21 Artists Give “Advice to the Young:” Vital Lessons from Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Umberto Eco, Patti Smith & More

Nev­er meet your idols, they say. It can put a cramp in your appre­ci­a­tion of their work. There are always excep­tions, but maybe Bill Mur­ray proves the rule. On the oth­er hand, you should always learn from your idols. There’s a rea­son you admire them, after all. Find out what it is and what they have to teach you. In the series we fea­ture here, Advice to the Young, many an idol of many an aspir­ing artist and musi­cian offers some broad, exis­ten­tial advice—ways to absorb a lit­tle of their process.

Lau­rie Ander­son, above, tells us to “be loose.” Widen our bound­aries, “make it vague,” because “there are so many forces that are try­ing to push us in cer­tain direc­tions, and they’re traps…. Don’t be caught in that trap of def­i­n­i­tion. It’s a cor­po­rate trap…. Be flex­i­ble.” Good advice, if you’re as eclec­tic and loose as Lau­rie Ander­son, or if you seek artis­tic lib­er­a­tion ahead of sales. “I became an artist because I want to be free,” she says.

Just above, Daniel Lanois, super­star slide gui­tarist and pro­duc­er of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, U2, Peter Gabriel, and Emmy­lou Har­ris, tells us what he learned from work­ing with Bri­an Eno. His advice is impres­sion­is­tic, allud­ing to the impor­tance of atmos­phere and envi­ron­ment, as one might expect. It’s about appre­ci­at­ing the process, he sug­gests. He does get con­crete about a dif­fi­cul­ty near­ly every artist faces: “if you have a finan­cial lim­i­ta­tion, that might be okay. You don’t have to have every­thing that the oth­er peo­ple have. I think a finan­cial lim­i­ta­tion or a tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion may free up the imag­i­na­tion.” In an age of home stu­dios, that’s always wel­come news.

David Byrne has always told it straight, in his cul­tur­al crit­i­cism and song­writ­ing, and in his seg­ment, above, he steers hope­ful musi­cians and artists away from the dream of Jay Z‑level fame. “Often the artists who are very suc­cess­ful that way” he says, “they don’t have much flex­i­bil­i­ty. In achiev­ing suc­cess, they lose a lit­tle bit of their cre­ative free­dom. They have to keep mak­ing the same thing over and over again.” Byrne’s advice solid­ly under­lines Ander­son­’s. If you want cre­ative free­dom, be pre­pared to fly under the radar and make much less mon­ey than the stars. End­ing on a stark­ly real­ist note, Byrne admits that in any case, you’ll prob­a­bly need a day job: “it’s very, very hard to make mon­ey in the music busi­ness.”

Nov­el­ist Umber­to Eco also brings us down to earth in his inter­view, say­ing “not to think you are inspired,” then sly­ly drop­ping a cliché: “genius is 10% inspi­ra­tion and 90% per­spi­ra­tion.” The old wis­dom is truest, I sup­pose. He also urges writ­ers to take their time with a book. “I can­not under­stand those nov­el­ists who pub­lish a book every year. They lose this plea­sure of spend­ing six, sev­en, eight years to tell a sto­ry.” Eco’s advice: rise through the ranks, “go step by step, don’t pre­tend imme­di­ate­ly to receive the Nobel prize, because that kills a lit­er­ary career.”

Pat­ti Smith, com­fort­ably address­ing an audi­ence from an out­door stage, urges them to “just keep doing your work” whether anyone’s lis­ten­ing, read­ing, etc. To those peo­ple who crit­i­cize her suc­cess as sell­ing out her punk rock roots, Smith says, to laughs, “fuck you.” She then trans­mits some advice she received from William S. Bur­roughs: “build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t’ make com­pro­mis­es, don’t wor­ry about mak­ing a lot of mon­ey or being suc­cess­ful; be con­cerned with doing good work.”

Easy per­haps for Bur­roughs the adding machine-heir to say, but good advice nonethe­less, and con­sis­tent with what each artist above tells us: do it your way, don’t get pigeon­holed, work with what you have, don’t wor­ry about suc­cess or mon­ey, keep your expec­ta­tions real­is­tic.

You can watch more inter­views with Mari­na Abramović,  Wim Wen­ders, Jonas Mekas, and many more on this Advice to the Young playlist assem­bled by The Louisiana Chan­nel. All 21 talks in the series can be viewed below:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

John Cleese’s Advice to Young Artists: “Steal Any­thing You Think Is Real­ly Good”

Walt Whit­man Gives Advice to Aspir­ing Young Writ­ers: “Don’t Write Poet­ry” & Oth­er Prac­ti­cal Tips (1888)

Ursu­la Le Guin Gives Insight­ful Writ­ing Advice in Her Free Online Work­shop

Aki­ra Kurosawa’s Advice to Aspir­ing Film­mak­ers: Write, Write, Write and Read

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

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  • Volcaniq says:

    Im not a artist thats in the indus­try but nev­er­the­less these advices are good as they help me to envi­sion the future, apply­ing the mul­ti­ple strate­gies that were men­tioned in the above pas­sage. I will be a suc­cess­ful reg­gae Artist though, Vol­caniq

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