Those of us who more and more see each passing year as part of an overall continuum rather than discrete blocks of time to be catalogued, stored, and forgotten are taking comfort in a new year ritual: revisiting favorite books—and authors—for reminders of what most matters to us. For me, a wonderful new year starting point is Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by photographers David Bayles and Ted Orland.
Years before Malcolm Gladwell built a wonderfully compelling case for the critical importance of practice and opportunity in Outliers: The Story of Success, Bayles and Orland spent seven years producing their thin, lean, and absolutely inspiring work on how we can develop our own creative artistry through faith and perseverance.
“You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours” (p. 26), they write, and in the process do us all a favor by reminding us that creativity and learning flourish through what we absorb from failure as much as through success.
We’re working with the basics here, as we can see from chapter headings including “Fears About Yourself,” “Fears About Others,” and “Finding Your Work.” The writers address the perils of trying to create work that pleases others rather than work that begins by pleasing ourselves—a theme of interest to anyone involved in creative endeavors, including any trainer-teacher-learner. They remind us that if we teach, we also need to set aside time for pursuing our craft—another comment that applies equally to those of us who are prone to not carving out the time to continue pursuing the learning opportunities that we need in order to maintain our effectiveness in workplace learning and performance.
Bayles and Orland conclude by suggesting that making art “is to sing with the human voice” and that if we are to persevere, we would do well to begin by developing our own unique voices and using those voices to explore our darkest chasms to produce the “revealing light” of our own minds” (p. 117). As we move into another year—or simply recognize that we are continuing to build off all we’ve done before—we could do much worse than to spend some time (again) with these two artist-writers. And work toward overcoming the fears that hold us back so we can better serve our learners and our muse.