Neil Gaiman Reads His Manifesto on Making Art: Features the 10 Things He Wish He Knew As a Young Artist

I think you're absolutely allowed several minutes, possibly even half a day to feel very, very sorry for yourself indeed. And then just start making art. - Neil Gaiman

It’s a bit early in the year for commencement speeches, but fortunately for lifelong learners who rely on a steady drip of inspiration and encouragement, author Neil Gaiman excels at putting old wine in new bottles.

He repurposed his keynote address to Philadelphia's University of the Arts’ Class of 2012 for Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World, a slim volume with hand lettering and illustrations by Chris Riddell.




The above video captures the frequent collaborators appearing together last fall at the East London cultural center Evolutionary Arts Hackney in a fundraiser for English PEN, the founding branch of the worldwide literary defense association. While Gaiman reads aloud in his affable, ever-engaging style, Riddell uses a brush pen to bang out 4 3/4 line drawings, riffing on Gaiman’s metaphors.

While the art-making “rules” Gaiman enumerates herein have been extrapolated and widely disseminated (including, never fear, below), it’s worth having a look at why this event called for a live illustrator.

Leaving aside the fact that each ticket purchaser got a copy of Art Matters, autographed by both men, and a large signed print was auctioned off on behalf of English PEN, Gaiman holds illustrations in high regard.

His work includes picture books, graphic novels, and lightly illustrated novels for teens and young adults, and as a mature reader, he, too, delights in visuals, singling out Frank C. Papé's drawings for the decidedly “adult” 1920s fantasy novels of James Branch Cabell. (1929’s Something about Eve featured a buxom female character angrily frying up her husband's manhood for dinner and an erotic entryway that would have thrilled Dr. Seuss.)

In an interview with Waterstones booksellers upon the publication of Neverwhere another collaboration with Riddell, Gaiman mused:

…a good illustrator, for me, is like going to see a play. You are going to get something brought to life for you by a specific cast in a specific place. That way of illustrating will never happen again. You know, somebody else could illustrate it—there are hundreds of different Alice in Wonderlands.

Which we could certainly take to mean that if Riddell’s style doesn’t grab you the way it grabs Gaiman (and the juries for several prestigious awards) perhaps you should tear your eyes away from the screen and illustrate what you hear in the speech.

Do you need to know how to draw as well as he does? The rules, below, suggest not. We’d love to take a peek inside your sketchbook after.

  1. Embrace the fact that you're young. Accept that you don't know what you're doing. And don't listen to anyone who says there are rules and limits.

  2. If you know your calling, go there. Stay on track. Keep moving towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sacrifice.

  3. Learn to accept failure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you'll probably feel like a fraud. It's normal.

  4. Make mistakes, glorious and fantastic ones. It means that you're out there doing and trying things.

  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.

  6. Make your own art, meaning the art that reflects your individuality and personal vision.

  7. You get freelance work if your work is good, if you're easy to get along with, and if you're on deadline. Actually you don't need all three. Just two.

  8. Enjoy the ride. Don’t fret it all away. (That one comes compliments of Stephen King.)

  9. Be wise and accomplish things in your career. If you have problems getting started, pretend you're someone who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.

  10. Leave the world more interesting than it was before.

Read a complete transcript of the speech here.

Related Content:

Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling in His New Online Course

Hear Neil Gaiman Read a Beautiful, Profound Poem by Ursula K. Le Guin to His Cousin on Her 100th Birthday

18 Stories & Novels by Neil Gaiman Online: Free Texts & Readings by Neil Himself

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City tonight as host of Theater of the Apes’ monthly  book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Tim Minchin Presents “9 Rules to Live By” in a Funny and Wise Commencement Speech (2013)

Tim Minchin isn’t much of a role model in the hair brushing department, but in every other way the prolific comedian/actor/writer/musician/director inspires.

He’s unabashedly enthusiastic about science, a lifelong learner who’s a strong believer in the power of exercise, travel, and thank you notes….

He uses his stardom and talent for penning controversial lyrics to raise awareness and money for such causes as the UK’s National Autistic Society and a local charity formed to send adults who, as children, were sexually abused by Catholic clergy, to Rome.




His creative output is prodigious.

And he’s one helluva commencement speaker.

In 2013, his alma mater, the University of Western Australia, awarded him an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters and invited him to address the graduating class.

