Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunscreen for Artists and Craftspeople

In June of 1997, Mary Schmich published a hypothetical commencement speech in the Chicago Tribune. One she was never asked to deliver, but one full practical and good advice. The column became known as the "Wear Sunscreen Speech" . Since it first appeared, it has spawned numerous parodies, and been made into two different songs. As I visited Lindly Haunani's blog recently, I was reminded of the essay by Ms. Schmich, and came up with my own parody of the original, geared to the working artist/craftsperson.

Ladies and gentlemen of the world of art and craft,


If I could offer you only one tip for the future, stretching would be it. The long-term benefits of stretching have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering career path. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power of your creative spirit. What was I thinking? You will not understand the power and beauty of your creativity until it’s blocked. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of your work and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really were. You are not as bad as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve a design problem by throwing a tantrum, or scrubbing a toilet. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless in other people's critiques. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself. Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old press clippings. Throw away your old rejection letters.

Color outside the lines.

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your art. The most interesting artists I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their art. Some of the most interesting 40-year- olds still don't know.

Take good care of your hands. Be kind to your back. You'll miss them when they no longer work.

Maybe you'll prosper, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be famous, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be in a museum, maybe the Ugly Necklace contest is the only one you’ll ever win. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your creativity. Use it every day, and in every way. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest tool you'll ever own.

Turn up the music and dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your studio space.

Read the tutorials, and then throw them away. Do not read too many books and magazines about your craft. They will only make you feel less than.

Get to know your fellow artists. You never know when they'll be gone from the craft circuit. Be nice to your collectors. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that galleries come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and price point, because the more success you have, the more you need the people who knew you when you started.

Do a show in New York City once, but leave before all your money is gone. Apply to the Smithsonian Show once, but don't plan on getting in. Build an altar instead.

Accept certain inalienable truths. Costs will rise. Prices will fall. Some people will copy. You too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, people bought craft, nobody copied, and everyone adored artists.

Respect the innovators.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't forget to take care of your hands or by the time you're 40 they will look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the stretching.

Finally, I quote Ms. Schmich. In May of 1999 she wrote,

"Occasionally someone asks, in a funereal voice, 'Does it bother you that people are writing parodies of your column?' No way. Because, ladies and gentlemen, if I could offer you one more tip for the future, this would be it:
Write parodies. It's a lot more fun than doing what you're supposed to be doing."

And she's right!


Molly said...

Just Perfect!

Exactly what I needed on this gloomy rainy day.


Casteen said...

Thank you for this. Good advice, and, I actually now know who wrote the original. (I had no idea it was written by her.)