Advice to Artists Everywhere
Hard-earned wisdom from Sol LeWitt, Sister Corita, Jerry Saltz, and Guest Artists Leah Rosenberg, Susan O'Malley and You.
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So, my friend Crystal’s birthday was last week. Her husband texted and said he was gathering life advice for her as a gift. Very sweet. And easy, right? OOF. The pressure! I texted him a GIF of a baby dancing.
He followed up. Baby dancing GIF wasn’t going to cut it. I thought for a bit and sent a sentence about figuring things out with our hands instead of our heads. I stand by it, but man, was it hard to come up with One Big Piece of Advice. The whole thing brought up a lot of feelings and questions about advice in general. Who we take it from, what purpose it serves, how and when we offer it, how it changes, and if advice is a good idea at all.
There’s a long history of artists offering advice.
Sister Corita hung her 10 rules for artists in her classroom in the Immaculate Heart College Art Department.
Recently, the often iconoclastic Art Critic Jerry Saltz penned 63 rules in his book, How to be an Artist. He published a 33 of them - cliff notes, sort of - in NY Mag where he is a critic. Included in his list: “Don’t be embarrassed; Tell your own story and you will be interesting; Feel free to imitate; Work, Work, Work.”
My favorite art advice coms from artist Sol LeWitt. When artist Eva Hesse wrote to her mentor LeWitt asking his advice on achieving the quality of work she imagined for herself, LeWitt responded with what has got to be one of the best letters ever.
“Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling… and just DO.” - Sol LeWitt
You can read the whole letter on The Marginalian (thanks Maria!) And here is a video of Benedict Cumberbatch reading it aloud. Personal fun fact: I grabbed that arrow on the furtherest right of the word “DO”, the one it looks like he drew first, took it to a tattoo artist, and had it permanently etched into my right wrist, pointing towards my drawing hand.
Offering Colorful Advice: Susan O’Malley & Leah Rosenberg
All of this makes me think of the artist Susan O’Malley, and her generous, loving and joyful Advice-based projects, like Getting Better Everyday, and Advice from My 80-Year-Old Self. O’Malley interviewed hundreds of people, asking them what advice their 80-year-old self would offer. She turned the collective wisdom into posters and murals and signs and displayed them in public for all to see.
Eight years ago yesterday, at the way too young age of 38, Susan O’Malley passed away suddenly. She was pregnant with twins. They died, too. They left behind her husband, family and friends, and a Bay Area (and beyond) arts community who loved and respected her and her work deeply.
Susan’s dear friends and collaborators, Christina Amini and Leah Rosenberg, have been keeping the light of Susan’s work shining ever since. Christina is the Executive Publishing Director at Chronicle Books, and worked with her crew to publish Susan’s “Advice from My 80-Year-Old Self” as a book in 2016.
Work from this project was recently acquired and installed at SFMoMA.
Also recently at SFMoMA, Leah combined her 2014-2015 time-based wall painting Everyday a Color, with Susan’s project Getting Better Every Day, into the incredible time-based installation Getting Better Every Day a Color in SFMoMA.
Here is a peek at Leah’s Everyday A Color installation from 2015:
And here is Getting Better Everyday A Color, in which Leah revisited her 2015 project, and collaborated with with Susan, through her advice:
I love how Leah bring the emotional AND conceptual elements of color to her decisions about what color to use. Reminds me of our assignment last week, Personal Color Palette.
With advice on the mind, I called Leah.
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