Thursday, February 28, 2008

Art and Fear

This won't be as long a post as I think this book deserves because it's only 53 degrees here in the room with the computer in it. Really! A lot toastier than the 7 degrees outside, though. It's a good thing I own lots of pairs of fingerless gloves.

Art & Fear
, a small 120-page volume by David Bayles and Ted Orland, is one of my favorite writing guides, though it's really about all kinds of art and has none of those "Always give your characters a distinguishing physical trait" kind of tips. Here's the first paragraph:
Making art is difficult. We leave drawings unfinished and stories unwritten. We do work that does not feel like our own. We repeat ourselves. We stop before we have mastered our materials, or continue on long after their potential is exhausted. Often the work we have not done seems more real in our minds than the pieces we have completed. And so questions arise: How does art get done? Why, often, does it not get done? And what is the nature of the difficulties that stop so many who start?
It's really a wonderful meditation on questions of why we make art, why we insist on subjecting the world to these things we make, and why an activity that should be fun and liberating and joyous is often anything but.

This probably isn't a book that every writer will find interesting. But if you're one of those who write for a while, then agonize for a while, then write some, then quit, then agonize about quitting... you'll appreciate the endless insights offered here.

Now, to the woodstove.


myles said...

Jeez, you two could send me broke with all the good books you recommend. But what else is money for? Thanks for the tip on Art&Fear. I'll look out for it.

Anonymous said...

I was just re-reading Nabokov's "afterward" in Lolita, with his tossed-off definition of art--"curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy."

What's so hard about all that?

Sheesh...I'm going back to bed.

Max said...

This isn't a romantic explanation -- it's a nuts and bolts one -- but a major factor killing the desire to write is knowing that your writing will never find an audience. It will go unpublished. You can believe it is worthy (and that work being published and praised is less worthy) but, with the passing of time and effort, you start constantly meeting an immovable question in your path: Why go on?
Rhian, a good number of posts back you wrote about the first chapters of four novels. You found The Tenants of Moonbloom to be outstanding. Have you read on? I don't think it's a book that starts out strong and then weakens; it sustains -- because Wallant knew where he was going, what he had to say, and how to say it.

Matt said...

I can definitely recommend A&F - as someone who avoids anything remotely qualified as "self-help", it really helped to solidify the way in which I approach writing (and art in general).