Advice For Life From Artists

The New York Times asked 40 artists to give some advice to other artists. Some of the quotes resonated deeply with me…

Artist number 2
Garrett Hongo, poet

“…seek out a mentor: someone who supports you and wants you to achieve your own voice and vision…”
Garret Hongo

For me it’s been mentors, plural.

“…connect with your local community or history and critically examine your own location or dislocation within the country. This will inform what, how and why you want to (create).”
Don Mee Choi, poet and translator


Artist number one
Uzo Aduba, actor

My mother encouraged me my whole life.” Uzo Adu

When my mother told a friend of her father’s that one son was a statistician and the other a clown, the friend said, “I’ll only mention the one of them,” to which my mom replied, “Please talk about both; just because I’m a sociologist doesn’t mean I have something against statisticians.”

There is one piece of advice, though, that I don’t agree with:

Don’t (become an artist) unless you have no choice…All the artists I know really had nothing to fall back on…If you don’t know if you’re going to be an artist or not…you shouldn’t do it… If you’re thinking about being a biologist or an artist and you’re good at biology…be a biologist because it’ll be more rewarding for you.”

Why are artists still saying that our profession is a last resort, a bottom-of-the-barrel career? This tired trope is usually an attempt to save young artists from the economic struggle habitually associated with the arts. As a kid, I dreamed of being a biologist and my career as a circus clown has been plenty rewarding.

I doubt if many aspiring nurses or plumbers or statisticians have received this advice. Healthcare, plumbing and statistics are all tough careers and important parts of life. So is art. Blessedly it is not always either/or: a choreographer friend is also an astrophysicist, an insurance executive I worked with is a singer, etc. etc.

Back to the quotes that resonated, I’ll leave the last word to the great actor André De Shields; “Art and activism are inextricably bound. There’s no choice any longer.”

Artists De Shields
Actor André De Shields


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