By Chet Yarbrough
Art and fear seem odd conjunctive words for the title of a non-fiction book. The authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, waste no time in explaining why the conjunction makes sense. Their definition of art revolves around humans that choose to take a risk to produce something unique that may mean much to the maker and nothing to anyone else. An artist is always alone.
Bayles and Orland are professional photographers. They take photographs in a field that became known as “fine art” in the 1970s. Bayles and Orland argue that fear is a common element in the life of artists because of risk; i.e. the risk of untethered freedom of choice, ego deflation, and financial insecurity.
An artist’s fear seems similar to the fear that every entrepreneur in the world feels when he/she chooses to start their own business. Undoubtedly there is some similarity except that an entrepreneur’s risk is largely quantifiable; an artist’s is not.
Bayles and Orland suggest there are great artists and good artists but the distinction is not singularly defined by talent. They argue that most art is made by people who work at it; not because of innate talent but because of a compulsion to produce something unique. Artists are defined by persistence, volume, and aesthetics (a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty).
Art is never perfect in Bayles’ and Orland’s conception. Art is the pursuit of refinement in the face of imperfection. Bayles and Orland make a distinction between great craft and great art; i.e. they argue that great craft represents technical perfection while great art represents human’ imperfection. Art pursues meaning to an artist and to an artist’s audience. Art is psychically successful when it represents what the artist means; art is only economically successful when it represents meaning to others.
Fear of failure, both private and public, is an artist’s constant companion because reward and failure come in many guises. The artist fails if art does not represent artist’s intent. The artist fails if art does not appeal to the public. The artist’s art is often ignored or reviled in the artist’s life time. In life, an artist’s reward may only be personal; in death, an artist’s reward can only be fame. Every work of art is personal; every work of art challenges the artist’s sense of self-worth.
Bayles and Orland argue that fear is an artist’s perennial companion. In contrast, a business entrepreneur is rewarded, or not, within a life time. The business entrepreneur has options after failure. The business entrepreneur starts another business or goes to work for others. The artist is alone in success and failure.