Close Reading On Art & Fear | “Ordinary”

I had been wanting to read Art & Fear since I watched an interview with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez last year. Rodriguez had said, “There’s a really cool book you should read- it’s called Art & Fear. It says as an artist, this is probably what you’re thinking, ‘I’m no good’, ‘They’re gonna figure me out’, ‘I’m a failure, I’ll never do anything.’ That’s the process, that is what it means to be an artist. Everyone has that, no matter how successful you are, you’re always gonna feel that, and you should feel that. If you don’t feel that, it’s not worth doing.” To which, of course, Tarantino gives his side, “Well, the thing is, I grandiose my way out of fear.” But most artists are not like Tarantino. To say the least, he’s a pretty unique guy.

Art & Fear is written for the rest of us: ordinary people, who make ordinary art. Though, as the book makes clear, ordinary does not equate to trivial. Realizing the fact that we’re ordinary actually provides a lot of comfort in art-making. To understand our normalcy, we must separate ourselves from the title: artist. (Or at least not identify with it too closely.) We set expectations that will only get in the way of our art-making, setting standards for ourselves that hold us back from finding our work. We look outside of ourselves instead of looking inward, to what we truly care about.

When we identify too closely to being an artist, we wrap our sense of being with the term, so tightly that we may not be able to distinguish between the two. Being an artist is a piece of ourselves, not the entirety of who we are. If we see ourselves only as artists, what are we then if our art disappoints? Do we even matter or exist if we cease to make art? Our art represents the state of our art-making capabilities at that moment, but it does not tell of our self worth. Art & Fear makes it clear it is normal for our art to fluctuate- we actually will make more crap than anything. This is the process that allows for our work to get better. Being an artist is a part of you, and it carries no esteemed position in the world. Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to create, to express yourself, but in doing so does not make you better than others. If you think it does, then a fear will live in you, perhaps quietly, but it will be there; the fear that you might not be good enough to be an artist. That fear will haunt you every time you set out to improve your work. And it will be that fear that will stop you from doing just that.

“Unreal expectations are easy to come by, both from emotional needs and from the hope or memory of periods of wonder.” (Bayles, Orland 35) If you have the expectation that once you’re an artist, magical perks are included, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. A vault of endless ideas will not be created in your mind. Things do not become effortless. That’s not to say that the work will never feel fluent, but don’t be expecting the heavens to open up all the time. There is no moment when you harness all knowledge about art-making- you will always have to work for that knowledge, through experience. And experience means a shit-ton of art-making. That knowledge can be found if you look to your work. Where else would you learn what makes your work work? “The best information about what you love is in the last contact with what you love.” (Bayles, Orland 35)

“The only pure connection is between you and your work.” (Bayles, Orland 47) Personally, the most devastating thing I can do to my work is compare it to others. Because when I’m comparing, I’m looking for acceptance. I’m looking for the work of others to tell me something about my own art. It should be obvious that the only thing their work will tell me will be about their work, but it’s easy to think silly things like that. It doesn’t work to look outside of yourself to learn what will help your work progress. Seeing what you last made is accurate feedback on what you did and didn’t do. You must look inward to find what you care about, or look to your art. So pay attention to what grabs you, what interests you, what stories or emotions are begging to be expressed. You’re the best person to express what you feel most deeply.

Being ordinary doesn’t mean you’re unable to make significant art. Being ordinary means your fears and false expectations about art-making are shared by other art-makers. Being ordinary means it’s okay to fail, that it’s a part of the process. If you accept that process, you’re art will be the better because of it. Being ordinary and making ordinary art means that you look to yourself and to your art for knowledge of where to go next.

In summary, don’t freak if you can’t find too many similarities between you and Tarantino.