50 Notes for Young Artists

  1. Always have at least one piece going that uses shitty materials: house paint, butchers paper, crayons, cardboard. It’s liberating, intuitive and someday it will give restorers and conservators something to do.
  2. Appreciate your enemies. If someone hates your work they’re paying attention. If no one hates your work, be worried.
  3. If you try to be trendy you’re already too late.
  4. Make all moves provisional and partial. Reveal your process, that’s what people really want to see.
  5. All artists who ever lived are not only still alive but still working.
  6. Shop for art in thrift stores and yard sales. Train your eye to see work, not ‘worth’.
  7. Just because an artist is famous doesn’t mean it’s her fault.
  8. Stop working when there’s still water in the well. Leave a place to start tomorrow.
  9. There is no single ‘art world’; there are thousands.
  10. Art has no ‘history’. There is no linear progression. All art exists in the present. It’s a garage sale.
  11. Work in multiple media at the same time. They inform each other.
  12. Fear your friends – they’re the ones who will steal all your time – but that’s not actually their fault, it’s yours.
  13. When you visit a museum, go directly to the center of each room and look for something that calls you. Don’t follow the walls reading the labels. That’s for suckers.
  14. Just because an artist is great doesn’t mean every work is good. Some of their work stinks – just like some of yours.
  15. Once you leave art school no one cares if you ever make another picture. You might as well do what you really want to do.
  16. Avoid ‘art lovers’ – they don’t.
  17. Work on at least 5 or 6 pieces at once.
  18. Don’t be precious. If you’re struggling with a picture to save one part, get rid of that part – it’s warping the rest.
  19. Just because an artist is famous doesn’t mean you have to like his work.
  20. Gestation can take a lifetime. Artists never get old, they start over every day. 
  21. Memory is the mother of the Muses.
  22. Trust yourself – especially if you don’t know why you are going in some new direction. There’s a reason.
  23. Important ideas are never lost. If they don’t keep coming back they aren’t important. Kill them, paint over them, burn them –  just to see if they rise from the dead. 
  24. Your studio is a tool. Arrange it for your process. When your work changes your studio should change too. That task deserves your full attention.
  25. Read the comments and look for insight.
  26. Don’t ever read the comments.
  27. The trick to painting is knowing when to stop. Stay alert – it could be done at any moment. The worst thing you can do is keep working.
  28. Don’t judge your own work by what you see in galleries or museums. That work is there for hundreds of reasons that have nothing to do with you or what you do
  29. Make the move you must do. When you run out of things you must do, you’re done.
  30. Pricing: flip through numbers in your head until a bell rings. Don’t sell it for less.
  31. Don’t sell your seed corn.
  32. When you hear that someone’s late work is a ‘decline’, pay particularly close attention to it.
  33. If you aren’t having bad days you aren’t trying hard enough.
  34. Let things cool off and come back to them. Some pictures take days, some take years. Some take decades.
  35. Never repeat yourself.
  36. Repeat yourself whenever you want.
  37. You don’t need people to love your work. You need people to buy it.
  38. You’ll get more out of hanging around with carpenters, pastry chefs and physicists than you’ll get hanging around with artists. Artists don’t have any money and secretly they hate you anyway.
  39. All projects have a natural audience. Find it.
  40. You can’t cram everything into one piece. If you try you’ll ruin it.
  41. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, it is a competition. You need to know other artists – you need to know the artists who need to know you.
  42. If you make 150 drawings of faces you’ll learn a lot. 15 of them might even be good.
  43. If you’ve said all you have to say by the 9th piece, trying to take a series to 15 is sheer tedium. Kill it.
  44. Clean your studio once a week.  Clean your brushes and put your tools away at the end of the day.
  45. Match the scale of your tools to the scale of the work.
  46. When starting new work, imagine how it will be seen, by whom, in what circumstances. This leads to a vision of your audience. Then you know who to look for.
  47. Plan your work, work your plan.  What do you want to be doing in 6 months? What do you have to do right now, tomorrow, next week, next month to make that happen?
  48. Galleries are like icebergs. What’s visible are the pictures but how they got on the wall is the biggest part: friendships, social networks, history and yes – money.
  49. One of the hardest things to accept is when you nail something on the first try without really trying. It’s just a random gift. It doesn’t mean anything. Take the rest of the day off anyway.
  50. If you aren’t at least slightly afraid that you suck you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.

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