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Monday 11th July - Tip Five
Make your own theories on [art], tell people what you think and encourage them to form their own. The Aesthete Oscar Wilde once said “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”. I recognise the irony in quoting this statement, but whereas it’s important to appreciate others’ views (Oscar Wilde included), it’s vital to consider your own - even if it’s unpopular. This method also applies to your [art]: there is always a level of external influence, but you must look into your own core if you want to remain true to yourself.
In The Moon Her Majesty, the writer Jack Kerouac muses “I mean, this is prose, not poetry, but I want to be sincere.” He knew the importance of ‘telling it how it is’ - for him, in order to remain true to his [art], he needed to write in the language of the streets; the language of life. Through his professional work and ‘sketches’, we gain the ability to see the world through his eyes - not the beautifully romanticised world of fiction, but the world uncovered, warts and all. It was in these little, oft overlooked details that he noted what he believed was the true beauty of the world - and shared his vision of it, with it.
Trawling through books of quotations may be an interesting exercise, but those thoughts of real value are the ones that hit you unexpectedly - the ones that make you truly think, feed your work and stay with you over the years. These ideas stick because they speak to your true self, challenging or reinforcing beliefs and helping you come to your own conclusions. If you don’t share these thoughts with your peers, they’ll never truly understand your [art], and if they don’t understand your [art], they won’t care about your vision. So next time you air an unpopular opinion, don’t be afraid to stick with it. You’ll never be able to surf if you don’t first make waves.
Sat 9th July - Tip Four
Remember there are always two things to support: your life and your [art]. Your [‘art’] consists of your creations, from simple concept through to completion; your ‘life’ is everything else. A lot of aspiring [artists] suffer from momentary delusions of grandeur (paid commissions usually being the root cause), thinking that they may have prematurely reached the level to make a living from their work. Unfortunately, for those wanting to remain true to their [art], the truth is far from glamorous; a friend of mine best summed it up with the quip “We spend most of our time looking for work, and when we get it, we’re too busy to look for any more!” One month, you may receive thousands of pounds, but the next five or six may yield nothing. You’ll soon realise that, in order to both live and remain true to your [art], you must find a way to support it - so never be too proud to get a part-time job.
This said, there will always be a way to make something from your work; the most important thing to do is to negate all competition by taking your [art] out of its comfort zone and dropping it somewhere completely different; excite those who are rarely exposed to it to want to invest in it. Of course, this method works better for certain disciplines than others, but don’t be discouraged - it will bring people to understand your value as a[n artist] and realise your craft has worth.
It’s true that I don’t believe financial gain has anything to do with [artistic] worth, but it pays the bills. As long as you can pay for food, shelter and materials, you’ll be able to keep on creating. If you can’t afford to fly, remain grounded - but keep running with your wings outstretched; it’s only a matter of time before the wind picks you up.
Fri 8th July - Tip Three
Don’t be afraid to be different, but never be different for its own sake. We live in an age where [artists] think more of originality than they do the craft of their [art], with each subsequent piece becoming more shocking or inflammatory. The Victorian Arts Critic John Ruskin once wrote “Great [art] is precisely that which never was”, but doubtfully foresaw this provocative statement being taken quite literally. After the age of Victorian conformity, [artists] set out to create what they wanted to create, and although they still possessed the technical knowledge of their masters, they felt freed from such disciplinarian fetters. This tumultuous time was aided by the rise of government-funded cultural organisations; the power of patronage went to the state.
With no patrons to impress but those working at the central body, [artists] became increasingly aware that in order to gain funding for their work, they’d have to justify why they wanted to create it; they weren’t being offered jobs by patrons who’d seen their previous masterpieces and wanted to commission them especially, they were having to apply for work. Out of financial desperation, [artists] started putting their efforts into making each concept sound unique, neglecting the importance of technical superiority and sense of aesthetic principles within the work itself, instead preferring to indulge and celebrate mediocre talent with sophistic speculation on the subjectivity of [‘art’]. The plague of post-modernism was the unfortunate, inevitable result.