The speaker insisted up front that an “inflated sense of self importance” born of addressing large crowds was the only thing that positioned him to give such an address, then went on to share a funny 9-point guide to life that stressed the importance of gratitude, education, intellectual rigor, and kindness toward others.

If you haven’t the time to watch the entire 12-minute speech, above, be sure to circle back later. His advice is hilarious, heartwarming, and memorable.

In extrapolating the essence of each of his nine “life lessons” below, we discovered many bonus lessons contained therein (one of which we include below.)

Tim Minchin’s 9 Rules To Live By

  1. You don’t have to have a dream. Be micro-ambitious and see what happens as you pursue short-term goals…
  2. Rather than chasing happiness for yourself, keep busy and aim to make someone else happy.
  3. Remember that we are lucky to be here, and that most of us - especially those of us with a college education, or those actively seeking to educate themselves to a similar degree—will achieve a level of wealth that “most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of.”
  4. Exercise. Among other things, it helps combat depression. 
  5. Identify your biases, prejudices, and privileges and do not exempt your own beliefs and opinions from intellectual rigor.
  6. Be a teacher!  Swell the ranks of this noble profession.
  7. Define yourself by what you love, rather than what you despise, and lavish praise on the people and things that move you.
  8. Respect those with less power than yourself, and be wary of those who do not. 
  9. Don’t be in a rush to succeed. It might come at a cost. 

BONUS.  Uphold the notion that art and science are not an either/or choice, but rather compliment each other. “If you need proof—Twain, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, McEwan, Sagan and Shakespeare, Dickens for a start. …The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. “

Read the full transcript of Minchin’s commencement speech here.

Related Content:

NPR Launches Database of Best Commencement Speeches Ever

David Lynch Gives Unconventional Advice to Graduates in an Unusual Commencement Address

Jon Stewart’s William & Mary Commencement Address: The Entire World is an Elective

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Filmmaker Ken Burns Urges Stanford Graduates to Defeat Trump & the Retrograde Forces Threatening the U.S.

This time of year, we see graduation speeches popping up all over the web. The commencement address as a genre focuses on the opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities graduates will face post-college, and often espouses timeless life lessons and philosophies. But this year, as you may have seen, esteemed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns took the opportunity of his graduation speech, presented to the 2016 class at Stanford University, to address the timeliest of issues: the upcoming presidential election and the threat of "an incipient proto-fascism." The graduation just happened to fall on the same day as the deadliest mass-shooting in recent American history.

Voters are angry at the system, we're told again and again, and frankly the overwhelming majority of us have every reason to be. But anger can be intoxicating, and the segment of the electorate that carried Donald Trump to power seems drunk with rage and hostility. The promise of Trumpism puts me in mind of historian and critic Richard Slotkin’s classic study of U.S. mythology, Regeneration Through Violence, which describes the nation's compulsion to purge the country of threatening others in order to restore some myth of lost innocence. "I will give you everything, I'm the only one," the candidate vows, while scapegoating group after group for the country's problems.

In his Stanford commencement speech on Sunday, Burns decried “the dictatorial tendencies of the candidate with zero experience in the much maligned but subtle art of governance; who is against lots of things, but doesn’t seem to be for anything, offering only bombastic and contradictory promises and terrifying Orwellian statements." The Republican candidate for president is "a person,” Burns said in his impassioned speech, “who easily lies, creating an environment where truth doesn’t seem to matter.”

As a student of history, I recognize this type. He emerges everywhere and in all eras. We see nurtured in his campaign an incipient proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothing-ism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African-Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic saber-rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong. These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past. But they now loom in front of us again — all happening at once. We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires. The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.

We no longer have the luxury of neutrality or “balance,” or even of bemused disdain. Many of our media institutions have largely failed to expose this charlatan, torn between a nagging responsibility to good journalism and the big ratings a media circus always delivers. In fact, they have given him the abundant airtime he so desperately craves, so much so that it has actually worn down our natural human revulsion to this kind of behavior. Hey, he’s rich; he must be doing something right. He is not. Edward R. Murrow would have exposed this naked emperor months ago. He is an insult to our history. Do not be deceived by his momentary “good behavior.” It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert.

And do not think that the tragedy in Orlando underscores his points. It does not. We must “disenthrall ourselves,” as Abraham Lincoln said, from the culture of violence and guns. And then “we shall save our country.”

