Shimer College

November 04, 2013

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art

The font is lovely. The ideas even more so.

Some time ago I purchased a treat for myself: a small book containing Neil Gaiman’s graduation address given at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. The book is a tribute to the speech, having been rendered into a form of art by Chip Kidd. A lovely small hardback, which, on its cover, intersperses the phrase “Fantastic Mistakes” with the title Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” Speech.

The font is lovely. The ideas even more so. 

Several bits resonate particularly with this college president. 

First: Mistakes. Failure. Hurrah! As Gaiman argues, if we fear mistakes too much, we will not pursue our dreams and hence will definitely not meet them. So: risk mistakes. And, relatedly, learn to deal with failure, to make of them learning opportunities. 

Second (and relatedly): Do not let success get in your way. Gaiman’s book was one of several instances recently that reminded me that with success can be a sort of deflection from one’s vocation. Thus, for example, the artist becomes the person who … replies to emails. And thus makes less and less art. 

Gaiman reminds us to keep doing what we love, what our passion says to do. And not be derailed by success. Enjoy it, yes. Enjoy it a lot. But do not let the detritus that comes with it deflect you unduly from what you do. No matter what – even in the face of bad things or boring things or success – make good art. 

I think, I do indeed, that one might say a related thing in the context of the liberal education Shimer offers. I’d wonder if you agree.