Make Good Art: Neil Gaiman’s Advice on the Creative Life, Adapted by Design Legend Chip Kidd
By Maria Popova
Among the greatest commencement addresses of all time is an extraordinary speech beloved author Neil Gaiman delivered in May of 2012 at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. So potent and enlivening was his advice on courage and the creative life that the speech was adapted into Make Good Art (public library) — a gem of a book designed by none other than Chip Kidd. For nearly two decades, Kidd has been shaping the voice of contemporary cover design with his prolific and consistently stellar output, ranging from bestsellers like cartoonist Chris Ware’s sublime Building Stories and neurologist Oliver Sacks’s The Mind’s Eye to lesser-known treasures like Women Writers at Work and The Letter Q. (Fittingly, Kidd also designed the book adaptation of Ann Patchett’s 2006 commencement address.)
When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.
A wise woman once said, “If you are not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks.” Gaiman articulates the same sentiment with his own brand of exquisite eloquence:
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
Revisit the talk in its original delivery below, and reabsorb its eight indispensable lessons:
Complement Make Good Art with more remarkable wisdom for the precipice of adulthood from David Foster Wallace, Jacqueline Novogratz, Ellen DeGeneres, Aaron Sorkin, Barack Obama, Ray Bradbury, J. K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, Robert Krulwich, Meryl Streep, and Jeff Bezos.
Published May 14, 2013