Within the Work Itself

I recently came across a book that I held close during my stint in art school called  Art and Fear/ Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Their opening statements: "Making art 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 you go next. Making the work you want to make means finding the nourishment within the work itself. " 

These words have been soothing and inspiring.  They are soothing because they exposes those common "what the crap am I doing?!" feelings. They highlight this aspect within creatives which is in constant contradiction with an addiction to beauty innately coupled with an insatiable desire to articulate it in an authentic and personal translation. The authors' acknowledgment of this predicament helps bring me back to brass tax.  

In order to feel like I have spoke to beauty and truth accurately theres most likely a lot of mundane and ritualistic work to be done. And most likely a lot of crap I'll be making (but hopefully with accidental successes in the mix.)

I also love this book because it debunks the mysticism and idealism behind the process of creating.  When walking through an art supply store (or antique shop, junk yard hardware or thrift store for that matter), I'm often intoxicated by the seduction of the potential of materials. Sadly, it distracts me like a nine-page menu, and indecision becomes my silent companion.  Over the years, I've learned (and am learning) to stick with the materials that allow me to enjoy the process more, and allow myself the space to grow in respect of them --both in their versatility and limitations. And also learning that I mostly need to just sit my ass down to do the work.

In truth, if I wasn't so in love with the process of making art itself, I'd leave it entirely. What comes after the "nourishment of the work itself" can be harsh. Our fear (real or unfounded) of others is terribly taunting, but self-critique is the most deadly. 

However, like Bayles and Orland reveal, an artist must "set aside doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next."  Artists are duplicitous. We pour our thoughts and feelings into a piece and then are required and compelled to step away from the feeling and move toward objective criticism. Yet, I think it's a blessed contradiction. It teaches us to be better and to strive for better while whittling away at the the valid piece in front of us that we feel is far less than best.  And the only way through is to accept this doubt and trial, not only as reality, but also as a healthy and essential landmarks  toward our goals. Our moments of disillusionment, discouragement, and even hatred for the thing we once loved aren't sexy, but they are essential. 

"Making art is dangerous and revealing," these authors point out. I'm hoping to learn more how to embrace this danger, fall more in love with the process,  the ritual of knowing my materials, the nourishment of the work despite lack of audience or reward, and accept the challenge toward more revelation and exposure -- both to myself and others. 

I'm happy to be here among other risk takers and beauty lovers.


posted by Joanna