Work Work Work / Read Read Read (Barry Moser’s Advice to Artists)

The best advice I could possibly give you, and forgive me if this seems glib, is to work. Work. Work. Work. Every day. At the same time every day. For as long as you can take it every day, work, work, work. Understand? Talent is for shit. I’ve taught school for nearly thirty years and never met a student who did not have some talent. It is as common as house dust or kudzu vine in Alabama and is just about as valuable. Nothing is as valuable as the habit of work, and work has to become a habit. This I learned from Flannery O’Connor. Read her. Read her letters especially, and her essays. You will learn more about what it is you want to do from people like her and Ben Shahn and Eudora Welty than you will ever learn from drawing classes. Read. Read. Read. You are in the business of words more than pictures. You must understand words and the craft and art of putting words together to move men’s souls and minds and hearts. Listen to music. Listen to Bach’s Art of the Fugue and the Goldberg Variations over and over and over. Every day, day after day after day until you begin to sense, if not understand, what he is up to. Then try to implement what you intuit from Bach into your own work. I don’t care if you don’t like classical music. Do it. It is invaluable, but you have to listen, and then don’t listen. Let it fill your mind at one moment and then let it flow over you and into you until you are paying it no attention whatever. Bach will teach you form and structure and rhythm and all sorts of things you never imagined.

Advice Barry Moser gave to The Children’s Literature Symposium at Clemson in 1996. Read the rest of the address here (other advice includes eating green vegetables and not drinking and driving).

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