The following speech was given as the opening remarks at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Convocation on Thursday, May 17, 2012 by CloudKid Co-Founders, Matt Moore and Dave Schlafman.
First, we’d like to thank the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, President Dawn Barrett, and Maureen Dowd for giving us the opportunity to speak today. It is an honor.
Let’s just clarify one thing – we are definitely not qualified to give this speech.
Typically, when you think of memorable commencement addresses, people like Toni Morrison, Jon Stewart, or Hillary Clinton probably come to mind. Between the two of us, we have less collective post-grad experience than the age of some Golden Retrievers.
So, why us? Well, in a sense, we’re you. Our road together began at MassArt less than ten years ago. It was here that we discovered the Fenway movie theatre, the go-to food choices in the cafeteria, and the security guards who usually bent the rules. And like you, we had dreams of life after college. We wanted to find our own place in the art and design world, even if that meant moving far away from home.
In the years since graduating and building a company together, we’ve come to realize that our culture’s narrative about the singular artist is counter-productive. Artists are not created in isolation. Surely, there are people in this room who have challenged your ideas, worked with you and helped shape your art. Examples of peer-support, connection, opportunity, privilege and collaboration are often steam-rolled by the individual narrative. When looking at the recipients of the Nobel Prize over the past two decades in the field of science, there is an overwhelming trend based on collaboration, not on an individual having their eureka moment. It’s become clear to us that a group of people with a little knowledge can create more much than one individual with an abundance of knowledge.
To be sure we practice what we preach, we collaborated on this speech today. We interviewed over two dozen successful MassArt alumni and shaped the very best responses into twelve insightful lessons.
And of course, if you’re still invested in the whole individual narrative, just pretend the life experiences we’re about to share were actually written by a three hundred year old MassArt alum.
Twelve Reflections On Life After MassArt From Alumni Who Have Successfully Been There And Done That And Lived to Tell About It
1. College is Not Everything
In college, you will not learn everything there is to know about your field. It’s a stepping stone, a base. Allow yourself to accept that you will not be the best outside of college. You are not the only person doing what you do. Find the right path, take chances and continue to learn.
2. Just Make It
Show up early, put in long hours, and quit waiting for inspiration. Make and make and make some more –creativity is a muscle. It’s the passion you feel right now that will drive you throughout your life to keep creating.
3. Collaborate with Friends
Collaboration and competition are cousins. I’ve always found there’s an element of one-upmanship with my favorite collaborators — a bit of “Wow, you did that? I’ve gotta come up with something equally awesome!” I’ve worked with tons of people over the years and I’ve found that friends often make the best collaborators.
4. No Rules for Success
After I made my portfolio, I walked it down to a local coffee shop with the hopes of getting my first show. The manager liked my art and within minutes, he offered to display my work for a month. Before that day, my friends said to me, “You don’t just walk down the street and get a show.” But they were wrong, sometimes you do.
5. Failure Is A Near Certainty
Know this: at some point after you graduate, you will fall down because that’s how life works – no matter where you went to school or what degree you’re holding. But you have an advantage because you are MassArt students. You’re scrappy, resourceful, lean, and know how to create incredible things from very little. Use that – it’s your best asset.
6. Money and Art are Friends
Once we break out of the art school bubble, each of us needs to determine how we’ll manage the relationship between art and income. While I was at MassArt, I thought art and money were enemies and now I see them more as friends – or at least individuals who need to get along.
7. Be Curious About Others
Listening and being interested are skills that always need sharpening. It’s amazing how much I learn each day from folks by asking them a few curious questions, such as, “Will it blend?”
8. Don’t Hoard Your Ideas
Ideas shouldn’t be precious – keeping them locked up in your brain is a great way to stop having new ones. Sharing lots of ideas and hearing that some of them aren’t so great will ultimately make you a better person…with better ideas.
9. Know Your Roots
Keep in touch with your peers now and forever! All of my job leads came from my fellow MassArt alums. MassArt is a community that thrives on support. As you pursue your professional career don’t forget to give back to MassArt through mentoring, school visits, recruiting and philanthropy.
10. Make Friends, Not Enemies
Building relationships is the most important part of being a good artist, designer and human being. So, don’t be a jerk. It’s a small world – smaller than you will ever know. The bottom line is – we’re all in this together.
11. Be Graceful and Loud
If there is one thing to take away from the art school experience, it’s to be humble when people tell you you’re wrong and be outspoken when others are wrong and don’t know it. The one exception is your grandma because she’s always right.
12. Collaboration Makes You Better
Everyone has weaknesses. It’s important to form a working relationship with people whose skills compliment and elevate your own. There tends to be a myth among young artists that you can only make a name for yourself if you do it by yourself. This idea is unrealistic and counter-productive.
There you have it, Twelve Reflections On Life After MassArt From Alumni Who Have Successfully Been There And Done That And Lived to Tell About It. These reflections are not the view of two recent graduates, but rather the perspectives of many talented, driven, and insightful alumni who were sitting in these seats not so long ago.
For all you graduates, the challenge looking forward may seem obvious: find the first opportunity, the first commission, the first job offer, the first grant, or the first exhibition show. Well, we would like to propose an alternate challenge: find as many opportunities to collaborate with other people as you can. It has been our experience that opportunity comes when working with others. As you go forward, we challenge you to destroy the notion of the individual artist and embrace radical approaches to collaboration.
So, if you’re a painter, create a series of paintings with a friend. If you’re an animator, reach out to a musician you admire. If you’re a teacher, invite other artists to share in your classroom. If you’re a poet, ask someone to remix your latest piece. See what happens. We guarantee only positive things will arise because when you replace “me” with “we” the boundaries of creativity are endless.