Make Good Art

Today, I want to share about an artist. A true source of inspiration, at least for me. Neil Gaiman is a British author of novels, comic books and much more. He wrote Coraline, a dark fantasy children’s novel. But also, Sandman, a comic book and Doctor Who, a science-fiction series (available on Netflix), as a scenarist. 

Here I want to share his advice and speech given at The University of The Arts.

The subject of this speech – three little words, posted on my desk :


The following extracts are my favorite quotes – there are precious source of wisdom.

Neil is someone we could called ordinary. Nonetheless, his background is quite an exception, since he wanted to escape school, and he didn’t really got any fancy diploma. Somehow an inspiring example for anyone convinced that creating or doing something involve an autorisation or some assigned authority.

“I never really expected to find myself giving advice to people graduating from an establishment of higher education. I never graduated from any such establishment. I never even started at one. I escaped from school as soon as I could…”

“I got out into the world, I wrote, and I became a better writer the more I wrote, and I wrote some more, and nobody ever seemed to mind that I was making it up as I went along, they just read what I wrote and they paid for it, or they didn’t…”

He got this image of himself as a writer from the very beginning. Instead of making a career plan, he decided to make a list of all the things he wished to do and realise in the course of his life.

“Looking back, I’ve had a remarkable ride. I’m not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who… and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.”

This is how he start his speech: giving advices he got from his experiences as an artist and writer. With tough beginnings, he has been going over the rules of the game, which are somehow set for us.

His first advice is the following :

“When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.”

“If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.”

Advice number 2, in which he shares the power of visualisation. In being willing to realise our own and true purpose…

“If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.”

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.”

« And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. »

“I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.”

Advice number 3 :

“When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure.You need to be thick-skinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it.”

Advice number 4 :

I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful…”

“Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.”

Advice number 5 :

“Do the stuff that only you can do.”

“Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”

Advice number 6 :

“People get hired because, somehow, they get hired. In my case I did something which these days would be easy to check, and would get me into trouble, and when I started out, in those pre-internet days, seemed like a sensible career strategy: when I was asked by editors who I’d worked for, I lied. I listed a handful of magazines that sounded likely, and I sounded confident, and I got jobs. I then made it a point of honour to have written something for each of the magazines I’d listed to get that first job, so that I hadn’t actually lied, I’d just been chronologically challenged… You get work however you get work.”

Here is the bigger piece of advice, he got, but failed to follow.

Given my the prolific Stephen King :

“This is really great. You should enjoy it.”

“And I didn’t. Best advice I got that I ignored. Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story.”

“That was the hardest lesson for me, I think: to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.”

This speech gives us the motivation to go forward and go into action. As simple as it may seems, by a single act considered as courageous : create something.

I think this lesson is not limited to art. I consider it as a true life lesson. We are all invited to apply it in our respective lives and at our pace.

“So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.

And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules…”

Every human being who succeed in life, business, art, or what so ever, once, got over the rules. You feel much more expansive when you don’t impose yourself any rule. For once, nothing seems impossible and everything is happening for you, and not to you.

Be Wise and Break those Rules. 

The official video :

Sources :

– The book edited by Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art” – here on Amazon.

University Website, with the video and transcription of this speech. (available here)

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