In wanting to create something completely different, [artists] usually end up creating unoriginal, sub-standard pieces of work which in reality reflect poorly on their potential as a[n artist]. This is why craft is so important (see Tip Two for my thoughts) - of course you’re expected to experiment, but once you’ve found your niche you should remember to hone it with time, dedication and/or lessons, because this is how the artistic voice (or personal ‘style’) will emerge. If you’re too busy trying to be ‘different’, you’ll remain [metaphorically] mute.
The worst thing [artists] find in the process of developing said voice is that their work isn’t particularly liked, but the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge defended his then-unpopular peer William Wordsworth with “Every great and original [artist], in proportion as he is great or original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished; he must teach the [art] by which he is to be seen.” Critics may brand your personal style as ‘over-exposed’, ‘unoriginal’…even ‘rudimentary’, and this isn’t to say that they’re not correct (only a fool ignores criticism), but if you remain true to the development of your own style, your work will inevitably gain the distinction it deserves. Remember never to pursue difference; let difference discover you.
Thurs 7th July - Tip Two
Remember to put care and attention into the craft of your work. Most contemporary [artists] put thought into a concept (be it a single piece, multiple pieces or a veritable Niagara of a project) but forget that a clever idea is one thing, making it accessible to others is something entirely different.
The painter Picasso noted “An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought.” Neglecting Picasso’s code of elaboration is where a lot of [artists] slip up; they are obsessed by taking raw concepts and displaying them at their most base form. Some of these ideas may be very clever, but no more clever than an article on philosophy. Great art should not just make one think, it should make one feel, and it should make one crave reignition of that feeling until said work is revisited - like an artistic opiate addiction.
The question you face is: do you want to be great? Artistic success is rarely weighed in money, fame or accolades. It’s in the [metaphorical] durability of the product - will people still like it in one, two, three hundred years time? Yes, we won’t be alive, but surely true success lies in the immortality of a name…or an ideal?
Let’s return to my original statement of being meticulous in one’s craft. The great Leonardo da Vinci once said “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, which is true, but the important dilemma all [artists] face is when the right time to abandon it actually is. Martha Graham (the ‘Picasso of Dance’) believed “No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” I agree with this line of thinking; perfection may be unobtainable, but the struggle through perfection’s frontier is often what sets greatness apart from mediocrity.
So, when do I personally believe is the right time to ‘abandon’ one’s work? I’ll answer this with a question: what do you want people to see in it - and think of you in three hundred years time?
Weds 6th July - Tip One
Stop telling people you want to be a[n artist] - whatever the discipline - you’re either one or you’re not. A good friend of mine (Nathan Leverton) once told me a story about a creative seminar: the speaker asked “How many of you want to be [artists]?” and when everyone raised their hands, he shouted "No! You’re all [artists]! Go out tomorrow, make some business cards; make sure they all say your name and the word [artist] underneath!"
Kevin Smith, before starting out on his successful film-making career, once said to his sister that he really wanted to make films…so she gave him some similar advice. When he told her that he feared people wouldn’t take him seriously, she said something like “Look, you are a film-maker, and a good one at that - you just haven’t made a film yet.” The ‘old’ Kevin Smith reportedly went to bed that night, and Kevin Smith: Film-maker woke the next morning. The rest, as they say, is history.
These examples both illustrate one important point, and that is that perceptions are everything when it comes to starting out. You need to instil faith in your art and in your abilities - if you don’t take yourself seriously, neither will anybody else. In Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Yvaine tells Tristan ‘There are shop [people], and there are [people] who just happen to work in a shop for the time being’, so from now on, when people ask you what you do for a living, don’t say “I work at Tesco”, tell them you’re a God-damn [artist]!
I finally got Kieron’s portrait of me mounted…in a Victorian frame, no less!
A fragment of John Wilmot’s ‘A Ramble in St. James’s Park’, as read by Yours Truly.
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