Friday, March 25, 2016

Letters to a Young Poet

     Every once in a while, I get asked by young artists to look over their work. Or I get asked to talk to young students in high school about my "cool" job. I'm always hesitant about this because who am I to give a review or to guide one's artistic journey? I would not want my own kids to choose to be an artist for a profession. It's a path full of ups and downs. Being an artist is hard and sometimes very isolating.
     But if you want to be an artist, one bit of wisdom I can offer is, don't seek approval from others. I think back to when I was starting out, how I sought approval or permission to be an artist, namely from my parents. But they never gave it. (And the world may never give it). There were many closed doors, derogatory emails, polite passes, and outright rejections. It was a very lonely road.
    And that's why I wanted to write this blog, to explain to young artists why I won't write a review or tell you if your work is good. You have do it because YOU want to do it. What I think or anyone else thinks should not matter.  Why? Because if I had tied my self-worth to anyone's reactions and opinions, I would be a puddle of pity on the floor of rejection. You have to do your art because you have to do it. And if you can choose anything else, anything else besides the tempestuous and difficult world of making art for a career, I would say do that instead. JK Simmons who won the Oscar for best-supporting actor in Whiplash said in an interview that he "almost got back on the bus a handful of times." I know that feeling. I totally know that feeling. But then that's when you have to ask yourself, "do I have to do this?" For me the answer that bubbles up from my heart, is, always and unfortunately, "yes, I must." I'm not an artist because it's a cool job. I'm not an artist because I like to draw flowers. I am an artist because I need art and writing to make sense of my life. I do it for myself. When and if others like it, I'm always surprised.
     A book that helped me sort this out is Rilke's Letter to a Young Poet. Rilke wrote to not read criticism and to trust one's inner judgment. He said "Nobody can advise you and help you. Nobody. There is only one way--Go into yourself."
     That's my advice to anyone seeking out my opinion about your art or your business. Seek the approval and permission from yourself.

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