Quotes from "Art and Fear"

"Art & Fear" by David Bayles & Ted Orland. Photo by Lisa Marder

At some point most artists have doubted their ability, work, or career choice.  Next time that happens to you, you may want to read or re-read the book, Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It is an enlightening and engaging pep talk in a very readable and inspiring roughly 120 pages.

Both Bayles and Orland are working artists and have been long-time friends.

Their combined insight into the practice of making art rings true in every page. The book is about real people making art in the real world, the internal and external voices that make them doubt themselves and tell them they won't succeed, and how to overcome real and imagined obstacles. To reinforce their message, the authors cite examples of well-known artists who have struggled with the same things that practicing artists do today.

Art and Fear tells us that making art - and this broadly includes anything creative - involves doing what you love to do every day without excuses, ignoring the voices that tell you you’re no good, that you have nothing to say,  and that you’re not a “professional” artist (even if you haven't yet found a market, exhibited in a gallery, or sold anything). Making art, especially in contemporary society, is difficult, and requires practice. Much like the athlete doing pushups or stretching and warming up muscles, artists need to practice their artmaking skills on a regular basis.

Making art is not about being a genius, or having magical powers, it is about persistence.

I have highlighted many passages in my copy of Art and Fear that inspire me and propel me back into the studio time and time again. Here are some of those passages.


Making art involves skills that can be learned

"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. 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. Clearly, these qualities can be nurtured by others. Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the lung run, from perseverance and lots of hard work." (Art & Fear, p. 3)

Making art means living with doubt

"Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself." (Art & Fear, p. 2)

The purpose of your artwork

"The sobering truth is that the disinterest of others hardly ever reflects a gulf in vision. In fact there's generally no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist's work.

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 & Fear, p. 5)

Quitting vs. stopping

"Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again  - and art is all about starting again." (Art & Fear, p. 10)

On artistic vision

"Lesson for the day: vision is always ahead of execution - and it should be." (Art & Fear, p. 15)

The hard work of making art

"Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work. They commit themselves to the work of this heart, and act upon that commitment. So when you ask, 'Then why doesn't it come easily for me?', the answer is probably, 'Because making art is hard!' (Art & Fear, p.


Art as a solitary endeavor

"Art is often made in abandonment, emerging unbidden in moments of selfless rapport with the materials and ideas we care about. In such moments we leave no space for others. That's probably as it should be. Art, after all, rarely emerges from committees." (Art & Fear, p. 37)

Acceptance vs. approval

"The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle, but distinct. Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it.

It's not unusual to receive one without the other. Norman Rockwell's work was enormously well-liked during his lifetime, but received little critical respect. A generation or two earlier there was widespread agreement that John Singer Sargent was good, but that for various reasons his work didn't really count. On the flip side, every season brings a small bundle of films and plays that garner rave critical reviews while on their way to becoming box office disasters." (Art & Fear, pp. 45-46)

On finding your artistic voice

"Once you have found the work you are meant to do, the particulars of any single piece don't matter all that much." (Art & Fear, p. 62)

Art is something you do for the world

"If art is about self, the widely accepted corollary is that making art is about self-expression. And it is - but that is not necessarily all it is. It may only be a passing feature of our times that validating the sense of who-you-are is held up as the major source of the need to make art. What gets lost in that interpretation is an older sense that art is something you do out in the world, or something you do about the world, or even something you do for the world.

The need to make art may not stem solely from the need to express who you are, but from a need to complete a relationship with something outside yourself. As a maker of art you are custodian of issues larger than self." (Art & Fear, p. 108)

This book has become a cult classic, passed on from teacher to pupil, from artist friend to artist friend.  Not only for artists, Art & Fear addresses how to live authentically. Read what Maria Popova says about it in her column BrainPickings on fear and the creative processFor more inspiration about art and life I also recommend Robert Henri's The Art Spirit.

Also Read: Essential Reading for Artists: Art and Fear




Bayles, David & Orland, Ted, Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of    Artmaking,The Image Continuum Press, Santa Cruz, CA, 1993.