Notes For Young Artists

‘You should have an idea, but it should be a vague idea’ – Picasso

  1. Stop working while there’s still water in the well. Leave a place to start tomorrow
  2. Always have at least one piece going that uses cheap materials: house paint, craft paper, crayons, cardboard. It’s liberating, intuitive and someday it will give restorers and conservators something to do
  3. Appreciate your enemies. If someone hates your work they’re paying attention
  4. If you try to be trendy you’re already too late. Do what you are
  5. Make all moves provisional and partial
  6. All artists who ever lived are not only still alive but still working
  7. Shop for art in thrift stores and yard sales. Train your eye to see work, not ‘worth’
  8. Just because an artist is famous doesn’t mean it’s her fault. Some people are just unlucky
  9. There is no single ‘art world’; there are thousands
  10. Don’t expect people to get your jokes
  11. Art has no ‘history’. There is no linear progression. All art exists in the present, all at once 
  12. Work in multiple media at the same time. They inform each other
  13. When you visit a gallery or museum, go directly to the center of each room and look for something that calls you. Don’t follow the walls reading the labels
  14. Just because an artist is great doesn’t mean every work is good. Some of their work sucks – just like some of yours
  15. Reveal your process, that’s what people really want to see
  16. Once you leave art school no one cares if you ever make another picture – many will secretly prefer that you don’t. You might as well do what you really want to do
  17. Beware of ‘art lovers’ – they usually don’t
  18. Work on at least 5 or 6 pieces at once
  19. 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. If you do it again you’ll do it better
  20. Just because an artist is famous doesn’t mean you have to like his work
  21. Gestation can take a lifetime
  22. Memory is the mother of the Muses
  23. Trust yourself – especially if you don’t know why you are going in some new direction. There’s a reason
  24. Being an artist is just another way of learning who you are
  25. Your studio is a tool. Arrange it for your process. When your work changes your studio should change too 
  26. Read the comments and look for insight
  27. Never read the comments
  28. The trick to painting is knowing when to stop. Stay alert – your exit could come up at any moment
  29. 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
  30. Make the move you must make. When you run out of things you must do, you’re done
  31. Pricing: flip through numbers in your head until a bell rings. Don’t sell it for less
  32. When you hear that someone’s late work is a ‘decline’, pay particularly close attention. Sometimes it’s true (Picasso), sometimes it’s not (DeKooning)
  33. If you aren’t having bad days you aren’t trying hard enough
  34. Let things cool off. Some pictures take days, some take years. If you still haven’t destroyed it in 10 years it’s probably finished as is 
  35. Never repeat yourself
  36. Repeat yourself whenever you want
  37. You don’t need people to love your work. You need people to criticize, talk about and buy it
  38. Don’t expect too much from your friends. You’re on your own
  39. You’ll often get more out of hanging around with carpenters, welders and physicists than you’ll get hanging around with artists 
  40. All work has a natural audience. Find them
  41. Don’t sell your seed corn
  42. You can’t cram everything into one piece
  43. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, it is a competition
  44. If you make 150 quick drawings of faces you’ll learn a lot. 1000 is even better
  45. If you’ve said all you have to say by the 9th piece, forcing yourself to take a series to 15 is sheer tedium. Kill it. You can always come back to it later 
  46. Clean your brushes and put your tools away at the end of the day. Clean your studio once a week
  47. Match the scale of your tools to the scale of the work
  48. You need to know other artists, especially the artists who need to know you
  49. Plan your work, work your plan. Reverse engineer your calendar
  50. Galleries are like icebergs. What’s visible is the least important part. How the pictures got on the wall is the most important: friendships, social networks, love affairs, feuds, history and yes – money. A gallery is the visible protrusion of a social world
  51. If you aren’t at least slightly afraid that you suck, it’s too easy
  52. Nobody really looks at work by a ‘genius’
  53. Never envy. Ever
  54. The single most important thing – find one good critic, whose opinion you trust and who will tell you what she really thinks 
  55. Good luck