Best and Worst Advice

I enjoy podcasts, especially while I am working in my studio. Recently, I’ve been listening to Michael Ian Black’s How To Be Amazing. At the end of each interview Black asks his guests to describe the best and worst advice they ever received. This is my favorite part of the podcast and it got me thinking about how I would answer if that question were ever posed to me.

Best Advice

When I was in art school, one semester I took a new class called The Creative Practice. It was co-created and taught by two working artists and their goal was to help teach undergraduates how to define and understand their own personal artistic practice. Looking back, I’m not sure this can be taught. My experience is that this is something slowly created over time as one grows and develops as an artist not a learned skill. Honestly, I don't really remember much about the class. But I do remember one specific piece of advice I was given: Never stop making art.

It’s so easy to get caught up trying to figure out the next show, the next buyer, the next opportunity. But if you haven’t actually made any art, what does that matter? The instructor’s point was that if you put most of your energy into creating new art then oftentimes the rest will fall into place. I put this to practice all the time. “Don’t think; just make," I tell myself. It’s too easy to get distracted fretting about all the other stuff.

I think this is also very good advice for any artist who worries about trying to make only their very best work at all times. Who cares if an idea fails? That failure could lead to a completely new idea. Not every work of art needs to be a masterpiece and, in fact, most of the time it never will be. The more we create, however, the more possibility some of that art will be good, maybe even great.

Worst Advice

Again in art school, I had an instructor who said that the only way to be successful as an artist was to treat your studio practice like a nine-to-five job (assuming you didn’t already have a regular nine-to-five job, I guess). Eight hours a day, five days a week of just making art. I believed this to be true for a really long time and boy did it stress me out. My schedule does not allow me five full days of art making but most of the time I can do two. If I didn’t work at least eight hours making art those two days, I’d feel like a slacker, which was pretty much all of the time.

After a while, though, I came to realize that this is not realistic. I find that inspiration and artistic energy come in fits and spurts. Sometimes I may get so engrossed in my art the next thing I know six hours have past but mostly I do better working just a few hours at a time. Art making can be physically fatiguing. Whether I am welding or carving stone or even just hunched over my drafting table collaging, my muscles get sore and I have to stop.

Also, this way of thinking can lead one to believe that unless they have a full day to devote to art going to the studio is a waste of time. Not true. Even 15 minutes spent on a project is productive. Doing something, even just a little bit, is better than doing nothing at all. One’s creative practice isn’t just about working in the studio, either. Time spent thinking about art, researching art, looking at art is all quality time spent. It all adds up.

Carved in twenty days during two summers spaced two years apart for no more than 2-6 hours a day.

Carved in twenty days during two summers spaced two years apart for no more than 2-6 hours a day.

My Advice

Reflecting back on all of this I realize that both pieces of advice have helped shape me into the artist that I am right now and allowed me to come up with my own advice:

Never stop making art and do it whenever you get the chance even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.