Art and Fear book review

Art and fear book
Have you ever wondered about the best way to approach art-making? In Art and Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making, by David Bayles and Ted Orland the artists and authors take on the challenge of verbalising the disquiet and unease of making art.
It is somewhat comforting to read an artist talking about typical problems and how to overcome them. One of the memorable anecdotes from the book comes from a ceramics class. The ceramics class is put into two groups and are told they are going to be graded differently. One group is informed to produce as much work as possible, while the other group has to focus on quality over quantity. At the end of the term, the first group will receive an A if they turn fifty pounds of sculptured clay into pots. The second group only needs to hand in one perfect vessel to gain an A, but it has to be their most significant accomplishment.
Once quality and perfectionism were given a back seat, I can easily imagine the first group rising to the occasion and completing pot after pot. With no trepidation about the outcome, there was no looking back. Each student made gradual progress and refined their techniques as they made their pots. With a brief reflection before moving on, mistakes were quickly learnt. Their skills and grace improved with each container.
The other group, with their focus on thinking before they start, were doomed before they began. These makers became frozen in time not sure what the consequence of each action would be. I have experienced this first hand. Striving for perfectionism cause massive anguish. With perfectionism as a focus, they found that they couldn’t help focusing on their shortfalls. Suddenly they were scared of making even a little mistake.
This short story from the book highlights the journey and experience artists have to overcome when art-making. It highlights that theorising can’t replace action. Consistently knocking out solidly average work, where good enough is the goal is the best approach and is a sound way to undertake art-making and progressing skills.
As Bayles and Orland say “you learn how to make your work by making your work.” “The hardest part of art-making is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over. Finding a host of practices that are just plain useful.”
Although there are several good motivating points in the first half of this book, I found the second half of the book not as strong. As l neared the end of the book, I was looking forward to it finishing. As at times, I found the book frustrating, especially the section on art and science. I was surprised that a book that tries to explain the benefits and problems of art-making avoids the one essential ingredient, creativity. However, the is some real insight to;
“Provocative art challenges not only the viewer, but also its maker. Art that falls short often does so not because the artist failed to meet the challenge, but because there was never a challenge there in the first place. Think of it like Olympic diving: you don’t win high points for making even the perfect swan dive off the low board.” Bayles and Orland
Overall I felt that reading this book was money and time well spent. After reading this book, I returned to my studio, with renewed focus to churn stuff out and work as much as I can. Instead of sitting down and imagining myself getting better. As Bayles and Orland said, “The overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.”

War of Art book review

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, War of Art
At some point, most creative people realise that something needs to change.  The book  ‘The Art of War’ by Steven Pressfield, can help explain what old behaviours and mindsets are holding you back.  Essentially it is a self-help book for amateur artists and writers battling with inner self-doubt and fear.   There is a diamond of an idea about learning to overcome resistance and ‘turning pro’ as the book asks, “Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what “Resistance” is.”
 
When I tried to read ‘The Art of War’ for the first time, several years ago, I struggled to get past Steven Pressfield’s zany unconventional rhetoric.  However, I am pleased I gave the book a second chance.  In this first part of the book, Pressfield tries to define resistance in its every form.  Although I found this first part the hardest, there were several parts I related to. 
 
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.” 
Pressfield explains that instead of getting rid of fear for good, it takes a prolonged time of compressing hard work.  Pressfield’s gem in the middle is that artists and writers need to realise that fear will always be there.  The trick is a better understanding of it and learning to live it.
 
The War of Art in part two and three presses home the resolve needed to recognise and overcome amateur mindsets and distractions.  Combating resistance means learning what the term ‘professional’ means and making changes to your work routine.  As a professional, the ground rules have to change. The artist needs to show their highest level of discipline and keep professional hours.  Pressfield explains;
 
“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warriors’ life.”
 
“I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”  
 
“I turn up everyday day in and day out, no excuses.”
 
“Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must recommit every day.”
 
“Pros who sit down, roll up their sleeves and do it every day.”
 
