Art and Fear

I’ve never read a book right through in a day.  Well, I hadn’t until last week.

A friend put a book called “Art & Fear” into my path.  The subtitle is “Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking”.  I’m not an artist in the fine arts sense of the word.  I’m not even an artist in the nicer-than-usual stick men sense of the word.

But I’m a preacher.  And for me, that process and task feel like they have to be artsy–as artsy as I can get anyway.

So while the book wasn’t written for me, it certainly worked.  Add to that the fact that the book is only 118 pages, and off I went.

(On an aside, I believe that every book should be limited to 120 pages or less.  I was going to say 100, but I’ll give you a bonus 20 just to get things rolling.  I realize that fiction works may want their own rules–they just make stuff up anyway–but non-fiction should definitely have some lines to keep things within.  If I ever write something, I’m starting this trend.)

So because this book wouldn’t have crossed my path without some help, I’m going to extend the help even further.  I’m going to give you the good bits and save you a chunk of a day.

Here’s a few…

  • To anyone involved in a creative process, it’s important to keep clear what your task is.  To anyone who views your finished product, what matters is the finished product.  Not so for you–for you, what matters is the process, the experience of shaping that work (and getting shaped as that happens).  The viewers’ job is simply to be entertained or moved or whatever by your finished product, and it is tempting to work with their reactions ruling the front of your mind.  But that part is not your job.  “Your job is to learn to work on your work.
  • David Bayles was an aspiring pianist, studying under a master.  After a few months’ practice, David lamented to his teacher, “But I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out with my fingers.”  The master replied, “What makes you think that ever changes?”  Lesson for the day: Vision is always ahead of execution–and it should be.  That is what gives you your direction to aim and your path to walk.
  • On a similar note, poet Stanley Kunitz once commented, “The poem in the head is always perfect.  Resistance begins when you try to convert it into language.”  That word definitely resonates with my small pool of experiences–resistance.  And that resistance can feel like a freaking war!  Just last week, I told a friend that my sermon and I were locking in for a Friday cage match.  Only one of us was walking out at 5 PM.  I hoped it would be me.  And that description isn’t even a metaphor!
  • Talent: Much is made of this word.  Perhaps too much.  “Talent may get someone off the starting blocks faster, but without a sense of direction or a goal to strive for, it won’t count for much.  The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything.  And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.”  My translation: It’s far more important to learn how to work your butt off than to have talent.   And a simple message like that is a good reminder to me every so often.  It encourages on days when I feel like a nothing, and it humbles on days when I feel like a something.
  • This little blurb is text-boxed in the middle of one page in the section dealing with talents:

Title: A brief Digression in Which the Authors Attempt to Answer (or deflect) an Objection
Q: Aren’t you ignoring the fact that people differ radically in their abilities
A: No.
Q: But if people differ, and each of them were to make their best work, would not the more gifted make better work, and the less gifted, less?
A: Yes.  And wouldn’t that be a nice planet to live on?

  • One final story about the quest for perfection:
    The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.  All those on the left side of the studio, he said would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.  His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group.  Fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on.  Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot–albeit a perfect one–to get an “A”.  Grading time came and a curious fact emerged: The works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.  It seems that while the “quantity” group was busy churning out piles of work–and learning from their mistakes–the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.  (I like that story.  Take what you will from it, and go after something!)
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One thought on “Art and Fear

  1. Although I believe that posts should be limited to 250 words or less, I did enjoy this one, so thanks for that. 🙂

    I especially liked the ceramics story. I would most likely be in the camp with still just a lump of clay at the end. It’s a good kick in the pants.

    PS: you used to say 200 pages was the limit for a book, what’s happening? I fear pretty soon all you’ll be left with are comics and recipe books.

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