As artists, we all want to grow and improve our own work, and we are often surrounded by the advice and opinions of other people. While some advice is helpful, it can sometimes undermine our unique, personal voice. It can be hard to sort the good advice from the bad. It is also important to realize that our own accepted opinions may need to be challenged in order for our work to advance. Unfortunately, we may hear more bad advice than good. A mentor of Ross’s once told him “if you follow the advice of 90% of the people you meet, you will end up where 90% of people end up”.
As teachers, awareness of these rules and dictates that we have accepted as fact is especially important. Unchallenged assumptions can be passed from one artist to the next very easily. These beliefs become inner voices that continue to influence an artist long after the words are spoken, and can hinder an individual’s critical thinking and ideas. For example, almost all of us were told at some point that it wasn’t possible to earn a living as an artist.
Those of us who attended art school often encountered instructors who gave completely opposite though well-meaning advice, and part of our learning process as students is developing a sense of what advice to follow. In art school, one teacher told Rebecca that “what is personal is Universal” and later, another found her work too personal and advised that “nobody wants to read your diary." Integrating these two ideas was eventually meaningful for her, so what seems opposing advice may also be different angles on the same idea.
Even purely technical advice can be examined in light of its usefulness and truth. For example, many painters are told to “never use black paint straight from the tube”. Rebecca has 35 years of professional experience in breaking this rule.
Oddly, even positive, or encouraging advice can be detrimental. You may find an instructor pushing you in a direction in which you are not particularly drawn. While exploring directions in your work other than your natural tendency can be helpful, you should always stay true to who you are. Becoming overly influenced by any one individual will make it difficult to discover your own personal voice.
So what does good advice sound like? Good advice tends to open doors, make you think, and produce insights. It may be strict or formulaic, such as rules about safety or best practices, but if so it should be supported with reason and established principles, not simply opinion. The more open ended and inclusive advice usually deals with individual voice and direction.
Always consider the source, and your own biases when giving advice to others. As you both receive and give advice, try to distinguish fact from opinion. Use critical thinking and challenge assumptions that seem arbitrary and unfounded. Don’t forget to be open to what is rational, and founded in principle. There is always a possibility that your existing opinions may not be correct.