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Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here: This week we answer your questions from our art hotline* and talk about the legitimacy of celebrity artists, the embarrassment of being called an "artist", why we laugh at art, and more. Keep the calls coming - leave us a message at 901-602-ARTY!


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Sarah: Hey, everybody. Today, we're answering more questions from our art hotline.

John: Bling. We actually had a great suggestion from comments in the last video, just to call it Artline Bling. That's a good idea. Alright, Sarah, so our first question is about pencil holding.

[BEEP] My question deal with something that my art teacher will always say. Whenever someone would draw with like a mechanical pencil or hold their pencil in a way that required the movement of just the hand and not the whole arm. She'd say that doing these mistakes made us less successful and that our art works weren't as professional as others, and I'm not entirely sure if I agree.

Sarah: So I like lots of different kinds of drawings. I like scribbly drawings and strange looking drawings as well as really precise, realistic drawings. So I don't necessarily agree with your teacher that following her lead results in more professional looking drawings.

John: Yeah. I mean, I think what your teacher's probably trying to do is to get you to use more muscles so that you have better fine motor skills when you're drawing. I'm not sure that that's really the key to drawing well or professionally.

Sarah: There's a lot to be said for trying out different drying styles before you discover your own. I mean, even Matisse used attach chalk to the end of a long stick or dowel and then draw that way, just to change the quality of his line. And that was a fruitful exercise.

[BEEP] Hey, my name's Novella. What is the best way for under-aged artists and writers to express themselves without oppression from adults? And is it ever okay for adults to judge art and writing based on the age of the creator?

Sarah: That's what the internet's for, Novella.

John: Yeah, I mean, the internet is sort of a way of being free from the judgments of adults as young creators.

Sarah: At least for now.

John: I think, in most cases, children shouldn't feel pressure to professionalize their creative work. I think that they should be allowed to be creative without trying to necessarily fit that creativity into a marketplace.

Sarah: And I think also because if you're a minor, you're much more likely to be taken advantage of by your parents, or a dealer, or an agent, or whatever it may be, I think there's a reason why it's kind of good to develop your own artistic voice on your own before you take it public.

John: As for judging an artist based on their age, I mean, we're always inserting biography into our readings of art in lots of ways that make me uncomfortable. And I am uncomfortable with all of it.

Sarah: And if I'm judging a student art exhibition, I think it's important information that they're students. I mean, there could be a lot of raw talent there, but they're just not quite there yet.

[BEEP] When people actually call me an artist I cringe on the inside, I really really cringe. Is that normal? If not, how do I overcome this shyness? 

Sarah: I think this is totally and completely normal. I felt this way. I remember people in school calling me "artsy," and it made me want to die.

John: I don't know why I cringe, but I still cringe whenever people call me a writer or an artist. I cringe when the word "art" is used in the context of anything I do.

Sarah: It's like they're calling you an artiste.

John: Yeah.

Sarah: It's like you're taking yourself too seriously.

John: Yeah. It's like your pronouncing Renaissance, "ren-AY-sance."

Sarah: It's OK cringe, just keep making art anyway.

John: Yeah, I mean, we're all kind of working together to build better definitions of art and artist.

[BEEP] I'm Trenton Moore, a photographer based in Washington DC. I couldn't help but think about how much your art hotline reminded me of LaBeouf, Ronkko and Turner's project #touchmysoul. It's one of my favorite recent performance and video pieces and I was wondering at what point you think we should start taking Shia LaBeouf seriously as an artist rather than a washed up child actor.

John: Yeah, I quite like Shia LaBeouf as an artist, actually. I mean, he's not my favorite artist, but he's also not my least favorite. He's a bit of a buffoon at times, but so are lots of artists.

Sarah: Actors often struggle when they try to cross into other disciplines.

John: Yeah, but I mean, there is precedent for this stuff, right? Like Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen both became respected poets.

Sarah: That's true. And Dennis Hopper became a respected photographer.

John: You know who's actually a pretty good artist? Spock. Leonard Nimoy.

Sarah: Oh. What'd he make?

John: Paintings, I think.

Sarah: You can also think about James Franco, who's been working as an artist for a while. Actually, there's a really interesting interview between him and Jerry Salts that I just read that's about how actors-turned-artists can use this fame as their material.

