Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-Up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts

ISBN: 078614386X
ISBN 13: 9780786143863
By: Anna Deavere Smith

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Reader's Thoughts

Kate Davis

a good review here: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.ph...

citizen kerry

fun, she supposedly taught at my school but i NEVER SAW HER


Some of the letters didn't speak to me, some felt like I'd need to return to them in a few years or a dozen, and others lit me up. At the moment I am living by this line from one of the last letters in the book: "You have an invisible badge of freedom, an invisible passport that says, 'Go—move, gather, be bold, be brave, see, take, absorb.'”


started this for inspiration. some of it i agree with, some i'm like, woh that is totally out of left field. taking it with a grain of salt.


I saw this book in Borders last night and read half of it in one sitting. (I'm going to have to go back and read the other half soon). It would make a great bathroom book beacuse it is organized as a series of short letters, some no more than a few words. Parts that jumped out to me: ADS talks about presence and what it is to have it. In her opinion it means being aware and engaged. People who are the most compelling are the ones who are interested in other people. This seems counterintuitive to me: that what draws attention is giving attention. Etymologically I can see the connection though, presence requires being present. ADS says all of this in a more succinct and interesting way so even if my description doesn't float your boat, the book is still an interesting read. 3.5 - I really wish there were half stars. 04/16/08: Just finished. Another part that interested me was ADS' recommendation to her students in the wake of a school tragedy. A number of the students felt alienated and she suggests that they "try to suspend their personal feeling of alienation and look instead for alienation in others and offer consolation when they see it". Her advice for procrastination is to jump into the task immediately, before you can even think about putting it off. Since reading that I have experimented with that and I have to admit that it works. In a letter entitled "The Death of Cool " she says: "So the death of cool... would do what? It would probably bring more tones, more color, more emotion, more love, more raw spirit, more argument, more energy. More authenticity? More compassion? More laughter? More tears? More open hearts? Try it. Be uncool. As uncool as you can possibly be. Write to me about the result. Be hot." I wrote out the whole part because besides loving the sentiment I like the rhythm to the way ADS wrote it. I have wasted a lot of time chasing "cool" and other norms. It is empowering to have someone saying to risk life on my own set of terms. I also appreciated her discussion on why the artist does not have to suffer (her point: doctors don't have to have every disease they treat, bakers don't eat every cake they make...) to make art that is of value. (I should insert a parenthetical here, before I get too carried away, that I found the tone of the book to be a little name-droppy but the ideas to be useful.) I struggle with the fear that most art, art without a political spin, is trivial. But, this book offered me the idea that there is value in having a unique perspective on the world and communicating it. That it is enough to be alive and interested in the world and asking questions about it. That those questions and investigations have equal value with the questions being explored in other fields. And for this I am truly grateful.


i mostly bought this to help raise funds for the local femenist bookstore. but then i started reading it...this is a good antidote to the romantic solitude you find in rilke's "letters... (see my review of rilke in my booklist)" ADS is very refreshing and i did come away with some practical advice. although i have to say that a good bulk of what she writes seems like something i would have needed to read five or ten years ago.

Liza Ann Acosta

I liked what she had to say about stamina. That is what I sorely lack. So hard to maintain an even pace in the "biz" when your body is holding you back.


Very good advice for creative people. Anna Deavere Smith has pithy observations about life, great stories about her life as an artist, and sets forth a very clear idea of what it means to be an artist and interact with the world.


i loved 'fires in the mirror' and perhaps approached this book with too high of expectations. the introduction was absolutely inspiring and there were some good sound-bites throughout- but i just couldn't get into it.


i read this as the art on paper in magazine special. would love to read it again.


I'm a fan of Anna Deavere Smith. I enjoyed this book and would rate it 3.5 if I could, it's a quick read with each chapter a written response to a young artist (it is called fiction, but it sure feels real reading it). The information in it is not new, but I like how she puts pieces together and throughout the book she gives the reader ideas to keep one's spirit up about the work of creating art. One section titled Find Your Twin, she gives the task to do this very thing and says, " These are the exchanges through art that make the world seem manageable." I identify with this and her story of finding a Brazilian dancer who she totally felt was her spiritual twin.In the chapter Auditioning, Selling Your Wares, she compares the artist to clowns. "Clowns are always working in relation to authority. Authority is no-nonsense, but the clown is tireless, always trying for, wishing for, approval. It's hard to be a clown. To wish for approval is to make oneself vulnerable. Clowns are tough, ultimately. They have to outsmart the nonchalant ones around them, and at the same time endear themselves to the audience, the ones in charge." She sees the artist as the outsider who comments back, and the importance of this role "as a platform from which you seduce others, while at the same time you have to do what it takes to get the job." In the chapter Your Name, Your Fame she says, "...the need to be heard is not enough. To be heard is only part of the engagement. To develop a voice, you need to develop an ear. To develop a vision you need to develop an eye. To develop your mark as an artist, you need to see the marks of others—especially the marks of those who are unrecognized. Everyone around you is making a mark of some kind." I love these equations, they are so ordinary yet make so much sense.In the section on Stage Fright she talks about the tremendous energy it takes to put yourself into the public, and about the term Diva. Why the backstage is such a potent place, it is where the show is nurtured, hence the flowers, the food, the place of safety to come from and to from the on stage presence.An upbeat book that inspires.


needed words

Meg Cain

Never in my life have I read a more inspiring book. I was left each page with a strong desire to do anything and everything I've ever wanted to do.

Susan Conley

I love books that talk art and the making of art and do it in a way that inspires people to get out there and start working. This book has given me ideas to bring into the various writing classrooms I find myself in.


Great advice for all ages, all disciplines not just "young artists"

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