When I graduated from university seven years ago, our keynote speaker was some sort of visual artist who didn't speak English very well and who, for some reason, decided not to use an interpretor. He could've been reciting from an ancient Babylonian text for the half hour or so he was speaking, and I wouldn't have guessed otherwise. Suffice it to say, I wasn't very inspired.
But I do enjoy hearing other peoples' commencement speeches. J.K. Rowling at Harvard in 2008 and Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005 are a couple ones I re-listen to from time to time. And Neil Gaiman's recent speech at The University of the Arts was also immensely inspiring. If you haven't listened to it or read the transcript, I highly recommend doing so.
I especially liked this bit:
"Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
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.
Make it on the good days too."
I think words like this help mitigate the negativity that inevitably accompanies all artistic endeavors. Unless you're extremely lucky, making art will always be hard work, and there is never a guarantee of success. There will always be gatekeepers, critics, bad media, some economy on the brink of failure, and a million and one more reasons to give up. I knew all of this before I had even received my diploma.
But if it were easy, then it wouldn't be worth pursuing, would it?
At the end of the day, good or bad, I'm still an artist. My canvas is a blank page and my medium is the English language. One year has expired since I decided to experiment by releasing my first book by myself. My books aren't bestsellers, but they are successful on a variety of levels, particularly because they are the fruit of my artistic endeavors. Seranfyll and Eligere were rather challenging to write. But they were also extremely fun to write. This is an adventure for me, and one that I intend to keep going on despite the news or if a traditional publisher decides to publish me or if my leg gets crushed and eaten by a mutated boa constrictor.
Off to make good art...