Make Good Art.
Posted on August 30th, 2012
After my rant, Writer’s Remorse & Bucket’s of Pig Blood, about the sometimes painful path of following your dream, I wanted to offer up one of my favorite antidotes, a commencement speech by Neil Gainman. Many of you have probably seen this, it went viral back in May. If ever I am down in the dumps or in of need encouragement, I watch this. If it’s been a particularly bad case of ”what am I doing with my life” then I follow the speech up by heading straight for a Margarita and cheese dip. Usually, that does the trick. Oh- and please substitute the term “arts” or “writing” for whatever your dream is: synchronized swimming, opening a candy shop, or becoming a wax museum tycoon, they all apply.
Neil makes five key points that stand out for me:
1) You have no clue what you are doing. Neil says when we embark upon a career in the arts, we are clueless, and as it turns out, this is a good thing. If we don’t know what the rules are, then we are free to break them. If we don’t know that something is impossible, then there is nothing to stop us from doing it.
2) Keep Walking Toward the Mountain. Neil says, imagine what you want to do in this life, and imagine this thing as a mountain. Now you keep walking toward the mountain. Opportunities may arise while you on your way toward the mountain that seem amazing at first glance, but on a second review, turn out to be taking you away from your dream. Don’t go that way. Keep walking toward the mountain.
3) The Problems of Failure. You need to be thick-skinned. A free-lance life is like putting messages in a bottle and hoping that somewhere, across the seas, someone will find your bottle, approve of its contents and send you a bottle back. You have to accept that you may put hundreds of bottles into the sea maybe only receive a few of them back.
4) The Problems of Success. I’d never heard of “imposter syndrome” before I heard Neil described always fearing: “there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clip board – I don’t know why he had a clip board, but in my head he always had a clip board – would be there to tell me that it was all over, that they had caught up with me and now I’d have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down. . .”
I could completely relate. Whenever I have experienced even the smallest victories, I think, “Who do you think you are kidding?” I can only pray that I get to experience this syndrome in all its neurotic glory, problem’s of success sound lovely.
5) Make Good Art. (I Love this part!) Neil says:
“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 a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art.”
I hope you’ll get as much from this as I do, and I hope Neil Gainman know that so many are grateful for his inspiration.
Keep this close, I promise you might find that you’ll keep coming back.