In my last post, I introduced you to my experience being an expert at the New Hope Academy’s Ask An Expert Day and how awesome it felt to pass along some knowledge and encouragement to young people just starting to consider the future. I had planned to follow that up today with a run-down of each of the topics I discussed with the students. But as I was writing, I quickly realized that I covered an awful lot of ground that day. To really do justice to each of these points, I’ve decided I’m going to break it up into FIVE posts, one for each major point. So today, I’m gonna hit you with:
#1. Cultivate Your Own Curiosity
I had the same art teacher from grades 7 through 12. This woman was a fine middle school art teacher, and very encouraging of me. But when I moved on to high school, she came along, taking over for the retiring high school art teacher. She shouldn’t have: she wasn’t qualified to teach high school. So I spent 6 long years eager to learn about art and not learning it. Every year we made clay sculptutes and painted in poster paint, never touching color theory, design, gouache paint, air brush, techniques of drawing…
In college I experienced similar issues. While some of my professors were brilliant fonts of wisdom and knowledge (good example: James Sturm, founder of the Center For Cartoon Studies), I was also subjected to several professors who were useless and a waste of my time and money. A good portion of my education came from having to learn how to do things on my own. When my comic book inking professor taught us nothing about inking, I sought the knowledge in books and peers instead. When the college didn’t produce plays my friends and I wanted to be in, we learned how to produce our own. And while I remain disappointed about such conditions, I do think I ended up being the better for it.
Which leads me to my first big idea: education will not always come to you, so you must seek it out on your own. If there is a subject you are passionate about, learn it yourself. Find books and read voraciously. Subscribe to trade magazines. Go to conferences. Find a mentor. I didn’t have a single graphic design class in college, so when I first started designing a few years ago, I bought up a handful of the best books on design and typography, recommended to me by friends and well-reviewed on Amazon. Thanks to the internet, all the knowledge you need is available. But you need to be the one to go get it and stick it in your brain!
This is not to say that schooling is not important. Just because I had a less-than-awesome school experience doesn’t mean everyone has or will, and there are some great programs out there; some that I wish I could’ve been in. But the single most important thing I got out of college was the critique process. In all of my visual art classes, and even my theatre classes, when I presented an assignment, it was displayed for the entire class and everyone was encouraged to give feedback. Some people praised my work. Many people pointed out it’s flaws. And for every criticism, I got better— not just because I was learning what I was doing wrong, but also because I was learning to divorce myself from my work. If I draw a comic page and I’ve made a mess of the drawing or the storytelling is muddled, those are mistakes in the art, not flaws in myself. To be an artist (especially an actor) you must learn to not take suggestions or criticisms personally. This can be hard when you are first starting out and you are nervous and insecure in your work. I’ve been there. But fight the urge to get upset about it and recognize it as an opportunity to adapt and get better. You’ll be happier in the long run, and you’ll stick with the art instead of getting discouraged.
All of this can be summed up as encouraging your own curiosity. There is a new world being created every second. Every time you step out your front door, something new has happened, something has changed. The world is full of more stories, art, and inspiration than you will ever have the time or opportunity to experience, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Read books— fiction and non-fiction— that have nothing to do with your field. See plays, watch films, and listen to music that are foreign to you. Go for a walk somewhere you’ve never beeen. If you embrace learning as a continuous, life-long process, you will never want for creativity, and you will never become obsolete.