Three years and one month ago I graduated from Mount Allison University with my Bachelor of Fine Art Degree. I can hardly believe it has been that long. I remember that day very well, but I remember very little about what was said during the commencement address. Perhaps because there wasn't enough said that spoke to me directly, about being an artist, as it was a general speech to the overall students in the University from various disciplines.
I really love to read commencement speeches that have been archived online, especially written by creative individuals. One of the very favourites, given to me by one of my Fine Art Professors to read in my final year before I graduated, was written by the late David Foster Wallace, "This Is Water."
The second favourite is entitled "Make Good Art" by Neil Gaiman. Today I found another favourite by Teresita Fernández, “On Amnesia, Broken Pottery, and the Inside of a Form.”
Teresita Fernández - Ten Practical Steps to Being An Artist
- Art requires time — there’s a reason it’s called a studio practice. Contrary to popular belief, moving to Bushwick, Brooklyn, this summer does not make you an artist. If in order to do this you have to share a space with five roommates and wait on tables, you will probably not make much art. What worked for me was spending five years building a body of work in a city where it was cheapest for me to live, and that allowed me the precious time and space I needed after grad school.
- Learn to write well and get into the habit of systematically applying for every grant you can find. If you don’t get it, keep applying. I lived from grant money for four years when I first graduated.
- Nobody reads artist’s statements. Learn to tell an interesting story about your work that people can relate to on a personal level.
- Not every project will survive. Purge regularly, destroying is intimately connected to creating. This will save you time.
- Edit privately. As much as I believe in stumbling, I also think nobody else needs to watch you do it.
- When people say your work is good do two things. First, don’t believe them. Second, ask them, “Why”? If they can convince you of why they think your work is good, accept the compliment. If they can’t convince you (and most people can’t) dismiss it as superficial and recognize that most bad consensus is made by people simply repeating that they “like” something.
- Don’t ever feel like you have to give anything up in order to be an artist. I had babies and made art and traveled and still have a million things I’d like to do.
- You don’t need a lot of friends or curators or patrons or a huge following, just a few that really believe in you.
- Remind yourself to be gracious to everyone, whether they can help you or not. It will draw people to you over and over again and help build trust in professional relationships.
- And lastly, when other things in life get tough, when you’re going through family troubles, when you’re heartbroken, when you’re frustrated with money problems, focus on your work. It has saved me through every single difficult thing I have ever had to do, like a scaffolding that goes far beyond any traditional notions of a career.