Book Review: Art & Fear

I frequently get questions from folks looking to pursue a career in fine art nature photography, as with many forms of art, there are many who would love to pursue it, but few who do. While the primary reason for this is financial, another part of the barrier is simple fear. It is to this audience, the beginning or mid-career photographer (or other artist), that Bayles and Orland’s famous tiny ::amazon(“0961454733″,”Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking”):: is addressed. While many books attempt to cover the particulars of pricing, of stock photography, of sales technique, few cover the inner hurdles real-world artists face in embarking on art as a career, and none do it so well as Art & Fear.

It would be easy for a book with these goals to drift into cliché and/or mindless motitvational speaking, but the authors manage to create something different with this topic, they speak with a unified voice that conveys pragmatism and realism, artistic big brothers providing pragmatic advice without sugar-coating or fancy terminology. Not once (and the authors do make a point of this) does the word creativity appear. Disabusing the notion of many artists that their work isn’t popular because “they don’t understand me”, the authors respond:

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.

Surely these authors have taken a lesson from Stunk and White’s famous injunction to “Omit needless words.“, clarity and brevity abound in this book.

The second short chapter demonstrates this quickly, categorizing the major points at which artists sometimes give up on their path, such as when it’s clear a new series of work won’t come together, and then offers simple concrete solutions for how to approach artmaking that address these issues. Further chapters continue in this pragmatic tone, deconstruting the importance of “talent”, “magic” and “perfection”; coping with issues of approval and acceptance, and so on.

Part II of the book turns from the internal to the external landscape of the working artist, talking plainly about the constraints of the fine art market, of censorship, of competition, the specific problems that the academic world presents the artist.

Finally, the authors turn in the concluding chapters back to the art itself, and what an artist is doing when she or he is an artist, what tools and models they bring to bear, what it is about artists that brings them to start, or stop, artmaking.

While at first glance the author’s pragmatism can sometimes might seem cynical, for me, the book’s realism often has a more positive than negative effect on my view of myself in the slow, methodical process of being an artist. It’s a great little book and a great gift for the artist just embarking on the long road to a career in artmaking.

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