I've just, finally, gotten around to reading Neil Gaiman's commencement address at the Philadelphia University of the Arts made in May of 2012. We have it in book form at the bookshop. It's the address with some attractive graphic design layout by a fellow called Chip Kidd. I tried reading it that way, but I wanted to get the flow of it better, so I just printed out the transcript.
The title of the address is 'Make Good Art.' It is really quite interesting. I'm usually quite squirmish about these motivational sorts of things, and highly skeptical. But I found that this Gaiman fellow presented some thought-provoking ideas.
Early on in the speech, he mentions a nifty little technique wherein his goal (in Neil's case to be a writer of comics, books, movies etc.) was imagined as a distant mountain. Every job, every story, every journalistic assignment was viewed on whether it brought him closer or further away from that mountain. If it was taking him away from that mountain, he had to weigh up the value of doing it at all.
I like that method. I definitely have my own mountain (though I like to think of it as a Faerie forest rather than a mountain) that I seek to reach. I think I'm going to adopt this method of visualisation, I can see its merits and how I can benefit from its use.
I have definitely fallen into the trap of taking on jobs that perhaps led me... well, not in the opposite direction of the Faerie forest, but perhaps on a meandering, scenic route in the vaguely correct direction instead. It's the prospect of getting paid to draw that is such a seductive temptress. Which artist wouldn't want that, right?
I have up on the wall in front of me right now a little saying that means many things to me. It says 'If you don't build your own dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.' In one hand, you could take the hard line on this and say that this could be telling me to just concentrate on my own stuff and not take on any jobs at all. I don't want to do this. The way I see it, if I take on the odd job that will help build my platform and visibility, the richer the Faerie forest will be. By richer, I mean, more rewarding and successful, not just wads of cash.
That saying could also translate as 'if you have a dream and set it aside in favour of another person's, yours will never come to be.' I think the important point to take from this is that your dreams should not be entirely abandoned in favour of earning a living. This is the idea that I hold to. I DO take on other work, but I am constantly working on my own dream at the same time, even if only in thought (an important process too).
It's all about the balance. This is something that Neil Gaiman alludes to in his address. On one side of the scale is financial security and the possibility of steady work, but to the detriment of your 'true' voice and the satisfaction that can give. On the other side is the dream, the road to it and the real you. It is fraught with hardship and no promise of success, but the joy it can bring is substantial, even if it never sees the light of day. On that scale, I would like to begin somewhere in the middle and work my way over to the dream side. As time goes by, with every job I pick up, I will move a little closer to that Faerie forest. There will be a day soon when I will stop taking on jobs and just concentrate on my own thing, come what may. I'm nowhere near that point yet, but I can see it on the horizon.
The other point in Neil's address that caught my eye was his advice on rejection and understanding that many things will fail for every one thing to succeed. This is a very important point for any creative person to keep in mind. A thick skin is absolutely essential for a person looking to walk down the creative road. I'm not sure if I have a thick enough skin yet. I think I have the mental capacity to see reason in my mind, but I imagine my emotions will win out initially. You have to believe that what you have to offer is worthy and that somebody will want it, while all the time accepting that many will not.
This brings me to a point where I slightly disagree with Neil and many other motivators and advice givers. It is usually at about this stage when the speaker will say something along the lines of 'if you keep at it, work on your craft, be the best you can be, someday, somebody will knock on your door.'
I think this is a dangerous thing to say, because, realistically, it is simply not true. There are absolutely no guarantees that anybody will ever knock on your door. There are seas of creative people who have never seen their dream come true, never reached their mountain. Persistence, resolve, resolute belief, are no sure fire way of achieving success. In fact, I would go as far as to say that 99% of creative people never realise their dream.
So should a creative person give up all hope in the face of those alarming odds? Certainly not. But they should be realistic about their chances. More importantly, they should do everything in their power to become part of that 1% who reaches their mountain. Which is where I tend to agree with Neil about his next point, that even if you fail, you still have the work. If the work is a reflection of the true you, the thing you most love, then success or failure are meaningless, because the joy of the work, if pure and true to you, should be immensely satisfying in its own way. You should work on a piece, whatever that may be, and polish it until it is everything you have dreamt it would be, and see that it alone is a thing of value, if only to you.
I tend to think that the best way to go about creating something is to not think about a target audience or market. Rather, you should make it for only one person... you. The moment you start thinking of an external audience is the moment that the work becomes less what you want it to be and more what others might want. It dilutes the purity of it, softens the refined edges. I like to think of my own piece of work, my Realms of Faerie, as a ball I can fit in my hand. At the moment it is a bit flabby, not perfectly round and it has holes in it, scars on it and it is has no sheen. But with every bit further I get with the story, it hardens up a bit, shines a little more, the surface becomes more smooth and the holes shrink a pinch. One day it will be all shiny and perfect, but it has to be bounced and rolled along that path for a good long way yet.
I am just Mr. Metaphor today... sorry about that.
100 Heads in 100 Days #55 / 31 Day Drawing Challenge #21
|Tauron the Bullorn Faerie|
Me Fact #55
My favourite He-Man and the Masters of the Universe character is Mer-Man. I loved those cartoons and toys when I was a kid, I have lots of the figures still and watch the cartoons every now and then.