Fearlessness and Cowboy Wisdom

"Messages from Home Are in the Stars" Molly Cook, 2015
“Messages from Home Are in the Stars”
Molly Cook, 2015

One of my favorite books for anyone in the creative arts is Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

I found the book in 2000 although it’s been around since about 1994. My copy is filled with notes, and post-its to mark pages, and underlines for passages I particularly wanted to remember, and goofy little symbols to remind me of something that was certainly important when I put that symbol on the page.

Two of the best pieces of advice for a creative soul that I know are in this book. Others are elsewhere, and the book holds many more, but these two stand out for me:

“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. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It’s also called doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.”


“We modestly offer this bit of cowboy wisdom: When your horse dies, get off.”

In the writing world, there are people who want to write and other people who want to want to write. Or, as the writing joke goes, want to have written.

I find fewer people like this in the visual art world. People who want to do art generally find some way to do it.

On my walk this morning I ran into a homeless fellow I see often in our neighborhood. We usually chat for a bit. Today he asked me if I’d like to see his art. I said I would.  The content of his drawings is not quite my cup of tea, but the workmanship is there and he wants to get better.  We had a good conversation, the homeless fellow and I, about doing our work and the problems that go with being – or working to be – an artist.

If Scott can do his work, I can do mine.  And you can do yours.

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