about Mozart. Perhaps she thought that the story of the prodigy who wrote lovely little melodies and gave public piano recitals when he was five (or six or seven or some other impossibly early age) would inspire me.

It didn’t work.

What could I, a six year old dutifully but slowly struggling through each ditsy beginner lesson, possibly have in common with a precocious little twit in knee pants? Or with a composer so gifted that melodies (complete with harmonization and orchestration) flowed simply and constantly from his brain to his pen. An artist whose only “block” was that he couldn’t write fast enough. You’ve seen Amadeus? Those may not be the facts, but they certainly are the legend.

It got worse.

Somewhere along the way I internalized the Mozart legend as the standard for how art is created. So – if you are a composer, you sit at the piano, and beautiful, perfectly formed, memorable melodies flow from your hands. If you are writer, you sit at your desk and spontaneously write beautiful, perfectly formed, meaningful stories. If you are an artist, you stand before your canvas or your block of stone and know – just KNOW – what to do next to create a beautiful, perfectly formed, great work of art.

Of course.

And if it doesn’t happen that way – if you labor over the notes or the words, if you puzzle over a plot line for hours (weeks! months!), if you need to take a drawing class to learn about perspective and shading – then, obviously, you are not an artist and not creative and should go do something else.


It took me a very long time to overcome these assumptions, but I might have gotten there sooner if I had had the benefit of David Bayles’s & Ted Orland’s book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The Introduction to that book begins like this:

This book is about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people – essentially (statistically speaking) there aren’t any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time.


Thank you!

Michigan fiber artist Lynn Krawzyck is the one who introduced me (and others) to this book. In her excellent blog Fibra Artysta, she is hosting a discussion of the book, posting her thoughts month by month on each chapter and inviting responses as comments on her blog or as posts on the reader’s own site. The discussion began with Chapter 1 on March 1, and yes, I am as usual rather late in responding – although I really did read the chapter on time. Really.

Chapter 1, The Nature of the Problem, sets out the questions the authors intend to explore: How does art get done? Why, often, does it not get done? And what is the nature of the difficulties that stop so many who start? But I responded most strongly to that statement in the introduction, the assurance that I don’t have to be Mozart to create good art.

Bayles and Orland go on to say “artmaking involves skills that can be learned”. That’s another truth so obvious that I can hardly believe it eluded me for so long. After all, look at the performing arts: No one expects a pianist to play that Mozart sonata – much less a Chopin polonaise – at their first lesson. Ballet teachers do not hand out toe shoes to their beginning students. And even the amazing performance of a group of six year old Suzuki violinists is the result of hours of careful instruction and practice.

Why did I – or anyone, for that matter – ever assume that “real artists” could create good work by relying only on their talent and did not need to learn their craft?