This is blog post #99 and I’m feeling reflective. I’ve been reading a speech, thinking about creativity and pondering the importance of industrial flooring.
Let’s start with the speech. Here’s the link, and I commend it to you. The speech is by British author Neil Gaiman, and it’s his keynote speech to the University of the Arts from a couple of weeks ago. (If you haven’t heard of Neil Gaiman he writes horror, science fiction and dark fantasy and, trust me, has been seriously successful.)
His central point in the speech is simple: “Make good art.”
‘Hang on,’ you’re thinking. ‘What has art got to do with me? I’m a widget manufacturer. I run a proper business. Nothing to do with the arts.’
And on the surface, you’d be right. You might be a solicitor or an accountant: you might run a facilities management company; you might install industrial flooring – and on the surface, you’d be right. Art has nothing to do with you.
You might also feel a little bit resentful. All this money being poured into media centres. People calling themselves ‘creatives’ running around making bonfires out of their suits and ties, telling us that the only way the economy can be saved is to have more web designers and more social media consultants.
This is Yorkshire, damn it. Get out there and manufacture something.
Except that whatever you do, that’s your art.
I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t draw, I can’t design. But I can advise someone on how to run their business: I can help them get the most out of their business and their personal life. That’s my art.
If you can re-structure a company’s cash flow; negotiate an employment contract; guarantee that an event for 2,000 people runs smoothly or make sure the hospital flooring is safe to walk on…that’s your art.
And now Neil Gaiman speaks to all of us. Because the messages he was giving to the students at the University of the Arts are the same messages that have run through this blog from the first post to the 99th post.
Get out there and make a start. Have faith in yourself. If you don’t believe – if you do it purely for the money – it probably won’t be successful. Make mistakes: just make sure you learn from them. Above all, be persistent: whatever your art is, “Make good art” and carry on making it. Here’s how Neil put it:
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.
Neil Gaiman finishes his speech with the best piece of advice he ever received – and is man enough to admit that he ignored it. He was signing books at a writers’ convention. The queue was enormous. Stephen King saw the queue and said to him, “This is really great. You should enjoy it.”
You should enjoy it – because the journey is what makes it all worthwhile. Ricky Gervais was on TV the other night. He was asked about the large pile of folding stuff now nestling snugly in his bank account. I forget his exact words: it was late, and I’d had a couple of Shiraz smoothies. But his point was simple: the journey – the hardships, the disappointments, the knock-backs – had made it worthwhile. If he’d won the lottery, it couldn’t have compared.
So at blog post #99 the message from me is as simple as it ever was. Whatever you do, ‘make good art.’ And above all, enjoy the journey.