Thursday, May 31, 2012

Congratulations You Graduated, Now Get To Work

It's the season for Advice to the Graduate. We live in a time when those old and reliable models for careers don't work so well (if they ever did) and few will admit that just about everyone who has both failure and success are simply making up their plans as they go along. 

I found a good commencement speech for 2012, from author Neil Gaiman, given to the University of  the Arts in Philadelphia. I liked is because I too have been for decades trying to do what Gaiman encourages: make good art.

I'm unsure if our society wants good art. That's a question I constantly struggle to resolve and really haven't. But like so many others, I keep at it because making art is what I want to do, right down to my bones. I also like Gaiman's thoughts since I too realized a long time ago that their really are no rules, other than the ones we make up, to guide the artist.

The entire transcript and video are here, and you should read all of it. Here are some selections to entice you. (And congratulations to the many classes of 2012 graduates - now go do something.)

"When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.

This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.

If you don't know it's impossible it's easier to do. And because nobody's done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone doing that again."


"I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work."


"Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too."


"We're in a transitional world right now, if you're in any kind of artistic field, because the nature of distribution is changing, the models by which creators got their work out into the world, and got to keep a roof over their heads and buy sandwiches while they did that, are all changing. I've talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.

Which is, on the one hand, intimidating, and on the other, immensely liberating. The rules, the assumptions, the now-we're supposed to's of how you get your work seen, and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be to get your work seen. YouTube and the web (and whatever comes after YouTube and the web) can give you more people watching than television ever did. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are.

So make up your own rules."