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From hope to madness: advice from artists to artists


From Patti Smith to Umberto Eco, a video reveals diverse perspectives on what it means to be an artist.

Advice from older artists to younger has been a tradition over the centuries. From Horace’s famous Ars Poetica through Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, artists across ages and generations have maintained a constant dialogue about the nature of an artist’s actions, and about what it means to be an artist in the world.

Gathering just a few pearls of this oracular knowledge, seldom hopeful but always attractive to the restless mind, artist Daniella Shuhman produced a small video entitled Advice to the Young Artist to open a dialogue among such dissimilar personalities as Marina Abramović and Umberto Eco on the perspective of being a young artist.

The animations accompanying each segment are in equal parts both childish and violent, perhaps to reveal the emotional setting in which the artist debates the voyage through the experience of training. Great expectations about talent collide with the reality of the art market, with social inequality throughout the world, and that inevitable moment dealing with the weight of one’s own decisions, for better or for worse.

Some advice, such as that of the novelist John Ford, speaks of the seriousness of the question. According to Ford, one should try to convince oneself not to be an artist, because in any case, we might not even be very good at it. The multi-talented Patti Smith, though, insists on the importance of leaving everything else aside to focus on doing “a good job,” and never compromising commitments that jeopardize our creative freedom.

In sum, we can conclude that art isn’t a type of business for which many of us are predisposed (but, then, we could say the same of agriculture or mathematics). It’s about sustaining oneself through a desire to create something that doesn’t exist, but which should exist. It’s not entirely up to the artist how the work will be received or judged. The artist’s task is to decide again and again what to do with that which moves the artist to transform matter and invisible ideas into works, movies, plays, books or songs, such as the silkworm or the bee who might work blindly on it. They were born to do it.

Advice to the Young Artist from Daniella Shuhman on Vimeo.

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