36 Artists Give Advice to Young Creators: Wim Wenders, Jonathan Franzen, Lydia Davis, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Umberto Eco & More

“What­ev­er you do, nobody else can do that bet­ter than you. You have to find what you can do bet­ter than any­one else, what you have in your­self that nobody else has in them. Don’t do any­thing that you know, deep in your heart, that some­body else can do bet­ter, but do what nobody else can do except for you.” That sounds like fine advice, but when receiv­ing advice we should always con­sid­er the source. In this case we could hard­ly do bet­ter: the source is Wim Wen­ders, direc­tor of Alice in the CitiesParis, TexasWings of Desire, and many oth­er films besides, an auteur sel­dom accused of mak­ing movies any­one else could make.

Wen­ders’ inter­view clip and the oth­ers here come from “Advice to the Young,” a video series cre­at­ed by the Louisiana Muse­um in Den­mark (which has quite an impres­sive gift shop, inci­den­tal­ly, if you hap­pen to need advice on gift-shop­ping). Jonathan Franzen, author of nov­els like The Cor­rec­tionsFree­dom, and Puri­ty, admits to feel­ing embar­rass­ment about “giv­ing advice to the young writer,” but he still has valu­able words for cre­ators in any domain: “The most impor­tant advice I have is to have fun, to try to cre­ate some­thing that is fun to work on.”

And by fun he means fun like you have on a ten­nis court, where “you’re not just mess­ing around, you’re not just hit­ting the ball wher­ev­er you want — you are focused on hav­ing a game, and once you are in it you are hav­ing fun. That’s the kind of focused fun I’m talk­ing about, and if you are hav­ing that kind of focused fun, there’s a good chance that the read­er will too.”

The range of writ­ers from which Louisiana Muse­um has sought advice also includes Lydia Davis, whose sen­si­bil­i­ty may dif­fer from Franzen’s but who has gar­nered an equal (or even greater) degree of respect from her read­er­ship. “You learn from mod­els and you ana­lyze them, you study them, you ana­lyze them very close­ly, one thing at a time,” she says, begin­ning her more expan­sive advice based on her own method. “You don’t just sort of read the para­graph and say, ‘Oh, that real­ly flows, you know? That’s good.’ You say, ‘What kind of adjec­tives? How many? What kind of nouns? How long are the sen­tences? What’s the rhythm?’ You know, you pick it apart, and that’s very help­ful.” Her oth­er sug­ges­tions include to “be very patient, even patient with chaos” and to keep a note­book (“it takes some of the ten­sion and the wor­ry away, because if you write it down, it may just be a note. It does­n’t have to be the begin­ning of any­thing”).

“Do what you want to do,” Davis con­cludes, “and don’t wor­ry if it’s a lit­tle odd or does­n’t fit the mar­ket.” That bit of guid­ance seems to have worked for her, and in the great vari­ety of forms it can take seems to have worked for seem­ing­ly every oth­er artist. Take Ed Ruscha, for instance, whose can­vass­es of gas sta­tions, cor­po­rate sig­nage, and oth­er icons of Amer­i­can blank­ness must hard­ly have seemed geared toward any par­tic­u­lar “mar­ket” when first he paint­ed them. For the young he has only one piece of advice, received sec­ond-hand and briefly deliv­ered: “No one could ever beat this thing that Max Ernst said. They asked him what a young artist should do, and he said, ‘cut off an ear.’ That’s good advice to fol­low. You can’t beat that.”

Oth­er artists fea­tured in the video playlist include Lau­rie Ander­son, David Byrne, Umber­to Eco, Pat­ti Smith & more.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Bri­an Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Cre­ative Work: Don’t Get a Job

To Make Great Films, You Must Read, Read, Read and Write, Write, Write, Say Aki­ra Kuro­sawa and Wern­er Her­zog

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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