Neil Gaiman has released a book of his great commencement address, Make Good Art.
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.
I love Gaiman’s message, but I also want to make a plug for something else: when the going gets rough, make bad art, too.
When 9/11 and Katrina hit and she lost a bunch of her close friends, Lynda Barry got really depressed, and all she could do is doodle:
I found myself compelled, like this weird, shameful compulsion to draw cute animals. That was all I could stand to draw. You know, just cry and draw cute animals…dancing dogs with crowns on, you know? And, like, really friendly ducks. But I found this monkey, this meditating monkey, and I found that once - when I drew that monkey, it’s not that it fixed the problem. But it did shift it a little bit, or provide me some kind of relief. And that’s when I started to think, maybe that’s what images do, because I believe in all my - with all my heart they have an absolute biological function…
“Good” can be a stifling word, a word that makes you hesitate and stare at a blank page and second-guess yourself and throw stuff in the trash. What’s important is to get your hands moving and let the images come. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. Make art.
I took it to mean make the best art I can at a given moment, and let that be good, and it will always be good enough, as long as I don’t stop. And that, without hyperbole, saved my life.