Michael Craig-Martin on Being a Successful Artist

I’m always reading about art, and every now and then, I come across advice too good not to share. If you’re an aspiring artist, or know someone who is, this is for you.



ABOVE: Michael Craig-Martin, Full Life, 1985, oil paint on aluminum and steel, 83 x 102.8 x 3.7 inches, © Tate, London [2015]

Earlier this week, the following article came up in my Facebook feed: Michael Craig-Martin RA: advice for an aspiring artist. I’m really glad that it did, because the advice Craig-Martin gives is brilliant:

“By far the most important characteristic for anyone wanting to be an artist is desire: the passionate, inexplicable desire to make art. This desire is more important than talent. To have enviable talent but qualified desire is not enough; to have little obvious talent but overwhelming desire may lead to success. Desire can be encouraged but not taught. In my experience, a driven person lacking any recognizable talent may, out of necessity, invent a way to work at which they excel. This is what we call originality.

“Pleasure in doing is the essential basis for making art. When you love what you do, no effort is too great, no time too long. We are all capable of doing a lot of things for a while, but not for long. Art can only come from what we are able to sustain.

“I would never advise anyone to become an artist. If you have another option, take it. Most people who end up as artists rarely feel they had an option. Art is the only endeavour I know that models itself around the abilities, experiences and needs of each individual who engages in it. It is entirely accepting, respects everyone for who they are, offers no strict rules of right and wrong. It enables one to turn everything about oneself, one’s limitations as well as one’s strengths, into advantages.

“Much of the best art has been made by those who failed to succeed in other more conventional activities. For art to work for you, you must work at it in the ways that give you the greatest satisfaction, that reflect your interests and your passions, that occupy your time without effort, that change with you as you change over time.

“Don’t try to be too inventive. The more your art reflects you, the more it will speak to other people. If you are not sure what you should do, just do whatever comes into your head or catches your imagination. Gradually, it will lead you to where you should be. Making art is a path not a destination.”

The above excerpt comes from Michael Craig-Martin: On Being An Artist. If you want more (I do), you can purchase the book here.

Emily Carr at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Although it hasn’t received a lot of publicity, the new Emily Carr exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario is a must see for Canadian art lovers.


On Saturday, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see the new Emily Carr exhibition. Here is a short review:

Throughout her life, Carr was often ignored, and although friends with Lawren Harris, she was denied entry into the Group of Seven (because she was a girl). It’s rather fitting then, that her latest show has received so little promotion – Basquiat: Now’s the Time currently rules the roost at the AGO.

Some good news: unlike the Basquiat show, From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia is free with admission, and, like the Basquiat show, it is a must see for any art aficionado.

Slipping in under the radar, this is a fairly extensive, and well curated exhibition. Not only does it include some of Carr’s most famous works, it does a great job of showing her evolution as an artist, and her importance in (Canadian) art history. If you’re a fan of hers, and even if you’re not, you should go.

From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia is at the AGO until August 9, 2015.

Toronto the Good

From politics to popular culture (and all points in between), artistic inspiration is everywhere. Of all my influences, the city of Toronto is among the biggest.


ABOVE: David McDonough, Old School, digital photograph

BELOW: David McDonough, Up, digital photograph

I love Toronto. I’ve lived here for almost 15 years, and I honestly couldn’t see myself living anywhere else. Recently, the city has become more than just a home, it’s become a muse.

When I moved here, my biggest influence was the Group of Seven, and the majority of my work was nature-based. Since then, I’ve grown more urban, and so has my art. This is due, in part, to gallery hopping, but mostly, it is the result of random wanderings, and day-to-day experiences.

As I continue to evolve as an artist, it’s likely my art will too. No matter where it takes me, there will always be a piece of Toronto within it.

A Few of My Favorite Canadian Artworks

Last week, I added several pins to my ‘Canadian Artists’ board on Pinterest. I was amazed by all the great artworks I saw – the following are some of my favorites.


ABOVE: Lawren Harris, Decorative Landscape, 1917, oil on canvas, 48.2 x 51.9 inches, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

ABOVE: David Blackwood, The Great Peace of Brian and Martin Winson, 1985, etching, 32 x 30 inches, private collection

ABOVE: Mary Pratt, Smears of Jam, Lights of Jelly, 2007, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, Equinox Gallery, Vancouver


ABOVE: Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings #34, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, 1996, dye coupler print (Ektacolor), 40.2 x 61.2 inches, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

ABOVE: David Altmejd, The Eye, 2008, wood, mirror, 129.5 x 216.5 x 144.5 inches, Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

In Defence of Graffiti

Of all art forms, none is more polarizing than graffiti. It seems as though everyone has an opinion regarding its place in society. Here’s mine.


Three weeks ago, the art critic Jonathan Jones wrote an article in the UK Guardian titled: Graffiti is ugly, stupid and threatening – there’s more creativity in crochet.

To be fair, this guy is pretty controversial (he once reviewed the MH17 crash images), and he’s often torn to shreds in the comments section. This time however, many of his readers agreed. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

  • “The graffiti that is usually done in the ugly parts of towns usually succeeds in making the ugliness uglier.”
  • “If you want other art forms, you go to a museum. With graffiti you don’t have that choice. It’s just there.”
  • “Go damage your own goddam wall, not one belonging to someone else. Grow up.”

Wow! Graffiti sure does provoke some strong opinions. Here’s what I think:

  • Yes, it can be ugly, stupid and threatening, but the same could be said for all types of art – especially that which the critics love.
  • There is a time and a place for nearly everything. If you’re defacing a beautiful old building, you’re an idiot. If you’re painting an abandoned one, or better yet, seeking permission, you’re a-ok.
  • Most tagging sucks and the people that do it are losers (and/or gang-bangers), but murals are often awesome, and beautiful.
  • Street art is for the people, and when done properly, is far more accessible than most art ‘isms’ (I’m looking at you conceptualism).

What do you think?