Make Good Art

by Nate St. Pierre on May 29, 2012

Neil Gaiman gave the commencement address at The University of the Arts recently. You should watch it.

I understand that you don’t know who Neil Gaiman is, you’re well past college age, you’re not an artist, and you don’t work in the creative field.

You should watch it.

In fact, I’ll even give it to you. Here you go – it’s 20 minutes long, so if you don’t have time right now, bookmark this page and come back to it. I’m going to be borrowing heavily from it in this article anyway, so you may as well save yourself my poor interpretation and just watch the original instead. 😉

Art is one of those unfortunate words that comes with a lot of baggage, because so many people have their own preconceived notion of what it is. And once you say “the Arts,” you’ve already lost half your audience. Which is sad, because they’re missing out on something that most definitely applies to their lives.

Now don’t get me wrong – business as art is not the same as art as art, but on its good days it can get close. Even closer still is what we do here on the web, which is quite often this odd mixture of art and business. No matter which way you look at it, however, the core principle remains the same: you must do the thing that is uniquely you, and do it as best you can. You must make good art.

A life spent working on things solely in the pursuit of money results in . . . what?

Happiness? Perhaps, but most likely not. I think we all know that much.

Money? Certainly not a guarantee.

A life well lived, full of rich and meaningful connections? Hmm.

If you chase the money, and if you don’t get the money, you don’t have anything. But if you do work that you’re proud of, and don’t get the money, at least you have the work.

Neil talks about making good art by doing what only you can do best, and by doing the stuff that only you can do. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. He says that nothing he did where the only reason for doing it was for the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience.

I’ve learned the same thing in my life. When I’m working on projects from my heart, the money may or may not come. Be that as it may, I have never regretted a single moment I spent on work that matters. But the few times I’ve gone into something only for the money, I’ve been miserable almost the whole way through.

You have to make a living; that much is given. The challenge is always to find a way to fit the money into the art, and not the other way around. Whether you use it to make your living or not, your work – your art – can be a beautiful thing. It can inspire. It can help. It can change lives. Quite possibly it can change the world.

My gift, my art, is the ability to create new patterns in the network. To build a subtle shift into people’s time and actions that produces a combined effect of touching millions of lives and changing them for the better.

Along the way I’ve built up some talents that help me pay the bills. I’m a good web marketing consultant, and I get paid well to do it. But I don’t want to use clever marketing tactics to make tired old things interesting. I want to make interesting things, period. I want to make good art.

In truth, I’ve been a little afraid of late. I’ve had an idea for something I would love to build, but I’ve been so focused on taking care of the necessities and paying the bills that I’ve pushed it to the side over and over again. Watching this commencement address (five times) helped me clarify my thinking around this new project.

I’ve seen things in my mind, created them from nothing and made them a reality. Other people don’t have to see them, because I do, and I can make them real. And I see this.

So I will make my art, and I will make it in the best way I can. I will feed my soul.

And I will work with incredibly creative and talented people along the way.

This is my new project:

To art.

(Image source: Zen Pencils)

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