A Commencement Address for Confused Young Artists

Before you embark on a life dream chasing, read our commencement address for confused young artists.
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I’ve watched enough commencement speeches on YouTube to know someone older, wiser, and more experienced should be writing this. Money is valuable, but wisdom is the greatest gift you can give a graduate, the greatest gift you can give anyone, and I have very little wisdom to offer. I’d recommend David Foster Wallace, Steve Jobs, Kurt Vonnegut, Diddy, the homeless man that hasn’t lost his sanity, men that have lived, truly lived. I’m no different than you, stuck within the same vortex of confusion, searching for answers, seeking purpose, meditating in depression and rejoicing in happiness. It’s a journey that lead me to the arts. A journey that taught me you’ll go through a lot of hell just to get a glimpse of heaven. Not a panoramic, high definition Kodak moment, but just a momentary glance at the promised land through the peak hole in the dark. It's a view that can’t be bought with money, a sight that you won’t see by accumulating accolades, only by creating will you be allowed a heavenly feeling unlike any other. A writer must write, a painter must paint, and a rapper must rap. If you are a creative you must create. Not for the glory or the praise but for something inward, invisible, an itch that is only scratched when entering the element of your artistry.

It is the best of times and the worst of times for the arts. There is no bigger gallery and no bigger critic than the internet. Having social media is like the words scribbled on Kurt Cobain’s Journal, “If you read you’ll judge.” Not just your art, but judgement will come from your every action, every opinion will entice opinions and comments from strangers that just happen to press “follow.” Before the internet you would have to purchase newspapers and magazines to view reviews of your work. Now, just login into Facebook or Twitter and be barraged with scrutiny. I can’t imagine Van Gogh surviving in such a time. Can you imagine the mighty Picasso in 140 characters? I have scars from reading comments, one sour reader can outweigh infinite praise with the right words. It taught me a valuable lesson, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t be too sensitive. You can apply that to everyday life, but it’s also where you’ll separate good criticism from the bad while keeping a level head. We can believe to be perfect, masters of our craft, but there’s always more learning to be done. Getting lost in purposeless exchanges won’t add any value to your journey, just a waste of time. Time is what we have too much of and too little. It’s hard to complain that 24 hours isn’t enough once you account for all the minutes and hours wasted. I’m trying to get into a mind state of making every minute count. Death isn’t scary, wasting the time that we have living is.

The internet also connects you to others in your field. You’ll witness their progress, watch them rise, you’ll either applaud or ignore, but the worst thing you can do is compare yourself to them. That examination is only destructive. You cannot get lost running a race that doesn’t exist. Never forget this is the journey that doesn’t end. You are to move forward until your legs ache, then you crawl until your arms are numb with pain, and then you wait for that second wind to run again. Patience is the answer to all problems. Every opportunity I’ve ever wanted, once obtained, I realized I wasn’t ready when I screamed for it. I needed time to grow and I couldn’t see that while dream chasing. I look back on all the nights howling at the moon for attention, the empty promises that never came into fruition, sitting in a house built with bricks of doubt, and realizing it’s a part of the growing process. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s not for the weak. You’ll need patience, perseverance and a little bit of luck. I want you to remember all the mornings you were filled with a feeling that it was over, that you couldn’t make it any further, and then remember all the times you’ve felt that way in the past, and prepare for all the days you’ll feel like that in the future. Never give into the feeling of hopelessness.

Twice a year I try and read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s the bible for inspiration seekers. There’s two quotes I want to share with you, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” And “They were seeking the treasure of their destiny, without wanting to actually live out the destiny.” I want you to bury those quotes in your heart, right next to your mother and favorite porn star. They are essential for motivation. It’s one thing to talk, plan and plot your future. It’s another to throw caution to the wild and chase it without regard of the consequences. There’s no obstacle that you can’t overcome. The biggest obstacle will be yourself. Self-doubt is the graveyard of dreams. Just look at how many rappers use to be homeless, how many basketball players came from the absolute slums, all the successful entrepreneurs that never finished school and now are on top of the world. You can be fearless and remembered or a coward and forgotten. The biggest issues that my generation will face in art is overcoming a lack of focus, the entitlement complex and fear of failure. You have to feed your spirit, fill it up and as Kurt Vonnegut would say, constantly jump off cliffs and develop your wings on the way down. We are the D.I.Y. generation, infinite resources, nothing we can’t achieve if we truly want it.

I didn’t go to college, never took a course on writing. I found books that inspired me, made the dead men that wrote them my teachers and I've been battling the page ever since. They taught me to write with passion, style and vigor. To beat keys until an image of you appears on the page. Art is just putting your soul on a canvas. You can be taught technicality, rules, but if there’s no heart, it’s not art. Be an artist with heart. Pour it out. Pour it all out. Live your life, have some fun, replenish, then pour it out again. There’s no need for copying and pasting, not when everyone has a story, a unique perspective. This is a wonderful time to give yourself to art. Money and fame isn’t guaranteed for an artist, if you want to make this a living, I recommend getting someone business minded on your team. A business man doesn’t need an artist, but an artist needs a business man. 

For those that are just creating and hoping it open up prosperous doors, I want to close with a lyric from Kendrick’s album. “I know if I’m generous at heart, I don’t need recognition, the way I’m rewarded, well, that’s God’s decision.” To all the graduates and enrolling students of the University Of Confused Adolescence Wanting A Career In The Arts I wish you more than luck. I wish you patience. I wish you invincibility against fear. I wish you heart. It’s all you’ll need.  

[By Yoh, aka The Gradyohation Bear, aka @Yoh31]

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