Essential Reading for Artists: Art and Fear

Why I believe every artist should read "Art and Fear" at least once.

Book Review Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

The little 134-page book Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking written by David Bayles and Ted Orland is one of those books you want to tell everyone you know to read. It deserves cult status among artists, to be passed from hand to hand as a well-read copy that every new reader devours (though you may find it hard to lend out your copy and instead might just let your friends dip into it when they visit!).

Why Should You Read "Art and Fear"?

Why do I believe Art and Fear is such a good book? Because it gets straight to the issues that matter so much and hinder our development as artists, such as why you’re not painting, why so many people give up painting, the gap between the potential of a canvas and what you produce, the belief that talent is essential.

Art and Fear is not written specifically for painters, but for any creative field, whether you’re a writer, musician, or fine artist. But despite this a painter will feels as if it’s talking directly to them, addressing issues painters have. It’s written in a straightforward, no-nonsense, entertaining manner (and totally lacks psycho-babble or high artspeak).

Who Wrote "Art and Fear"?

The authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, are both artists (actually, they describe themselves as “working artists”; an interesting and important distinction from just an "artist" you come to appreciate as you read "Art and Fear"!).

They have drawn their observations from personal experience. They say in the introduction: “Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar.

… This book is about what it feels like to sit in your studio … trying to do the work you need to do.”

Decide For Yourself: Some Quotes from "Art and Fear"

Art and Fear has truly been an inspiration to me and my much-marked and underlined copy lives among the pile of books and magazines I’m currently reading. The selection of quotes below are among my favourites, and give but a taster of the book.

”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.” Art and Fear, page 3.

”Even talent is rarely indistinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work.” Art and Fear, page 3.

”The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.” Art and Fear, page 5.

”To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you along, what matters is the process.” Art and Fear, page 5.

”You learn how to make your work by making your work … art you care about -- and lots of it!” Art and Fear, page 6.

”What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears continue; those who don’t, quit.” Art and Fear, page 14.

”Most artists don’t daydream about making great art --- they daydream about having made great art.” Art and Fear, page 17.

”The artist’s life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast.” Art and Fear, page 17.

And that’s but a small selection of the bits I’ve got underlined in the first 20 pages .. and the book goes on for 100 more!

Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland is published under their own imprint, Image Continuum Press, ISBN 0-9614547-3-3. The copy I got was from the 16th printing. I’m sure there will be many more as new artists discover this book and make it part of what keeps them going.