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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book Reviews: Two old faves

Bayles and Orland's book Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking is an old favorite. I bought it when it first came out in 1993 and began highlighting as I read. Soon I discovered that I was highlighting nearly every page. Two statements hit me right away: (1) "Artmaking involves skills that can be learned" and (2) "Art is made by ordinary people." Much of our fear comes from feeling that we don't have the talent, that one has to be some kind of genius to be an artist. Then, we fear what others will think of our art or we become enmeshed in the academic art world and come out feeling bruised. In just a few pages the authors help you to understand among other things, that we all face these same fears and there are ways to rise above them. It's amazing how much wisdom is contained in this small book. Here is a statement from the back cover, which I think is to the point: "It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work."

Recently I reread Mindfulness by Ellen Langer. Wikipedia defines mindfulness as "a technique in which a person becomes intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment." There are more than three million Google references to mindfulness, many of which target stress reduction or Buddhist practices. What attracted me to Langer's book in 1989 was her focus on mindfulness as a means of improving behavior, memory and mental growth in the aging population. I was just taking on the care of my elderly mother. Why did I reread it? I'm getting there myself. Langer's book relates numerous early studies on the effects of mindfulness training in people of all ages. She makes a compelling case. The book is not a difficult scientific treatise, nor is it a warm and fuzzy feel-good self-help book. Langer shows how you can overcome numbing mindlessness and become more alert and active as you grow older.

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