Monday, April 4, 2011

"The View From the Studio Door"

I am a late-comer to Ted Orland's The View From the Studio Door:How Artists Find The Way in an Uncertain World. It was published in 2006, and I'm only just now getting around to it. More's the pity... or maybe it arrived at just the right moment, since I am writing and speaking around that same topic these days, and am finding not only much common ground between us, but also many new thoughts and insights that are truly valuable. It's one of those books in which I pause at every page with the wish that I'd been able to say it quite so well.

Ted Orland is an artist who works with photographic media and the co-author, with David Bayles, of Art and Fear (1993), a book which continues to be widely read by artists familiar with the fear that inevitably arises in their lives--and who are wise enough to learn how to use it rather than allow it to stand in their way. Orland's new book--well, not actually new--is addressed to the working artist; hence the reference to the studio in the title. This is a book about the creative process, not merely "creativity." The latter, as Orland is at pains to point out, is an abstraction. Work in the studio is about the experience of doing it.

As I suggested, Orland covers a good deal of the same material as myself: why bother to make art in a world already saturated with the work of others? What is it that drives the artist, despite the obstacles put in her way by a society that worships money and celebrity and heaps more success on the already successful few, even while ignoring the (sometimes greater) talent of the many? How do the rest of us, to use the word from my own title, "persist"? Orland also writes with sardonic humor about a system of education that does everything it can to squelch the creative spirit, and offers his own thoughtful perceptions on how to teach art--and how to learn. He has a light touch with some weighty material.

I also share Orland's conviction that art at its best is not a solitary act of self-expression nor one of technical accomplishment. It's rather a vital and passionate means of communication. For me--and as I read his book, I believe for Orland, too--it's about what makes us human. It's about believing with such passion in my own vision that I am compelled to find ways, through art, to understand and enrich it more completely, and through that process to be able to share it with my fellow travelers on this planet.

Orland also writes persuasively about the need for community. Too many artists, once they leave the privileged and sheltered life of art school, find themselves thrust out into a society that generally ignores them. But art hungers for, and thrives on feedback. Lacking this, the creative spirit can speedily wither and die. Optimally, if we lack this community, the thing to do is go out into the world and create one. Readers of "Persist: the Blog" will be aware of the virtual community to which they already belong. That's another way, for some, though it can encourage even greater isolation. It misses the warmth of actual, living, breathing, face to face, hand to hand human contact that can feed us. It's my impression that Orland's books have created a kind of community of readership. For those who have not yet encountered his work, I'd suggest a visit to his website, where you'll find links to "The View..." as well as to "Art and Fear." Both are valuable handbooks for the working artist (I mean that to include writers, too, and musicians, actors, dancers, and the rest). No matter who you are, or how successful, if the creative process is an important part of your life, they will restore some of the juices to your practice.

Did I mention that they're also a pleasure to read?

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