Art & Fear

Are you a writer, actor, photographer, artist or creative who is grappling with what it means to pursue your art? If so, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking may be just what you need. Art & Fear (Image Continuum, 2018) was written by David Bayles and Ted Orland, both practicing artists.

In their introduction, Bayles and Orland state that the book is about making ordinary art, meaning art that is not made by Mozart. In fact, they observe, most art is not made by geniuses, but is made all the time by ordinary people. The act of making art is a common and intimately human activity.


The book is comprised of a collection of essays. Part One explores what holds us back and why we struggle with our creativity, with topics such as The Nature of the Problem, Art & Fear, Fears About Yourself, Fears About Others, and Finding Your Work. Part Two grapples with what to do once you’ve faced your fears and created, with topics like The Outside World, The Academic World, Conceptual Worlds, and The Human Voice.

A favorite takeaway is that what separates artists from ex-artists is not quitting. Those who challenge their fears are less likely to quit. Also, art making is not predictable, and tolerance for uncertainty is required to succeed. They end with the observation that to make art is to sing with the human voice. The only voice the artist needs is their own, which can be found between the interaction of dark and light, fear and art. I recommend reading thisĀ  slim book whether you’re an artist or someone who just wants to explore their creativity. Read it especially when you’re faltering, ready to quit, or discouraged. Then get out there and make some art!

The Four Agreements

Periodically it’s a good idea to challenge your basic assumptions, and see life in a new way. Earlier this year, friends recommended that I read The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz (Amber-Allen Publishing, San Rafael 1997).


Ruiz ‘s premise is that, as we were socialized, we created a Dreamworld that informed us how to interpret and relate to the world, ourselves, and others. Inhabitants in this dreamworld include, the Judge who enforces the rules, the Parasite who preys on our fears and diminishes our lifeforce, and the Victim who despairs. Each of us is bound by our own dreamworld, which prevents us from true connection and full living.

As we grow older, this early paradigm becomes less satisfying and rewarding, and fails to meet our deeper needs. Ruiz proposes four agreements to help us challenge our dreamworld, and break free of its bondage:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

Some readers may be put off with concepts like the Dreamworld and the Parasite, but you soon find they are just names for ideas and not a substitute belief system. Focusing on the four agreements provides a practical way to challenge your view of the world, and a tool for walking through life in a more satisfying and authentic way. I recommend The Four Agreements for anyone who is ready to challenge themselves and live life more fully.

Mama’s Last Hug

Mamma’s Last Hug by Frans De Waal (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019) explores animal emotions and what they tell us about ourselves. Waal has been observing animal behavior for over 40 years and has made startling conclusions based on his data. His observations of primates have shown the depth and sophistication of their societies and individual relationships.


Waal builds his case that primates are capable of emotionsĀ such as love, hate, fear, guilt, shame, joy, empathy, and disgust. He cites a YouTube video that went viral, in which professor and fellow scientist, Jan van Hoof, visits the dying chimpanzee matriarch, Mama, who recognizes him and comforts him. Humans are not the only species with a capacity for emotions.

Many people have observed that primates operate at a “four year old level”, but Waal questions this. Their behaviors, such as using tools, negotiation, and barter to get what they want point to a high degree of social and political awareness. We humans assume we are at the highest level of evolution and the only species with sentience, but what if it turns out that other animals have some level of sentience. What will it say about us and how we have treated animals – taking their habitat, imprisoning them in zoo, killing and eating them, and so forth? This book is fascinating and asks some difficult questions.