Art and Fear

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Making art can feel dangerous and revealing. Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be.

I guess I mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again: Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland is at present by far the best book on creativityI ever read (and to tell the truth – I have read a few …)

Mackintosh 2

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), plant study

There is this scaring thought that pops up every now and then ( -or rather often – ), it has the form of a simple question … and the question is: WHY, why do I do it? Why do I spend so much time making totally useless things (texts/sketches/journals …) instead of making … money?!

The only work really worth doing — the only work you can do convincingly — is the work that focuses on the things you care about. To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life … 

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), plant study

I have no answer to the WHY question, other than this; I make things because not making makes life totally meaningless –

Orland and Bayles say

In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot — and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice. … 

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), plant study

Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding –


Here is more on the Scottish architect & artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh whose wonderful botanical sketches I have used throughout this post.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Rio says:

    I think the worst thing is not to have the opportunity to create, to have to work just to survive, but then we might find we are surviving only to work, well that is the trap. We pile up stuff and never question the mountain of garbage it has become, garbage because we don’t really care about any of it. One creative act, thrilling, terrifying and penetrating blows it all apart and we are free. So instead we should work just enough to never let that activity perish and if art grabs hold of us and carries us away from even that small concession pray that we find a place that welcomes artists, if we fail we cannot have lost too much compared to those who never tried.
    I think your drawings show both strength and vulnerability, art and fear. Don’t stop if possible. You never know who you might inspire too.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you, Rio!
      Thank you for this comment, and for keeping our dialogue running! I really enjoy these short notes between us!

      I guess all of us (or at least most of us) have to work in paid jobs to manage, but I think one has to be very careful when choosing what kind of work one will do – and how much. I find work, also creative assignments I enjoy doing, drain my creative energy rather quickly, and so I have to be aware of the balance between work and making.

  2. Gabriela says:

    Lovely illustrations. If they bring meaning to your life, then you’re one of the luckiest people alive! It’s that simple. I need to add “Art & Fear” to my reading list. 🙂

  3. That’s one of my favorites, too. Mackintosh’s sketches are exquisite!

  4. I love the Mackintosh studies!! (Visited a few of his haunts when I was in Scotland recently). The art & fear discussion keeps going; it is so relevant, and–I think–perhaps too mysterious to be adequately explained, or anyway, cannot be “explained away.”

  5. Lovely writing on a great architect / artist who is very close to my heart.

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