“The qualities that define us as professionals?
1) We show up every day.
2) We show up no matter what.
3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel.
6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
7) We do not overidentify with our jobs.
8) We master the technique of our jobs.”
As a creative person, I know it is too easy to overthink the consequences of each and every action. However, the work you could accomplish will only get done when you overcome your resistance. Pressfield’s book explains that only through true love for the activity and by having success as a by-product, can you do the work and achieve your goals.   
 
Dealing with criticism and knowing fear will always be there are just of couple of things we need to learn to live with.  If it were easy, someone else would have already done it.  In fact, fear can be used as a guide to let you know that you’re doing something important.  
 
It is challenging at times to see beyond some of Pressfield’s turn of phrase.  However, it is certainly worth the effort.  Procrastination is a creative killer.  This book, along with a handful of other intriguing like-minded books, can arm the artistic person with the tools and skills to give them a chance against an unrestrained and undisciplined mind.  Making it in my view one of the essential books for all artists and writers to read.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man
Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man circa 1492 photograph credits Luc Viatour
Leonardo Da Vinci left 7200 pages of notebooks after his death, filled with anatomical and scientific drawings, detailed designs for new machines and weapons, military strategies, maps, sketches, and observations, as well as 15 paintings.  He was interested in art, engineering, biology, medicine and geology amongst many other subjects.  Walter Isaacson’s book is an interpretation and analysis of those notebooks and paintings.  If you have ever wondered about the life and mind of a voracious creative genius, then this is undoubtedly a satisfying read.  The six hundreds pages of the book, ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ by Walter Isaacson it is an immensely impressive undertaking.
Author Walter Isaacson was born in 1952; he is an American writer and journalist.  One of the main focal points of his career is not only the critically acclaimed biographies he has written about Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci but also that Isaacson was the chairman and CEO of CNN during the 9/11 attacks.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Watler Isaacson "Leonardo Da Vinci - Youtube
Isaacson is a very experienced wordsmith.  He has the skill and experience to carefully draw out the life of the gay and ostentatiously dressed artists life. The book is a story of a truly gifted artist who often failed to complete his projects and commissions.  Leonardo’s uncompleted work can sometimes be incorrectly misunderstood making him seem penurious, both artistically and financially.  However, Isaacson proposes that Leonardo’s wide-ranging curiosities gave his work more substance.  That meandering is precisely what made him distinguished and extraordinary in what he achieved.
The book is balanced by the author’s artistic licence to analysis and understand how Leonardo thought by interpreting the footnotes of Leonardo drawings.  Leonardo had an intensely, inquisitive nature about all areas of life, which is highlighted by his to-do list. With items such as; why is the sky blue? Describe the tongue of the woodpecker; get the measurements of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni; and get a master of hydraulics to explain how to repair a lock, a canal and a mill. Leonardo’s inquisitive nature was insatiable, unsurpassed and beyond compare.  Although he lacked formal education, Leonardo achieved so much in his lifetime. It took hundreds of years for the rest of the world to catch him up.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Leonardo Da Vinci - Amazon book link
Leonardo was aware of his contemporaries like the young Michelangelo, but Isaacson’s book shows that he never tried to compete with his peers.  He always seemed to know he was on a different path.  Leonardo was interested in knowledge about life and how things work for its own sake.  He turned down many lucrative commissions, clearly showing self-gain wasn’t necessary to him.  Leonardo had no interest in trying to prove things to people he didn’t know or respect.
Leonardo knew what he didn’t want.  His ego and his legacy weren’t important to him.  For Leonardo following such a path would feel restrained, like being in prison, captive to someone else’s demands.  Instead, Leonardo developed a hunch and followed his intuition.  He pursued whatever made him happy at that moment, getting lost in whatever took his fancy.  He wanted complete, unconditional creative freedom that was free from interference.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Breakfast with Lucian, book review
Leonardo doesn’t stop after the endless uncompleted projects and paintings.  Instead, he was too interested in being an unpretentious student of life.  When he paints, it is as if to prove the point that they are no precise lines, boundaries or borders in nature.  Leonardo believed that lines are mathematical constructs without physical presence.  Leonardo said;
“Do not edge contours with a definite outline, because the contours are lines and they are invisible, not only from a distance but also closer to hand.  If the line and the mathematical point are invisible, the outline of things also being lines are invisible even when they are nearer. Instead, an artist needs to represent the shape and volume of objects, rely on light and shadow. The line forming the boundary of a surface is of invisible thickness; therefore, O painter do not surround your bodies with lines.”
Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1507 The Louvre
Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1507 The Louvre
Instead, he became the pioneer of a technique, taken from the Italian word for smoke, ‘sfumato’. Leonardo’s technique helps to soften the transition between colour and makes line irrelevant.  This is very noticeable in the Mona Lisa.
I enjoyed this extensive attention-holding book.  It asked profound questions about who we want to be in life.  Although it is possible to pull the historical contexts from 15th-century Italian culture at times, Isaacson acknowledges that he lacked “intimate personal revelations.” However, he makes up for it by trying to process the 7200 notebooks and paintings.  On the whole, it was a delightful read.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Breakfast with Lucian, book review