So I don't think the tendency of the art world to exclude actors is all pretension though. I think some of it is sort of an unfair advantage. Like most people who become famous artists have to start out from nothing. It's like celebrities who write children's books, it's kind of not fair.

John: It isn't fair, but much like celebrities who write children's books, when the books aren't good, they tend not to sell well in the long run. Like there's a reason that Jamie Lee Curtis is a well-established picture book writer. It's because her picture books are good. Whereas for instance, Jimmy Fallon, wonderful comedian, I'm sure a lovely person, not a great picture book author.

Sarah: So in sum, I think we start to take celebrities seriously when they cross into other boundaries and they do it well.

[BEEP] My name's Will Conover and I'm from Chicago. In art museums, I often find myself laughing at a lot of the art and I don't really know how to react. People kind of gave me looks, and I'm sure my experience is valid and so is theirs, but what should I use as my excuse?

John: So I don't believe that all responses to an artwork are created equal. I don't believe that all responses are equally legitimate. I believe there are right and wrong answers when it comes to art. Sometimes, you can laugh at an artwork because you're laughing with it, which I think is good. There's lots of art that's funny. But I'm not sure that laughing at serious artwork is the best possible reaction.

Sarah: Right. Are you laughing because you're uncomfortable? Why are you laughing? I think you have to ask yourself that.

John: That said, a lot of times you might be laughing because the art seems to you ludicrous and you don't have much art historical knowledge to contextualize it. And I have to confess that I have laughed at some fairly serious artwork over the years.

Sarah: But I do you think you need to respect the experience of the art viewers around you. And that means not talking super loudly or laughing or egregious selfie-ing.

John: I think you can laugh as long as you're laughing to yourself quietly. Like I'll give you an example. If you're just like [CHUCKLE] Picasso. That's OK. [SARAH GIGGLING]

[BEEP] Hi Sarah, my name is Rachel. I really want to be a contemporary art curator in the future. I feel like I'm really lucky because I'm now studying in London. However, I have tried going to several openings in hopes of making connections or network with people in the art world, but I don't really know how to start conversations and keep it going. So do you have any tips on how to network in art openings or art shows?

Sarah: So my first tip would be to not actually network at art openings in London. The walls of the art world in London are super high. And even though you sound really lovely, you're not just going to walk up to somebody and charm them and they're going to give you an amazing job.

John: Yeah. I think in general, my experience with this has always been that you've got to try to work with people who are at where you're at. So when I was a student trying to write, I mostly published in student-run magazines. When I was in my early 20s, I was mostly working with other people in their early 20s. And I think building those networks can be very helpful. But you're not going to be able to build a network like tomorrow with Chuck Close.

Sarah: Who doesn't live in London.

John: Apparently he doesn't live in London. That's another reason you're probably not going to meet him.

Sarah: I think right now you have to focus on being a good student, maybe developing internships, developing a good network of your peers as John suggested, and then go from there. And then eventually, you'll meet the right people.

John: The only other thing I'd say here is that you never know what opportunities are going to be available to you. And that's always going to shape your experiences in both your work and your personal life. Like I had no idea when I graduated from college that I was going to be a YouTuber because there was no YouTube.

Sarah: And I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer, and I ended up a curator. I think you have to play your hand as it lays and see where it takes you.

John: That's a fascinating mixed metaphor. [LAUGHTER]

[BEEP] My name is Kat and I'm about to start my MA in art history. I've dreamt of a couple of art related tattoos that I'd like to get in the future, but since museums sort of straddle the artistic and the academic I'm kind of unsure as to what types of visible body modification art museums find condonable.

Sarah: This is a legitimate question because you do have to consider what part of the museum you're going to work in. Is it a public facing side of the museum? Are you going to be constantly interacting with donors? And are they going to ask you about it all the time? They may judge you, or they may be impressed by how cool you are.

John: I think in general, it's just like with any other career. It's not so much about whether you have a tattoo as how awesome your tattoo is. So no pressure. But pressure.

Sarah: Really great questions. Thank you so much for calling in. And please continue to do so.

John: Yeah. We're going to do more of these videos, so call our art hotline, our artline.

Sarah: Bling.