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11 legends offer wisdom on how they made it

Björk, David Lynch, Miuccia Prada and others on creativity and why it’s important to stay hungry

Maybe you’re not where you want to be in life right now. And that’s OK. 2016 has been awful, hasn’t it? A shitshow. A few years ago, someone posed a question on Reddit, asking, “What Is Something Someone Said That Forever Changed Your Way of Thinking?” One of the best answers was tattoo-worthy advice that duly applies to any creative ‘career’: “The person that you will spend the most time with in your life is yourself, so try to make yourself as interesting as possible.”

If you are a creative person, there will come a time when you will feel like giving up, or selling out. You’ll be poor and want money. You’ll definitely be frustrated that, as Ira Glass famously described, what you’re putting out doesn’t match what was in your head. Keep going. There are no set rules to a career, and the concept of a ‘career’ in itself – holding down one job for an extended period – is outdated.

In a 2015 survey by Boston College titled How Millennials Navigate Their Careers, they found that over one quarter “often thought about quitting their jobs.” A Heartland Monitor poll that surveyed both millennials and boomers found that the younger group’s primary concern in a first job was doing something that they found enjoyable, as opposed to the older group’s primary concern: making money.

There is no well-worn path to getting what you want (a loyal fanbase, a listener, a retweet). And even if you do, chances are you won’t know once you’ve arrived there; if you do, you’ll just have to reach even higher.

What’s annoying is seeing other people succeed in the meantime. They’re often much younger, seemingly less talented, or even benefactors of nepotism. Forget them. There is no wrong time to do what you love, but there is certainly no better time than right now. And to paraphrase Andy Warhol, every moment spent thinking about someone else’s success is a moment you could spend making something cool.

A post on Tumblr makes plain where some successful people were in their careers at certain ages. “At age 23, Tina Fey was working at a YMCA. At age 28, Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips) was a fry cook. At age 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs. Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the Editor-in-Chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at age 40. Morgan Freeman landed his first major movie role at age 52. Louise Bourgeois didn’t become a famous artist until she was 78.”

I’ll add to that. Larry Clark was 28 when his first photo book Tulsa was released, 52 when Kids hit theatres. Miuccia Prada got her PhD in Political Science and then was a mime for five years. She was 36 years old when her first handbag became a hit, and 40 when she debuted her first ready-to-wear line. Screenwriter Hossein Amini, whose big break was arguably 2011’s Drive, toiled away writing scripts until he was 48 before studios allowed him to direct his own film, The Two Faces of January (2014).

“It’s tough to be an aspiring artist in this world,” Boyhood director Richard Linklater once told me. “You’ve got to find a way to make it work in your life. It’s one of the most difficult things.”

Nobody knows better about doing what you love than those who have made a living doing exactly that. Here is a collection of advice from some of the most original creatives – from Björk to set designer Es Devlin – on the importance of consuming culture, staying creative and never giving up.


“Honestly, my advice to a new artist is that if you can do something else, you should (laughs). What makes artists great is that they literally can’t do anything else.”

Taken from the December 2011 issue of Dazed


“I am painting, and I am painting over and then painting, and then painting over, and destroying, and painting, and destroying, and painting over. I am just trying to find the next thing, and the only way I think I can find it is to keep doing things and learning from it.”

Taken from the AW 2014 issue of AnOther


“Certain films have changed my life and I feel like I know them the way that I know my family or experiences I’ve had personally. And I learned from how other people tell stories in a real way, and I borrow – I borrow narratives, frameworks, not details but frameworks.”


“I was one of those people who (was) slightly greedy for experience. I would just do anything. So I played a lot of instruments, travelled around with a lot of orchestras, painted a lot of pictures, made things in glass windows, carved wood, played the clarinet, went travelling, tried to be hungry and eat everything. I guess the art form I was developing was ‘living’. I was obsessed with author D. H. Lawrence when I was a teenager. The blurb on the back of one of his biographies was, ‘D. H. Lawrence spent most of his short life living.’ So I spent until age 25 just cultivating the art of living. Then I looked for something that might be just as close to ‘living’ as possible but would eventually possibly pay. And that turned out to be set design.”


“Kids are growing up now thinking that they have to be famous and thinking that they’ll be millionaires when they’re 19, 21 years old. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Everybody is not going to make it that fast. Robert Frank made a film once called Keep Busy – that’s a great title and a great thing to do in your life, just keep busy!”


Julia Davis: “I think I go into the really selective box, taking too long over everything. So I was very nervous to direct, but then I thought, when you are on your death bed, how important is it going to be that something didn’t quite work? I do think, artistically, you have got to keep trying things.”

Björk: “Maybe some things won’t be immaculate, but it will push you out of the comfort zone. Looking at my favourite music, I really love albums where there were two or three songs that are amazing, but wouldn’t have happened unless the person had gone to that particular place and did seven OK songs, but three magic ones.”

Taken from the SS 2016 issue of AnOther


“(You need) a lot of patience and a lot of persistence. I’d say 90 per cent of it is failure, literally from the beginning when you start, the rejection letters are just endless. So you have to persist to carry on. When you get something made, the chances of it being well made are very low, so you have to get used to failure and carry on writing regardless. You are constantly being knocked. In a way you’re at the bottom of the food chain, certainly in Hollywood terms, where they pay you very well but in return you are expected to just take dictation sometimes, so artistic integrity is something that’s really hard to hang on to. You just have to have persistence.”


“I will say study. When they ask me how I can be elegant, well dressed – I say study! (Laughs) Study fashion, study movies, study art and after that study yourself. Probably to understand what is happening and the rest of the work, is to try to understand the system of working.”

Taken from the AW 2008 issue of AnOther


“The greatest thing you can do is to go find a way that separates you from everybody else. If you’re the filmmaker that only makes movies in Kiev, and you make a movie about a rapper in Kiev, that’s a very distinctive way to get a little attention for your movie. There’s a lot of people who are just waiting for grandma to die and to give them an inheritance, or for some rich friend to give them money to bankroll their first film. But for me the big risk that I first took was that I worked for a year and a half to make as much money as possible then I spent it all to make a movie.”


“If you really want to do this you have to work hard. You gotta really wake up, sleep, be in the shower doing it. Just thinking of it. When I came in back then (the early 90s), we had a thing saying, ‘Your sword has to be sharp,’ meaning you really had to rhyme and say something that’s really gonna make somebody go, ‘Oh shit, you heard that?’ I like substance. Tell me what you like about yourself. What you grew up in. So for a person coming up I would tell them to be creative and original. Once you’re original, no one can take that from you.”

Taken from the December 2012 issue of Dazed; Cover image taken from the August 2011 issue of Dazed