Michael Craig-Martin’s book, ‘On being an artist’

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Oak Tree, Conceptual art
All rights are reserved and are with the artist. ©1973 Michael Craig Martin, An Oak Tree (1973)

Michael Craig-Martin’s book titled ‘On being an artist’ is a collection of thoughts and notes that he has written over his career. The book is written in an informal style, making it easy to read.  They range from chapter titles such as, ‘On advice for aspiring artist,’ to ‘On British attitudes to contemporary art.’  Michael presents an interesting and insightful account of a young artist finding his way into the contemporary art world.

Michael who was born in 1941 studied Fine Art at Yale University for Art and Architecture.  In 1966 Michael crossed the Atlantic and started a new life in England.  To support his artistic practice Michael started teaching.  The highlights of the early part of his career include the artwork ‘An Oak Tree’ (1973) and teaching artists such as Damian Hirst, Julian Opie and Gary Hume at Goldsmiths.

Michael Craig-Martin book ‘On being an artist’ – related links

Understanding the 'oak tree' in conceptual art via Russian politics

Amazon book link

Michael’s clear and concise explanation of conceptual art while discussing, ‘An Oak Tree’ (1973) is one of the many interesting parts of the book. He points out that mistakenly many art critics try to see a literal concept rather than treat as a poetic idea.  The artwork creates a suspension of disbelief and highlights how conceptual art doesn’t exist in the object itself but in the mind of the viewer.  As a mental concept ‘An oak tree’ like all conceptual art, it is a trigger to encourage contemplation.  The work highlights how art creates a place inside your head where you can go on your own to process the world and its complexities.

Michael has established a highly successful international art career.  Throughout the book, Michael gives a very honest account of the highs and lows of being an artist.  I found his frankness and openness thought-provoking.  However, Michael says with all sincerity, “I would never advise anyone to become an artist. If you have another option, take it.”

As an artist myself I found Michael’s personal account and practical information is very informative.  I enjoyed the clear and concise ideas and concepts, which are explained in a friendly and helpful manner.  I am sure the book would also be interesting and engaging for anyone who is interested in the life of an artist.

Michael Craig-Martin, ‘On being an artist’ – related book reviews

Breakfast with Lucien - Book review

Breakfast with Lucian, book review

Lucian Freud, Breakfast with Lucian Book review, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Lucian Freud, 1922-2011, Girl with a White Dog 1950-1, Oil paint on canvas 762 x 1016 mm © Tate
If you have ever wondered what an artist’s life would be like if they put art first at the expenses of relationships, friendships and family. If so, then this is the book to read.  For a few years before Lucian Freud’s death, Geordie Greig the editor from the Mail on Sunday was able to share breakfast with Lucian at his favourite restaurant, Clarkes on Kensington Church Street.  Greig’s book about Freud does a worthy job of sketching out the painter’s hedonistic personal life.  ‘Breakfast with Lucian’ is the story of an adulterous, brawler and rogue with no boundaries or restraints.
This book is written in the style of an author’s note.  Interesting facts and aspects of his life are uncovered within the writing.  There are many shocking tales of Freud, like the time he smelt a woman strong perfume in public, he raised his voice saying, “I hate perfume. Women should smell of one thing. Cunt! In fact, they should invent a perfume called cunt.”

