Advice to young creatives from a mid-career artist

As part of artist duo “Cake Industries”, we’ve been asked to give many talks over the years, and those talks generally focus on what we’ve done, what we’re currently working on, and possible future paths we might take.

What we’ve never really done though is try to give advice to young people trying to figure out their place in the world, and especially as creatives, how to be what we want to be as artists, as we felt like we were still trying to figure it out ourselves.

As I rapidly approach 40, it seems weird to think that I’m probably half-way through my career, though I still feel 25 inside and just starting out. I feel like at this point in my career, though, that I’d like to give some advice to young people feeling like they’re not sure where to go in a few pieces of advice. These are based on some hard lessons I’ve learned as an artist surviving in the world.

Nobody is an authority
Despite what many in the arts may believe, nobody is a complete authority. This includes me and my advice here. There may be a director or a curator, or even another artist who tells you how to get ahead in your career. Mostly they are wrong, and their advice either is specific to an artform, period in time, or a particular situation. If you feel strongly about something, then do it. You may forge a new path, or find others along the way that think the same way.

Don’t wait
There is lots of advice out there from well-meaning people that you just have to wait, or that your generation will have their time, or that you should just wait until X. Don’t wait. Time really can fly and before you know it another decade has dawned. If you feel the passion to do something, then do it no matter what. Ignore funding deadlines, ignore local council opportunities. If they don’t fit, or they require waiting for significant periods of time, then find another way to do what you want to.

Be all in, or don’t bother
This could be controversial, but the longer you delay really pushing forward with your passion, the further out of reach it will be. That full time job you landed “until things pick up” will possibly divert your life away from what you want to do. That permanent support role you have could make it seem like you don’t have your own ideas or interests. Of course we all have to find ways to make ends meet (I’ve worked many casual and part time positions over the years), but keep these engagements short and controlled so that you don’t forget what you’re doing them for.

There’s no such thing as “making it”
It’s almost as if we all believe that one day you’ll get out of bed and a sign will be there letting you know you’ve “made it”. Making it is a strange idea, as we never truly finish or reach a point where we can rest. We are all going to be continuously trying to make the next idea happen, get to the next place, try a little harder. While you’re wondering about how to survive next year, people younger than you are looking up to you and thinking that your life must be so easy now. Just keep going.

Life is both short and long
Sometimes it seems like forever, that the slog to create and survive goes on and on. But suddenly you realise something you made was 10 years ago. Every single one of us could also die suddenly at any time. Pretend as if you only have 5 years left to live and pour your energy and focus into what you love. The idea that you could do something when you reach your 60s may never happen, so just try now.

There is no single path
No matter who you are or what you make, there is no single path in your career or life. Even if you’re told as much, don’t believe the hype. With over 8 Billion people on the planet, there are so many ways to find your scene, your place, your focus that nobody can definitively tell you what step to take next.

You may disagree with some or all of the advice above, and that’s fine, but my hope is that it may inspire some young creatives to push aside the rubbish in their life, and follow their passion.

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