Book Review

cover of Art and Fear

Art and Fear

By David Bayles and Ted Orland

Artists and art are shrouded in mystery and myth. The genius, gifted with a singular talent that was realized fully formed and without need for practice. The myth that artists are born, not made, or that practice will only get you so far and then…. the miracle of talent kicks in! The rare genius in art does cast a long shadow.  In their book, “ Art and Fear” David Bayles and Ted Orland make the case for the ordinary. WHAT? Regular people making good art? The myth and mystery of art making is exposed.

Reading this book is like talking with a congenial mentor who knows all the demons in the artist’ soul and systematically shines a light to dispel the shadows of the human ego, then instructs on how to practically get on with the work  we need and want to do.


Part 1 of the book covers the many ways fear manifests  to keep art makers from their work. As I read through the book it became evident that I personally was spending a lot of time letting issues unrelated to my art seriously impact it. I learned it is okay to imagine more than I am capable of doing. How do I address that? By getting to know my medium and materials.

Woman in art studio

I love to draw, especially with charcoal, so many spontaneous things happen that I can build on and discover. But painting? It involves so many variables. The type of brush, consistency of the medium, mixing color!! But, I love to paint too, and this book helped me realize I have to spend time learning to use and control the tools of painting. Every artist does. It’s not automatic, maybe easier for some than others, but knowing that allows me to look with a critical but non judgemental eye at my work and understand how to continue without the fear and frustration.

Paint jar on a table

What do you fear? That you’ll never make good art? That you’re a pretender? Maybe you’ll never make art that is truly your own? All these fears and more receive rational discussion to explain how these fears manifest and how best to address them. This book exposes artists as ordinary people with all the issues and hang ups. But, it also navigates a way through all those issues. And when the light shines on those shadowy myths a new reality begins. In a straightforward matter of fact writing, all the complications we bring to the studio can be checked at the door and art making becomes a series of questions to ask and answer in order to progress. And that’s the main goal.

Part 2 of the book deals with the world outside of the studio, art education, critics, societal expectations of art and artists. With insight into the mechanisms of the art world, academia and social structures, the authors reveal the machinery of capitalism and its impact on how artists make a living and how we can choose to do things differently. 

This book was written in 1993 and many things have changed. The internet has opened a vast new playing field for artists but it comes with its own very specific and time consuming demands. Artists may find themselves spending more time on marketing and promotion than they would like. 

Competitions, the academic world of art, the structure of the gallery system, publishers, self publishing are just a few of the outside forces that affect artists. These days if you have a gallery or publisher representing you, you’re still expected to have a website and social media presence and shows. It can easily be overwhelming. So, yes, there are many obstacles to making art if you intend to make a living. Art and Fear reminds us that artists throughout history have had to face these same monumental obstacles in order to produce work and make a living. Michelangelo worked for the Pope, Rembrandt went from boom to bust depending on the whims of patrons and Van Gogh had a family member in the business and still didn’t sell work. These are giants of the art world. But they weren’t afraid. They worked. And what treasures they left for us! Read Art and Fear and then, get to your work!