The words of Lincoln that Burns quotes come from the president’s annual remarks to congress in 1862, in which Lincoln made the case for the Emancipation Proclamation, one month before signing it. (A document, ironically, that Slotkin says "radically expanded the existing powers of the presidency" in its pursuit of a just cause.) In his address, Lincoln makes a forceful moral argument, all the more eloquent for its characteristic brevity.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us.

Likewise, Burns—addressing future leaders at an elite institution—makes his case for heeding the lessons of history, considering posterity, and rejecting Trump, independent of partisan interests: “This is not a liberal or conservative issue, a red state-blue state divide. This is an American issue.” He also implores "those 'Vichy Republicans' who have endorsed him to please, please reconsider." The horrific mass murder in Orlando has further inflamed what Burns calls “the troubling, unfiltered Tourette’s of [Trump’s] tribalism”---with renewed calls for bans on all Muslims, more inflammatory insinuations that the president colludes with terrorists, and bizarre allegations that a Clinton aide is a Saudi agent.

Trump did not invent this rhetoric of bigotry, conspiracy, and paranoia, but he has manipulated and exploited it more effectively than anyone else, to potentially disastrous effect. "The next few months of your 'commencement,'" Burns says, "that is to say, your future, will be critical to the survival of our republic." He urges the graduating Stanford class to take action: “before you do anything with your well-earned degree, you must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process.” Those processes may already be deeply compromised by moneyed interests, but destroying the edifice on which they're built, Burns suggests, will hardly restore any supposedly lost "greatness." Watch Burns' full commencement speech above.

Related Content:

Ken Burns on the Art of Storytelling: “It’s Lying Twenty-Four Times a Second”

Noam Chomsky on Whether the Rise of Trump Resembles the Rise of Fascism in 1930s Germany

Princeton Historian Sean Wilentz on How Trump May Change (If Not Destroy) the GOP

J.K. Rowling Defends Donald Trump’s Right to Be “Offensive and Bigoted”

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Harvard Dean Lists the 5 Essential Questions to Ask In Life … Which Will Bring You Happiness & Success

And now for a different kind of graduation speech.

Most commencement speeches provide answers of sorts--pieces of wisdom you can carry with you, life strategies you can use down the road. Above James Ryan, Dean of Harvard's School of Education, offers something else--not answers, but questions, the five essential questions to ask as you move through life. He elaborates on each above:

1.) Wait, what?

2.) I wonder, why/if?

3.) Couldn't we at least?

4.) How can I help?

5.) What really matters?

Bonus question: And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?

You can watch Ryan's complete commencement speech here.

Related Content:

What Are the Keys to Happiness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Harvard Study

Oprah Winfrey’s Harvard Commencement Speech: Failure is Just Part of Moving Through Life

The Harvard Classics: Download All 51 Volumes as Free eBooks

Harvard’s Free Computer Science Course Teaches You to Code in 12 Weeks

Harvard Presents Two Free Online Courses on the Old Testament

How Leonard Cohen’s Stint As a Buddhist Monk Can Help You Live an Enlightened Life

There is a certain kind of thinking that the Buddha called "monkey mind," a state in which our nervous habits become compulsions, hauling us around this way and that, forcing us to jump and shriek at every sound. It was exactly this neurotic state of mind that Leonard Cohen sought to quell when in 1994 he joined Mt. Baldy Zen Center in Los Angeles and became a monk: "I was interested in surrendering to that kind of routine," Cohen told The Guardian in 2001, "If you surrender to the schedule, and get used to its demands, it is a great luxury not to have to think about what you are doing next."

There at Mt. Baldy the journalist and cosmopolitan raconteur Pico Iyer met Cohen, unaware at first that it was even him. In his short Baccalaureate speech above to the 2015 graduating class of the University of Southern California, Iyer describes the meeting: After showing him fond hospitality and settling him into the community, Iyer says, Cohen told him that "just sitting still, being unplugged, looking after his friends was… the real deep entertainment that the world had to offer."




At the time, Iyer was disappointed. He had admired Cohen for exactly the opposite qualities---for traveling the world, being plugged into the culture, and living a rock star life of self-indulgence. It was this outward manifestation of Cohen that Iyer found alluring, but the poet and songwriter's inward life, what Iyer calls the "invisible ledger on which we tabulate our lives," was given to something else, something that eventually brought Cohen out of a lifelong depression. Iyer's thesis, drawn from his encounter with Leonard Cohen, Zen monk, is that "it is really on the mind that our happiness depends."

