Artists Give Advice to the Young: Words of Wisdom from Andrei Tarkovsky, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, John Cleese & Many More

When Rain­er Maria Rilke began cor­re­spond­ing with a poet­i­cal­ly inclined 19-year-old mil­i­tary-acad­e­my cadet named Franz Xaver Kap­pus, he inad­ver­tent­ly found­ed a genre. After Rilke’s death, Kap­pus pub­lished the mis­sives the two had exchanged in the 1900s as the book Let­ters to a Young Poet, a title to which estab­lished old­er artists giv­ing advice to aspir­ing younger ones have paid homage ever since. Here in the 21st cen­tu­ry, of course, their words of advice don’t usu­al­ly come writ­ten in let­ters. They aren’t even lim­it­ed to one-to-one cor­re­spon­dence: now such words of wis­dom can eas­i­ly be broad­cast to every young per­son in the world with rel­a­tive ease. For the young artist, the chal­lenge thus has shift­ed from seek­ing advice to seek­ing out the right advice.

Hence the roundups we’ve post­ed here on Open Cul­ture of offer­ings like “Advice to the Young,” a Youtube series from Den­mark’s Louisiana Muse­um of Mod­ern Art. In 2016 we high­light­ed its videos of cre­ators who suc­ceed­ed in shap­ing the cul­ture with­out much in the way of com­pro­mise to their idio­syn­crat­ic visions: Lau­rie Ander­son, Daniel Lanois, David, Byrne, Pat­ti Smith, Umber­to Eco, Mari­na Abramović.

In 2018 we fea­tured an update on fur­ther advice to the young offered by writ­ers like Jonathan Franzen and Lydia Davis, film­mak­ers like Wim Wen­ders, and artists like Ed Ruscha. The Louisiana Chan­nel, which has con­tin­ued to add new clips of advice from an ever-widen­ing range of fig­ures, has since uploaded sage coun­sel from the likes of pho­tog­ra­ph­er and film­mak­er Anton Cor­bi­jn, dis­si­dent artist Ai Wei­wei, and Trainspot­ting author Irvine Welsh.

As Welsh puts it, “The most impor­tant thing I would say to any­body who’s doing any­thing” — writ­ing, music, art, what have you — is to “do it with exu­ber­ance, because that will come across.” Long­time Open Cul­ture read­ers may remem­ber Andrei Tarkovsky (an artist who in most respects seems to have occu­pied an entire­ly sep­a­rate world from Welsh’s) hav­ing tak­en that idea fur­ther: young film­mak­ers should­n’t “sep­a­rate their work, their movie, their film, from the life they live,” and indeed should accept that their art requires “sac­ri­fic­ing of your­self. You should belong to it, it should­n’t belong to you.” He also advis­es young peo­ple of any incli­na­tion that they “should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as pos­si­ble by them­selves” — per­haps the only mode in which they can stay true to their own per­cep­tions and moti­va­tions.

“I think many writ­ers are led into a com­pro­mise in their basic rela­tion­ship to truth in their mate­r­i­al,” says Rachel Cusk, author of the recent “Out­line Tril­o­gy” of nov­els and much oth­er fic­tion and non-fic­tion besides, in her Louisiana Chan­nel video. “You get a lot fur­ther by stick­ing to your guns.” But where do you find that mate­r­i­al in the first place?

John Cleese answers that straight­for­ward­ly in the Big Think inter­view clip just above: “I sug­gest at the start that you steal, or bor­row — or as the artists would say, ‘are influ­enced by’ — any­thing that you think is real­ly good and real­ly fun­ny, and which appeals to you. If you study that and try to repro­duce it in some way, then it’ll have your own stamp on it.” Only then can you devel­op your own style. Or, to return to the needs of young poets of the world, you could take the advice of no less cel­e­brat­ed a pre­de­ces­sor in the art than Walt Whit­man: “Don’t write poet­ry.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Great Film­mak­ers Offer Advice to Young Direc­tors: Taran­ti­no, Her­zog, Cop­po­la, Scors­ese, Ander­son, Felli­ni & More

Ven­er­a­ble Female Artists, Musi­cians & Authors Give Advice to the Young: Pat­ti Smith, Lau­rie Ander­son & More

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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.