What Do You Need for Your Best Work?

Just in Time
from the Colors of Jazz Collection
©2019, Molly Larson Cook


David Bayles & Ted Orland have long been my constant companions as I’ve worked to find my way as an artist.  The title of their book, Art & Fear, makes me smile every time I see it.  I smile because I know I’m not alone with either my art or my fear in this self-chosen line of work.

Both my writing and my art kind of went off the rails while I was in Mexico, but that was temporary.  I chalk it up to the kind of disjunction that happens to a lot of people when in a foreign country no matter how many cheerful blogs they write about it.  I was writing them, too.

After spending so many years as a writer, I get that my own creative process demands a few things – quiet, comfort, reflection.  That’s me.  Somebody else does it a different way.  And we each define what we need in our own ways.  When painting, “quiet” can mean listening to my favorite jazz tunes, “comfort” can be happy wearing a sweatshirt and a jacket on a chilly day when the heat isn’t working quite right, and “reflection” can be gazing out the window to see what’s happening in the street or looking at the leaves on a tree in the park with nothing else in mind.  We all get to choose.

And it is our choices while we work on the Art that keep the Fear at bay.

Mind you, I’m just talking here about artists who actually do the work themselves.  I’m not talking about the ones, many famous, who are like writers who outline their bestsellers and hire other people to write them.  A pundit once said there should be a different word for tomatoes grown in a hot house that don’t taste at all like tomatoes grown in the garden.

For my money, we need different words for “writers” who don’t really write the books and “artists” who don’t really do the work.  But that’s a different essay for another day.

Right now, I’m happy being the writer who writes her own material and the artist who paints her own pictures.  I’d have a hard time doing either of them any other way.  I know people, too, who’d rather spend time working on their own cars than take them to a mechanic.  It might take longer, but for them, it’s a whole lot more gratifying.

In the introduction to their book, Art and Fear, Bayles and Orland say this:

THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT MAKING ART. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people — essentially (statistically speaking) there aren’t any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time. Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar. This, then, is a book for the rest of us.

And so it is.  We are the many who count as “the rest of us.”  I say this with a little pride.  I’m not a joiner by nature, but I’m damned proud to be among “the rest of us” in the worlds of art and writing.








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