Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Make Good Art!" Priceless Advice from Neil Gaiman

Have you ever heard or read or watched something so inspiring that you just had to share it with everyone you know?

That's how I felt earlier this week, the first time I watched this video of Neil Gaiman's keynote address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012 in Philadelphia on May 17.

During my first viewing I scribbled a few notes, thinking I'd stow them in my writing tips folder and read them later. But by the end of the video, I was so wrapped up in listening to what he had to say, I stopped writing. His words are so wise and witty and inspiring I had to replay the video.

I've watched the video again and again and have taken more notes.The video takes just under 20 minutes. Seriously, take the 20 minutes to watch it. It is well worth your time.

If you don't have the time right now and want a brief synopsis, here are some notes I jotted down:

* When you start out with a career in the arts you have no idea what you're doing. And that's okay because you aren't bound by the rules. If you don't know what's possible, it's easier to do the impossible.

* If you have an idea of what you want to do, just do it. Imagaine where you want to be. He didn't have a career plan, but he did have a list. He envisioned his goal as a mountain and kept walking toward the mountain. He learned to write by writing and turned down jobs that would've taken him away from his goal.

* Learn to deal with failure by developing a thick skin, but be proud of what you do. Freelancing is like sending out messages in bottles. You might have to send out hundreds of bottles before someone finds it or appreciates what's inside.

* Don't be afraid to make mistakes. He misspelled the name Caroline as Coraline . . . and we know what happened with that mistake . . . a book, a movie. Making art can be lifesaving. It can get you through good times and bad. When things go wrong . . . make good art.

* Be unique. Make the art only you can make. At first the tendency will be to mimic work of others, but take time to find your unique voice and talent.

* He shared some secret freelancer knowledge. Freelancers are successful because: their work is good, they're easy to get along with, and they finish their work on time. The secret is that any two of those three things will work. If you're not easy to work with but your work is brilliant and you deliver it on time, that's okay. If you are easy to get along with and meet your deadlines, but your work is not stellar, that will work too. You get the picture.

* Let go and enjoy the ride because your art can take you to amazing places.

* Luck can help. More than likely you'll discover that the harder you work and the smarter you work the luckier you will get.

* We're in a transitional world. The distribution channels are changing, but change can be liberating. Be as creative as you need to be to get your work noticed. The rules are changing, so make up your own rules.

* Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom.

* Make mistakes

* Break rules

* Leave the world more interesting for your being here


I'm sure my notes don't give his talk justice, so if you really want to be inspired, watch the video.


  1. This evening--at some point when I've finally gotten successful at unchaining myself from my classroom--I will watch the video. Thanks for sharing some of its tidbits, Donna. We all need bolstering when it comes to art...

  2. Donna, I agree with Sioux. Thanks for sharing this with us. Just your post was inspiring. I love the 2 out of 3 ideas for freelancing. I hope I am all 3. :) And good for you for embedding a video!!!! :)

  3. I loved what he said about envisioning the mountain, and choosing jobs that brought him closer to the top. That little gem of wisdom is priceless!

  4. Hi Sioux,
    You are welcome. I hope you take some time to enjoy the video.

    Hi Margo,
    It's wonderfully inspirational. And I'm so happy to have figured out how to embed a video!

    Hi Cathy,
    The image of the mountain was a strong one for me too.


  5. The video is on my list of treats for the weekend. Thanks.

  6. Oh wow, thanks for sharing this! I've just been reading "Steal Like an Artist" and this is right along those lines. Great stuff!

  7. Hi Carol,
    You are welcome. Hope you enjoy it!

    Hi Krysten,
    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll have to check out "Steal Like an Artist." The title sounds intriguing.

  8. Great post and I'll watch the video soon, but your notes were wonderful.


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