I received this email today. It always touches my heart when I receive email from young artists wanting to know more about being an artist. I am attaching the letter from the student and my response below.
Hello I’m Melanie 🙂 I’m sorry this isn’t a very professional email and I’m sure you are very busy with other things but, I just wanted to tell you that your artwork is very inspiring to me and I love how unique it is. I’m 15 years old and I’ve loved art ever since I was little. I take every chance I get to visit an art museum or create art myself. I was wondering what inspired you to create sculptures out of plastic straws? And also when you decided to major in fine arts in college were you ever worried about being unsuccessful?
Thank you for your time, I hope you can get back to me!
Your email is so sweet and endearing!
I am sick in bed with the flu right now so I am especially a sucker for compliments.
Where do you live?
If in the city, I would be happy to meet you at a cafe and talk. If not…hmm. let’s see.
Your questions are so important. I decided to major in fine arts before I was in college, so when I was about your age. I was in art competitions at the age of 15 and winning prizes and applying for scholarships and even though my art was in retrospect, very shallow due to my inexperience and age, I was encouraged and kept on doing it.
When 15 art replaced my music making. In some ways I think of it as a private performance, where the viewer is the witness to the result of that performance. And I have performance anxiety, so it works out that the performance is fairly private and what is seen is still me, but without my physical presence.
Do you want a list of seminal books on art for the young artist? This might be helpful. I remember reading “Letters to a Young Poet” and loving it (Rilke). There is a great version of this in an art magazine “letters to a young artist,” a compilation of letters written by famous artists to young artists:
My high school art department wasn’t great, but I felt comfortable there….you know…it felt right, and I liked and still like to spend time alone creating my own universes, getting lost in them, finding them, them finding me. It’s always so exciting – this art process with it’s infinite possibilities.
I’ll get into the straw talk in another email or conversation. My website is really out of date, and I am working on a new website altogether, so I look forward to you seeing more recent work.
In regards to success, I believe it is relative. Of course I wanted to succeed in school. I wanted to please my professors. However, there were times when I needed to make what was in my heart and they didn’t approve of it; it didn’t fit their sensibilities. So I said that I had to not succeed in getting the approval of the teacher and experiment with what I needed to express. And this is what an artist must do if they want their process to be authentic and deeply rewarding.
But now, instead of fearing success, I just try to set goals and work towards them. I mean, yes, I am/was concerned at times that I wouldn’t/won’t be successful, but that doesn’t stop me because then I certainly won’t be successful because there won’t be anything! And although I may be perceived as successful to you, I still feel like I could be more successful…and I don’t know if one ever becomes content with their level of success, as it can always be more and if you are at your peak, artists worry that they will lose their top ten status, much like pop musicians. Rather than worrying about all of this, I try to keep realistic goals and stay in the studio. I try to keep two projects going at once, so if I need a break from one, I have the other to keep me going. It’s important to keep going. Just like practicing an instrument, you only get better by doing.
(that being said, it is also so important to take time out of the studio to study things that inspire the work).
At a certain point, it is just about commitment. If you are committed to making art, I believe you will have success. I said “this is what I want and I am going for it.” I keep my goals relatively obtainable with bigger ones further down the line. I apply for grants, fellowships, shows, and know the upcoming deadlines for applications. I try try try. I get rejected. I try again and again and again. I keep two folders in my file cabinet. One of rejection letters, the other with acceptance letters. The rejections no longer sting. They just are. this can apply to the actual art making process too. Make and make and make. You’ll make a lot of crap and good stuff will come from it. Trust your teachers and challenge them. Break rules but also learn why they are important and use them again as you need them. The formulas are there because they work. Simplicity is usually the best answer in art, in the end, but the simplest and most powerful work may come from a lot of complex and chaotic ideas and pieces. It’s all good. Even the bad stuff you make, as it gets you closer to the great.
Anyway, I find it unbelievable when people your age reach out to older artists for advice. It takes a lot of courage and I already can tell if this is the path you chose, you will succeed.