Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For Young Artists: Follow Your Curiosity

Alan Bamberger at artbusiness.com asked what advice you would give to young teenagers asking for guidance on becoming artists. Here's my offering. 

"Most importantly, what fascinates you?  Start to find- and build deep knowledge about- something that really, really fascinates you.  No matter how geeky it is, nerd out: find out as much about funny cars, the color blue, adorable kittens, the War of 1812, nematodes, Queen Nefertiti , chocolate, dinosaurs,  armor, teacups and submarines as you can. As you read about it, watch examples, visit places about  it,  use artists' tools to teach your eyes and hands about it:  draw, photograph, sculpt, 3-d model, or collage your subject.

Make something about it every day that you can, even if it's just a doodle or two that doesn't seem very good.  But don't give up. People might tell you you're crazy or what you're interested in is stupid and boring.  Never mind those chowderheads- they're the ones who are boring. The opposite of being boring is being interested.  Your job is to grow your interest, learn about and make something about your subject every day that you can.

But as you learn more about your subject, be sure to keep your mind and heart open.  Let your research and artwork lead you to new places. As you follow your curiosity, your first interests will change and grow. Kittens might become a study of cat bones, or the even the weird ways cuteness works on people. Funny cars might get you  thinking about power, physics, fire and metal. An Egyptian Queen might lead you to other cultures, or to ask what beauty really is.  Chocolate might get you thinking about what color brown really is. Your path might even lead you out of art, and into something else. That's ok.  Just follow your curiosity, and keep making things about what you discover on the way.

Look for surprises: the more surprising the better.  This is where it gets REALLY interesting.  You can, on your own, and with a lot of persistence and effort, realize something about your subject that no one else has ever understood or valued before.  Like a surprisingly beautiful drawing of a crumpled up piece of paper, one of the greatest things Art does is let people know what is valuable, when no one had ever thought that your subject was worth anything at all.

The oldest arts and deepest traditions of the culture you are in have much to teach you, but so does something invented or discovered this morning.  Your curiosity is more important, and more powerful, than any ideas about what art should  be and what artists should do.  Grow your curiosity, use artists' tools like drawing and photography and computers and sculpture to understand your subject. When you get interested in how these tools work, you'll get a strong sense of what skills you want to learn, and the effort it will take to master them will come naturally.

When you learn enough, you can make something that you've never seen before.  The rest of us might not have either.  What artists do is to show us exactly this.