[Put in the close viewing category because there is no week nine reading category.]

Art and Your Paralysing Fear of Failure


I am utterly terrified of art. And I am utterly terrified of failure. These two things are one in the same. (Although part of my fear of art stems from how creepy I find museums. That stuff has somehow made it through hundreds of years of human history just so I can stare at it for about two minutes. I don’t get it.)

In this close reading I am going to be focusing on the section “Fears About Yourself” which goes from pages 23 to 36.

This is not a novel and this section is trying to tell me things about myself. Some of which I want to hear, “After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.” (page 26) Some of which I do not want to hear, “When you act out of fear, your fears come true.” (page 23) Because this is not a novel and I don’t like things that try to tell me why I approach things the way I do, I have no idea on how to approach this. So this will be an adventure in both writing and fear.

Firstly I would like to write about the writing style. It’s not written like a Book About Things like the sort we like to imagine when we think about textbooks. But then, if we stop and really think about textbooks, you know the weird twenty years out of date health books you read in science class or the required book written by the professor in Communications 101 at WSU, we realize this is written very similarly to those textbooks. Bad jokes, a familiar tone that is supposed to make you comfortable but actually just makes you profoundly uncomfortable, and some useful information.

Now, there are parts that deviate from the straight weird textbook tone. For example on page 28 there is a box around some text. The heading in that box reads “A Brief Digression in Which the Authors Attempt to Answer (or Deflect) an Objection.” And indeed, within that box they deflect and objection that was not yet fully formed in my head.

As much as I would truly love to hate this book just because of how much it reminds me of my required communications textbook at WSU, I can’t. It’s weird and kind of campy and full of bad analogies that the authors acknowledge as bad analogies, and, ultimately, some good advice.

The first subsection within “Fears About Yourself” is “Pretending.” I honestly think it’s one of the most important sections for young artists and the like. I don’t think I’ve talked to a single person in this class about our projects without one of us worrying that we’re just pretending to be able to do things. No matter how many people tell me I’m actually not a terrible writer, no matter how many times I get published, I will still probably think it’s a fluke and I’m a phony. I could win a Pulitzer and still think I’m just mediocre at writing. And I know almost everyone feels the same way. (And can I just say how stressful it is to write about being a writer?)

The fact that what art is is an ever changing discussion with no right answer and everyone just bumping into each other confused and looking for food (much like my experience of adult life) does not help not feeling like a phony. The book asserts this on page 25 with something of an okay analogy about chess. “After all, if there were some ongoing redefinition of ‘what chess is’, you’d probably feel a little uneasy trying to play chess.” Furthermore in this fun little chess analogy, the book asserts, “Then again you might conclude that since you weren’t sure yourself what chess was, you weren’t a real chess player and were only faking it when you moved the pieces around.” The book is not wrong, I am not a real chess player.

A later subsection of “Fears About Yourself” is entitled “Magic.” It describes a scenario in which the general “you” is attending an art opening with work that is so pointed so whole and unflawed and matches up with the artist’s statement so well that it seems like that body of work is inevitable. And then the general “you” begins to think “…your work doesn’t feel inevitable (you think), and so you begin to wonder: maybe making art requires some special or even magic ingredient that you don’t have.

Of course it does. Of course that’s true. There must just be something the general you and the specific I are lacking. Because why haven’t I gotten a book of short stories published? Why haven’t you been showcased at film festivals? Why hasn’t my friend had a solo gallery opening? The answer, in my case at least, is I haven’t tried to make that happen and I haven’t put in the time to make my work that quality. Oops.

There is actually no way to pretend you’re making art, as the book very clearly states. You cannot pretend to write a short story while not actually writing a short story, at least as far as end results are concerned. Because the pretended short story that you have not written because that would defy all logic, does not exist and therefore cannot be read and therefore cannot be held against you. Actually, that sounds pretty nice.

Now all is said and done. This was a good little book full of not so harsh realities and some not so truly terrible jokes. Despite what I would like to believe.