Iyer refers not to that perpetually wheeling monkey mind but what Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi called "beginner's mind" or "big mind." In such a meditatively absorbed state, we forget ourselves, "which to me," Iyer says, "is almost the definition of happiness." Cohen said as much of his own personal enlightenment: "When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you." After his time at Mt. Baldy, he says, "there was just a certain sweetness to daily life that began asserting itself." Iyer's short speech, filled with example after example, gives us and his newly graduating audience several ways to think about how we might find that sense of repose---in the midst of busy, demanding lives---through little more than "just sitting still, being unplugged" and looking after each other.

Note: You can watch a European documentary on Cohen's stint as a buddhist monk here.

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen: The Poet-Musician Featured in a 1965 Documentary

Young Leonard Cohen Reads His Poetry in 1966 (Before His Days as a Musician Began)

Leonard Cohen Narrates Film on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Featuring the Dalai Lama (1994)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Lynda Barry’s Graduation Speech; Give a Shout Out to the Teachers Who Changed Your Life

The University of the Arts’ most recent grads are lucky ducks to have had a speaker as engaging as cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry delivering their commencement’s keynote address.

Speaker Barry was also made an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, an award that occasioned the ill-fitting tam seen in the video above, as well as a new title---Doctor Nursey---conferred by pre-kindergarteners with whom she works at the University of Wisconsin. (Previous aliases include Professor Chewbacca and Professor Old Skull)

Barry kept things lively by mixing in some tried and true material from other public appearances, including her Filipino grandmother’s belief in the aswang, a poem set to music (here “Cotton Song” by Harlem Renaissance poet, Jean Toomer) and the story of the collaborative cartoon, “Chicken Attack by Jack.”

This last anecdote contains a strong indictment of contemporary society’s screen addiction, and it is heartening to see the graduates---members of the last generation to pre-date the Internet---listening so attentively, no one texting or tweeting as the camera pans the crowd.

When Barry exhorted them to shout out the names of their three most inspiring teachers on the count of three, most did!

For me, this was the most thrilling moment, though I also appreciated the advice on the best time to schedule oral surgery, and a blissful untruth about Evergreen State College’s application process circa the mid-70s.

Not your typical commencement speech… those lucky, lucky ducks!

Readers, we invite you to get in the spirit and celebrate the Class of 2015 by “shouting” the names of your most inspirational teachers in the comment section below.

Related Content:

Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”

Join Cartoonist Lynda Barry for a University-Level Course on Doodling and Neuroscience

John Waters’ RISD Graduation Speech: Real Wealth is Never Having to Spend Time with A-Holes

Robert De Niro Tells Graduating NYU Arts Grads, “You Made It… And You’re F*cked”

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Congratulations, graduates, especially the members of NYC’s most freshly forged theater company, Rascal Arts. Follow her @AyunHalliday

John Waters’ RISD Graduation Speech: Real Wealth is Never Having to Spend Time with A-Holes

John Waters' rollicking commencement speech at The Rhode Island School of Design offered up some good one-liners and a few pearls of wisdom, though phrased, quite naturally, in an irreverent way. Ready for some sage advice on what really counts as wealth? And what career choices will make you truly wealthy? Mr. Waters has this to say:

Uh, don’t hate all rich people. They’re not all awful. Believe me, I know some evil poor people, too. We need some rich people: Who else is going to back our movies or buy our art? I’m rich! I don’t mean money-wise. I mean that I have figured out how to never be around assholes at any time in my personal and professional life. That’s rich. And not being around assholes should be the goal of every graduate here today.

It’s OK to hate the poor, too, but only the poor of spirit, not wealth. A poor person to me can have a big bank balance but is stupid by choice – uncurious, judgemental, isolated and unavailable to change.

I’m also sorry to report there’s no such thing as karma. So many of my talented great friends are dead and so many of the fools I’ve met and loathed are still alive. It’s not fair, and it never will be.

Like I said, irreverently phrased. But when stripped down to their basics, some very good principles to live by.

Watch the speech above; read the complete transcript here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Robert De Niro Tells Graduating NYU Arts Grads, “You Made It… And You’re F*cked”

David Byrne’s Graduation Speech Offers Troubling and Encouraging Advice for Students in the Arts

Jim Carrey Commencement Speech: It’s Better to Fail at What You Love Than Fail at What You Don’t

‘This Is Water': Complete Audio of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Graduation Speech (2005)

More in this category... »
Quantcast