If you're anything like me you spent a good portion of your early artistic days nurturing terrible habits and ignoring advice from anyone but yourself. You probably got pretty angry when people talked about art history and you probably resented art as an instituion as a whole. I gotta say, its not productive to be where you are but its totally normal. Many at a high school level or even beginning as an adult pick up terrible drawing habits, build up crack pot resentments, and self sabotage themselves without even knowing it. If you relate to any of this please read on and free yourself from the tomb you are building. Lets get it.
1. LEARN REAL TECHNICAL SKILLS
1. As a young artist, I drew every day of my life and this was really great for me but along the way I developed a 'style' that consisted of very poorly drawn, low effort shock pieces and crude splatter paintings that hardly passed for abstract expressionism. It all felt good and it was healthy in the long run, but if I could have learned real linear perspective or legitamate figure drawing techniques back then, I would've been able to make the high school shock value bullshit I loved, in a way that was accessable, interesting, and palatable. I suggest visiting some lectures on youtube from the artist Domenic Cretara. He has a couple different series that were filmed in a real college classroom that could benefit anyone trying to improve their technical ability.
2. DO NOT CRITIQUE YOUR FRIENDS
2. Unless they ask you too. I am ashamed to admit it but this is something I was HUGELY guilty of a while back. You may be more experienced, more knowledgeable, or maybe you've been painting longer, but you are in no way, shape, or form better than anyone. You might think you are helping or maybe it puts you on a power trip in some sick way but brutally critiquing people who didn't ask you to just makes you look mean and sounds like a power move to everyone else in the room. Doing this to people in any context will not make you look smarter, more talented, or confident, it will make you look the opposite.
3. LISTEN TO OTHER ARTISTS TALK ABOUT THEIR WORK
3. And as the poet wrote, "Good artists copy, great ones steal." Like many others in the past and present, Pablo Picasso recognized a great truth in his career; steal shit all the time. Of course at face value this seems like horrible advice but the reality is, great art doesn't happen in a vacuum. No one becomes amazing by locking themselves in their studio for 20 years with no contact to the outside world and emerges as Michael Angelo come again. It just doesn't happen. If you copy directly from other artists you will eventually get called out & it won't feel good, but if you steal from other artists, you will enrich your technical abilities, your perspective on the world at large, and probably make a lot of friends. Here's how you do it: next time you meet an artist, don't talk about yourself at all. You can ask questions, laugh, respond, but the key here is to keep egging them on. As you probably know, artists love talking about themselves and if you can tap into this while networking or at events, you will seem way more likable, interesting, people will think you're a great listener, and its a sure fire way to pick up loads of information you did not have before. So shut up and listen!
4. DON'T ONLY STUDY ART
4. This might be strange advice but it has helped me, my friends, and a lot my mentors along the way. To break it down, we can study art history, contemporary movements, social justice, and many other things that tend to pretain directly to the artist of today, but what about the random, obscure, and interesting historical figures and events, that nobody really cares about anymore? Do you know if Che Guevera had a childhood friend that greatly impacted his life? Do you know if the pope who incited the first crusade had any alterior motives? Have you ever wondered why vultures seem to be immune to diseases that infect the carcases they eat and don't get sick? These are all great questions that you could know the answer to by utilizing the magical window of glass you are holding in your hand right now and it could greatly impact you, your art, and the overall depth & intrigue of the content you are hoping to create. To sum it up, great artists just know things about stuff and it helps. Read!
5. KILL THE TORTURED ARTIST AND LET THE HEALTHY, WELL ADJUSTED ARTIST BE BORN
5. A whole article could be written about this but for now we'll stick to a quick primer. I say this as a person who has struggled greatly with alcoholism and substance abuse, and currently struggles with mental and chronic illness. Embodying the tortured artist will kill you and is a horrible marketing technique. Van Gogh is said to have eaten clumps of yellow oil paint because it made him feel beautiful, Francis Bacon is said to have been disturbed and depressed, Andy Warhol exploited drug addicts and troubled people, and Kurt Cobain had chronic pain issues and was in the midst of a screaming dope habit. If reading that last sentence gave you a nostalgic and warm feeling about the poetry of death and suicide, you need to smash that idea directly out of your head. There are many people in the world who suffer everyday and their struggles continue to be exploited because of the false belief that their destruction was beautiful and artistic. If you are actually mentally ill and/or are currently addicted to a substance, you need to seek help and address the demons that torture you otherwise a worthwhile, sustainable career in art will be impossible and all of your talent will be for naught. Writing to your experiences and struggles is a positive thing and I do it all the time, but save yourself before it all goes to waste.
6. BE GOOD TO YOURSELF AND TAKE A BREAK EVERY NOW AND THEN
6. And lastly, just to string this all together, take a load off of yourself. Drink some water, take an advil, and take a nice walk to your local park. Eating, sleeping, and breathing art sounds like a good idea, but going to bed every night at 4am and painting until there is linseed oil flowing from your pours may not be the best long term plan. You might be struggling, fighting to stay above water, or just trying to make a name for youself, but all of that goes to waste if you're not taking care of yourself. You'll be alright and the museums will be sifting through your sketchbooks and restoring your original paintings in no time. Go make a mess!
Brian Huntress is a writer, artist, and professional nutjob from Massachusetts. Contact at email@example.com