I woke up this morning and couldn’t stop thinking about my brother-in-law who is about to graduate art school. He is a talented artist; I am continually amazed by his abilities. I think back to my own graduation from art school and what I have learned in the six years that followed. Like many artists it has been a bumpy ride of self- discovery, learning a business, failure, picking myself up, learning and reinventing. Man if I just knew then what I know now. So here is my advice to the new graduates. May you all find your way in this world and become successful artists.
Four years have come and gone, you went from just learning how to use your art medium and learning the techniques to understanding deeper concepts and pushing boundaries. You learned who you are as a person and as an artist. And now that you are just starting to fully understand that here you are about to leave the art school world, the world that inspired and shaped you. The real world can be a scary, lonely and often discouraging place for an artist, so here are some things to think about as you embark on this world.
Take risks in life. Artists will often take risks in their art, but can sometimes be reserved in life. Don’t let others tell you that you need a steady job or that being an artist won’t pay. If you market yourself and you work at your art and you get out there it will pay off. You just need to try and then try even harder.
Don’t be afraid of rejection or failure. I think this is a way of life sometimes for artists. There are going to be some people that don’t get it. There will be publishers, editors, gallery owners, and museum curators that don’t like your work, but they are only one person. Art is subjective. Remember that. There is no right or wrong, so there is no one person that is the true art critic. Keep trying. Keep believing in your art and in yourself.
Learn the business side. An artist is in business for themselves. And they need to be skilled at marketing, accounting, invoicing/estimate writing, web design, etc. And if you aren’t skilled at the business side, enlist professionals to help you! They will be worth every penny. A great artist that can’t market themselves or doesn’t charge properly for their work or protect themselves legally won’t survive. A good artist with great business skills will survive over a great artist with poor business skills. This isn’t something that all art schools teach, but it is one of the most important things to learn as an artist.
Be inspired. Remember what inspired you in school. Maybe it’s a location, an artist, talks with friends, whatever that source of inspiration is, keep it close, you will need it at some point in the future.
Never stop learning. Keep finding sources of inspiration. Read the latest news in the art world and beyond. Brush up on your techniques. Heck even take a class again once in a while if you need.
Remember you are not alone. Become part of an artist community. Stay in touch with the art friends you made in school! And make new ones along the way. There are lots of us out there and yet often times we try to go it alone. Each discipline of art (photography, ceramics, theater, etc.) has its own artist community and often time each city or region has its own too. Know what organizations exist for what field you are in. Join them. Go to their conferences, read the magazines/websites, be a part of their contests. Participate.
Share with others! Share your work. Share your ideas. Share your inspiration. Listen and view their work and ideas. Share your knowledge. Share your tools. There are times when we need to lean on each other. –Right now I am borrowing a lens from a good friend. Thank you so much Mike! And at times I have shared my cameras, lenses, knowledge. I believe that sharing with each other makes us all better artists—and better people. It inspires us, it makes us grow.
Set goals. Focus. One of the hardest things when you get out of school is to keep on track. It’s easy to let time pass and not finish work or not get your work out there. So set a goal and stick with it. Be reasonable and also dream. Today, on your graduation day, write down short term and long term goals. Think about the end of the month (did you finish all the projects you wanted to in school?) Think about the end of the summer (what’s next for you?) Think about one year from today, three years, five years and ten years where do you see yourself? Revisit this list often over time and set small goals to reach the big ones. Give yourself assignments. This may give you some inspiration to just make art again. After school often times we just stop making art for a little while—don’t. Maybe you give yourself an assignment to create a piece of art that is about summer or your travels or leaving art school, whatever it is just keep making art.
Everyone starts somewhere. Great artists are not born great artists. It takes hard work, learned skilled and commitment. It takes practice. And often we learn just as much or more from our failures as our mistakes.
And read the book “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland because if I remember (I need to read it again for a fourth time) they
say a lot of the same things but in a more poetic way. See you are not alone, many artists face the same struggles.
You are an artist. Remember that. It is an amazing gift. Embrace it.
Congratulations to Ben Harle and all the 2012 graduates!