Accompanying book review: Breakfast with Lucian

Eric Fischl's Bad Boy
Freud was never willing to apologise for his inexcusable behaviour.  His actions are like his paintings, were engaging and frighteningly real.  Greig tried hard to give an account of Freud’s life without judgement or blame but instead, at times, I found it gossipy.  It tends to focus on aspects of his life, like Freud’s role as a father.  I wanted a read a different type of book.  As an artist, I wanted to read about Freud’s ability to undress the human soul in his paintings.
Freud could sketch out a life for what it really was. He had the drive to work towards uncovering answer about being human. Freud explained that “When I’m painting people in clothes I’m thinking very much of naked people, or animals dressed.”  Freud was able to go beyond just painting, to create an ‘intensification of reality.’ He explains, “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.” In his painting practice, he dug deep making this meaning visible for others to see, while everything in his personal life was left to rot.

Resources for Art Books:

Artbook.com
There was clearly a great sacrifice from the people around Freud who put up with the death threats, his scandalous sexual exploits and escaping the Krays. ‘Breakfast with Lucian’ is clearly entertaining, but in spite of that, I wanted to know more about what Freud achieved with his art than whisperings about his personal life.
My overriding feeling is that this is a book of anecdotes which does not try to explain truly explain Freud and the reasons behind his fantastic paintings. When reading it I had to remind myself that it was written by an editor from a daily rag who undoubtedly loves scandal.  It would a completely different book if it was written by an art critic, historian or even an art aficionado.
However, Freud indulgence in his art unquestionably doesn’t justify the way he conducted himself and the way he treated others. Throughout his life’s work, Freud revealed a spectacular spectrum of deep meaning about human life, one that many other artists would be fearful to delve into.

Accompanying book review: Breakfast with Lucian

On being an artist, by Michael Craig-Martin

Book review – Eric Fischl’s ‘Bad Boy’

©Stuart Bush Blind boy (2007) oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm
©Stuart Bush Blind boy (2007) oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm

Eric Fischl was born in 1948 in New York City, his suburban upbringing and career as an internationally acclaimed American artist is presented in his book ‘Bad Boy’.

Fischl shares his deep wounds when discussing his personal relationships, especially with his depressed and alcoholic mother. These troubling experiences made their way into his artwork creating a dialogue about his personal wounds and ironically they ultimately lead to him getting into trouble.

The death of Fischl’s mother inspired the work he became famous for. It is interesting that after his first solo show in New York at the Edward Thorp Gallery in 1979 and the following success lead to him ‘going off the rails’ as the book title suggests and he enjoyed success a little too much.

Fischl’s book is informative and helpful to other artists. There are interesting advice and tips on how to deal with the process of being a successful artist and he discusses the issues and ideas in his work.

Eric Fischl says in the book, 

“Painting is a process that guides me back through complex experiences that I didn’t have words to describe or understand.  It relieves feelings and memories and brings them forward with clarity and resolution.  Each one of my paintings is like a journey, a process to excavate nuggets of emotion, artefacts of memory, the treasures buried in my unconscious. My imagery evokes feelings that were once too painful to ephemeral or too embarrassing to articulate or even to remember.”

Eric Fischl’s ideas are well developed and considered as you would expect from someone who has had international success as an artist. He uses clear, convincing and honest language. I think the book is a good read and has lots of information and advice about dealing with life an artist. I enjoyed reading it and strongly recommend it.

©1981 Eric Fischl, Bad boy, oil on linen, 170 cm × 240 cm - All rights reserved by Eric Fischl
©1981 Eric Fischl, Bad boy, oil on linen, 170 cm × 240 cm – All rights reserved by Eric Fischl

Link to the book on Amazon

SaveSave