What Advice Do You Have for Aspiring Artists?

Posted by Mark Hedengren on

Art is a team sport. Surround yourself with as many wonderful, smart, hard-working people as you can. Let me say that again. Art is a team sport. I am very proud of the team I was able to put together in my book Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange's Three Mormon Towns (www.markhedengren.com).

First off, don’t major in the art unless it’s a top notch school that is known for art. If you are going to attend a school in Utah, I would recommend majoring in English or philosophy or some other humanity, and every summer gets an internship in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, or London with a major filmmaker, artist, gallery, graphic designer, or photographer. Work on every project you can in Utah. Make your own work constantly. In addition to it being lots of fun, you will make a lot of valuable connections, learn a lot, and be part of a vibrant art ecosystem. There isn’t a better way to learn. I would spend a lot of time in the art section of the library and the art periodicals. For technical questions like “How do I use the Photoshop healing brush?” I would watch Lynda.com instructional videos. If you are worried about the costs of the internships, just think of all the money you are saving by attending a school in Utah. You learn art by looking at art and by making it. There is no other way.

If you’re really serious about studying art and your parents can afford it, I would try going to a big-name art school, preferably in New York or Los Angeles. I don’t think it’s worth getting into $100,000 of debt for an art degree. That kind of debt early in your life can stifle you. But going to a school like Rhode Island School of Art and Design, Columbia, NYU, Cal Arts, or UCLA will give you a lot of valuable connections and make you part of a vibrant art ecosystem as soon as you start your first classes.

Art education is a weird thing. You never really know when you’re going to learn your most valuable stuff. Going to Glasgow School of Art was incredibly valuable for me. Being at the best art school in the U.K., I instantly became part of a vibrant art culture. All of our shows were in the newspapers, and thousands of people would attend them. But most of my education happened with my girlfriend, Liz West, who was an amazing world-class sculptor. I didn’t know it at the time, because both she and I were just students and we just hung out, went to shows, and discussed art. But she taught me a lot. Her BFA final project and a series of photographs she did generated a lot of buzz while we were dating. It grew from there until she has been featured on BBC and in the national press multiple times. So as you can see, you never know where you’re going to learn or who is going to influence you. The important thing is to surround yourself with wonderful people so opportunities can arise.

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