Ah, the end of spring, and the glorious beginning of summer. It’s commencement season in the US, a time when people graduate, and begin the next steps of building their lives. And every year, commencement speakers are invited to institutions large and small to impart words of wisdom to guide those steps.
One of my favorite commencement speeches is one given by Neil Gaiman for the students graduating from the University of the Arts in 2012. The self-educated Gaiman, who never graduated from an institution but has a romantic fondness and idealization of them (he says), talks a little bit about his journey. He mused about how a writer or creative person can’t be working on Just One Thing, but must send hundreds of messages out in metaphorical bottles, and hope they come back with a response. He also talked about how a writer needs a thick skin – not everything will be loved, or even make it out of the house. And he talked about how important passion was. He said anything he ever did just for the money never turned out to be worthwhile in the long run.
This speech, though, is famous for his impassioned advice that artists just go out and make good art. If you don’t have 20 minutes to watch the entire video, start at 10:24.
“When things get tough, this is what you should do: make good art. (Pauses.) I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat, cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you are doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will all work out somehow. And eventually time will take the sting away. ”
Easier said than done, but still, it’s a starting point. Let’s make good art.
I’d like to extend warm congratulations to our own Michille, who is graduating this weekend. Great job, Michille! Open question for all of you: what’s the best advice you’ve heard in a commencement speech? (One of the wonderful things about the internet is that we have access to a huge number of the great speakers of the day, and the means to filter through the trite to find the gems that speak to the beginner, the striver in our souls.)