Friday, December 21, 2018

How to be an artist - can you have rules?

I've often heard it said that you're an artist when you've learned enough about the rules to be able to break them.

The question then becomes "What are the rules for how to be an artist?"

According to Jerry Saltz, there are 33 rules for making art - see How to Be an Artist - 33 rules to take you from clueless amateur to generational talent (or at least help you live life a little more creatively).
There are 33 rules — and they really are all you need to know to make a life for yourself in art. Or 34, if you count “Always be nice, generous, and open with others and take good care of your teeth.” And No. 35: “Fake it till you make it.”
Just to be clear, Jerry Saltz is not actually an artist. He wrote an article in 2017 called My Life As a Failed Artist Decades after giving up the dream for good, an art critic returns to the work he’d devoted his life to, then abandoned — but never really forgot. By Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in commentary,
taken at the Pulitzer Prize ceremony in NYC
Wikimedia Creative Commons
Nothing so straightforward. He's an art critic.

Specifically, he's the art critic of the New York Magazine - and this is a link to his most recent articles which he writes for Vulture, which is the culture section of that Magazine.

He also won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2018 - so not just any old art critic!

Jerry Saltz' 33 rules for 'how to be an artist'


Anyway - here are his 33 rules. The full explanation for each one comes in his article which I recommend you read

Bottom line - it's a good read!  Whether you agree with all of it or not - and the images used for the article are also excellent - not least those where he emulates Cindy Sherman! (see below for his Warhol, Dali and Frida Kahlo impersonations)


However let's also be clear these are rules stated as Lessons - and some include exercises and most include imperatives.

In fact, I have no problem with the thrust of the article being Lessons. It's the notion that these are "rules" which causes me to pause. I'm left wondering if an Editor thought of a better title for the article?

I found myself nodding in agreement with quite a lot of what he has to say. I think if you've tried being a serious artist or know people who have you'll recognise those truths.
....over the years, I’ve found myself giving the same bits of advice. Most of them were simply gleaned from looking at art, then looking some more. Others from listening to artists talk about their work and their struggles.
Some of it I think has to be said by somebody who is not an artist because sometimes only the truth of 'what is' can be said by somebody who been very close to the art world without being an artist.

Read them as LESSONS and not rules...  Rules are made so you can break them - when you're a real artist.

Step One: You Are a Total Amateur
  • Lesson 1: Don’t Be Embarrassed
  • Lesson 2: “Tell your own story and you will be interesting.” — Louise Bourgeois
  • Lesson 3: Feel Free to Imitate
  • Lesson 4: Art Is Not About Understanding. Or Mastery.
  • Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work
Step Two: How to Actually Begin - An instruction manual for the studio
  • Lesson 6: Start With a Pencil
  • Lesson 7: Develop Forms of Practice
  • Lesson 8: Now, Redefine Skill
  • Lesson 9: “Embed thought in material.” — Roberta Smith
  • Lesson 10: Find Your Own Voice
  • Lesson 11: Listen to the Crazy Voices in Your Head
  • Lesson 12: Know What You Hate
  • Lesson 13: Scavenge
Step Three: Learn How to Think Like an Artist - This is the fun part.
  • Lesson 14: Compare Cats and Dogs
  • Lesson 15: Understand That Art Is Not Just for Looking At
  • Lesson 16: Learn the Difference Between Subject Matter and Content
  • Lesson 17: See As Much As You Can
  • Lesson 18: All Art Is Identity Art!
  • Lesson 19: All Art Was Once Contemporary Art
Step Four: Enter the Art World - A guide to the snake pit.
  • Lesson 20: Accept That You Will Likely Be Poor
  • Lesson 21: Define Success
  • Lesson 22: It Takes Only a Few People to Make a Career
  • Lesson 23: Learn to Write
Step Five: Survive the Art World - Psychic strategies for dealing with the ugliness (inside and out).
  • Lesson 24: Artists Must Be Vampires
  • Lesson 25: Learn to Deal With Rejection
  • Lesson 26: Make an Enemy of Envy
  • Lesson 27: Having a Family Is Fine
Step Six: Attain Galactic Brain
  • Lesson 28: What You Don’t Like Is As Important As What You Do Like
  • Lesson 29: Art Is a Form of Knowing Yourself
  • Lesson 30: “Artists do not own the meaning of their work.” — Roberta Smith
  • Lesson 31: All Art Is Subjective
  • Lesson 32: You Must Prize Vulnerability
  • Lesson 33: Be Delusional
I'll be inserting a link to this article to the soon to the STARTING OUT Tips for an Emerging Artist page of the Practice Section of my Art Business Info for Artists website - not least because it's one of the more realistic articles I've read about the fact being an artists is emphatically NOT all about the art!

What are your "rules" or "lessons" for being an artist? (Answers on my (public) Facebook Page please)

More about Jerry Saltz


His social media sites are worth following....

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