Several young and new artists have written me asking for my advice about becoming an artist. Here is my response.
Do not become an artist if you want to be rich and famous. You are bound to be disappointed, and you will be creating art for the wrong reasons.
Do not become an artist
if you want to be rich and famous.
I create art for very simple reasons. It is the one consistent thing in my life that I have been able to rely on. Through my art I have grown and developed and I have a record of the path that I have taken to get there. It is mine and mine alone. It is free from the pressures and interference of others. Art has been the center and core of who I am.
My particular view of art allows me to try many different techniques and art forms. To an outsider it looks like I am just dabbling, to me it feels like growth.
I am both a writer and a visual artist. I also consider the way that I use the computer and the way I design Internet pages to be part of my art. I write in many different forms: haikus, lyric poetry, long and short essays, short stories, drama, children's stories. My visual work now includes computer transformed historic photography, digital photography and gif animation. In the past I have made mobiles, paintings, collages, multi-media shows and just about every kind of traditional photography.
There is an assumption about art
in our society that goes like this:
if you can't do it really well,
don't do it.
I recommend that you pay no attention to this.
There is an assumption about art in our society that goes like this: if you can't do it really well, don't do it. I recommend that you pay no attention to this. If the art you create is primarily for you, why worry? Eventually you may want to show it to others but don't be in a hurry. All art will get better and surer as you work on it. Don't whip a baby when it is crawling because it is not walking.
You need to develop a strong inner feeling about what you are after. This does not need to be put into words. Even literary feelings do not need to be put into words. Kandinsky said an artist should create from an "inner need." Follow that feeling. Recognize it when you see it. Have faith in your own wordless intuitions. Realize that when you turn a corner on a dirty city street and see a shaft of sunlight illuminating a scrap of crumpled paper and you find yourself catching your breath, that you have seen something important, although to someone else it is nothing.
The key to my continuous creation
is my notebooks.
The key to my continuous creation is my notebooks. Since I was 20 years old, I have carried a notebook and written down thoughts as they occurred to me. They can be phrases or a first line of a poem or designs or diagrams or pictures or places I want photograph or painters whose work I want to look at or simply words I overheard in an old black and white movie or from a conversation of workmen at McDonalds.
My notebooks are very messy and personal. They contain various sections for different kinds of ideas and notes. I do not show them to anyone. They are the raw stuff out of which my art is made. When a notebook is filled, I put a date on the front (usually date started - date ended) and then store it away.
Have faith in your own wordless intuitions.
When you keep a notebook and start acting on these ideas, you will find that more and more ideas come to you. It is as though you have slowly turned on a faucet and your imagination begins to grow because it has a place to take root.
Studies have showed that people who get things done write them down. Something happens when you put pen to paper. A fleeting thought is no longer fleeting; it has taken a form that is now solidified. You are not obligated to do anything with it or even to remember it. But because you wrote it down, it will come to effect your art.
Studies have shown
that people who get things done
write their ideas down.
Later when you go back to your notebooks, these scribbled notes may spark new ideas. You will find yourself combining an old idea with a new one. This is exactly how art evolves.
You are under no obligation to show your art to anyone. When and if you do show it, do it slowly. Show it at first to a few sympathetic friends and knowledgeable acquaintances. If you have an exhibit, remember to have a very thick skin. Some people will like what you do. They are your audience. Listen and pay attention to those who seem to understand. Often a sympathetic person will see things in your work that you had not thought of. No artist should understand his or her own work completely. Learn from these people.
Some people will not like what you do and will belittle it. These people are not to be hated, but they are not your audience. If you changed your art to suit them, they would still not like it. Many will be envious of your accomplishments.
Once you make your art public,
remember to please yourself and not your critics,
because trying to please a critic will be a loosing game.
Once you make your art public, remember to please yourself and not your critics, because trying to please a critic will be a loosing game. If your art is based on past techniques they may say you are too traditional. If it is innovative, they may say it is not really art. If you make it accessible and easy to understand, they may say it is not deep enough. If your art refers to another artist's work, they may say it is too obscure. At the same time you will hear critics state that what they would really like to see is an innovative art that understands the tradition of art, that is accessible to all viewers but is not afraid to have a deeper layer of meaning.
Always remember that the art you are creating is for you and you alone. The more you do it the better you will get. Ignore people who want you to do it perfectly. Art is never perfect and new art is a groping process. You will be your own harshest critic. You will know when you have created a really good work and when you have created something ordinary.
Always remember that the art you are creating
is for you and you alone.
Look at the work of others in your art form and other art forms as well. Look at their techniques, absorb the feeling of a piece. Look at work from artists of the past. I often find my work is a dialogue with other artists. You may find that some dead artists become like friends who you can almost talk to. When you find an artist you like, study that person's work. With painting, for example, study compositions until you can close your eyes and see the picture clearly in your mind.
When your intuitions become sharper, you may find that you feel more comfortable with yourself and your life. You will gain of sense of where you are on your life's path, which you probably cannot put into words.
When your intuitions become sharper,
you may find that you feel more comfortable
with yourself and your life.
Since my thirties I intuitively understood that my art would not fully mature until I was much older. I was trying to bring together too many elements for it to happen sooner. So I learned to be patient and let my work progress at its own pace. Now that I am in my mid-50s, it is clear. All the various pieces of my art are coming together on the computer and on the Internet. Art forms that looked very different and scattered in the 1970s (such as animation, slide shows, essays), now work in harmony on the World Wide Web.
Art forms that looked very different
and scattered in the 1970s
(such as animation, slide shows, essays),
now work in harmony on the World Wide Web.
As you develop you may find some guiding principles that you like. I like to keep things simple. In my 20s I read this thought from a painter: Jackson Pollack said he wanted to create an art that was "simple and direct." I have used this thought to guide my work through all its forms.