Reading 'Letters To a Young Artist'

Friday, October 03, 2008
By Jill Earl

I’m about to re-read ‘Letters to a Young Artist’ by Anna Deavere Smith, noted actress, teacher and Tony-nominated playwright. The book is a series of letters written to ‘BZ’, a fictionalized teen painter who, through an auction, won her services as a mentor for a number of years. The author candidly shares her thoughts, heart and wisdom and readers are invited along in the process.

Ms. Deavere Smith is succinct, while challenging both the reader and ‘BZ’ to consider the cost of a creative life. With sections such as ‘Basics’, ‘Work’, ‘Keeping The Faith’ and ‘Art & Society’, she offers her own struggles and victories to educate and encourage.

The best part? You don’t have to be a young artist to read the book. Artists of all ages and stages can benefit from not only the author’s insight, but artists from a range of disciplines. Photos of their works are included, along with their thoughts on how the process worked (or didn’t work) for them. And Ms. Deavere Smith closes her book with resources to assist artists in finding financial support for their art.

One of my favorite passages can be found in the ‘Relationships’ section. Under the ‘Struggling Artists’ chapter, Ms. Deavere Smith writes about her arrival in New York City in the 70’s, and how her friendship with fellow artist Randy helped her to adjust and grow into her new life. She ends the chapter with these words, “Find a spiritual twin to walk the city streets with, to waken the dawn with, to construct a world with.”

Those words resonate deeply. Connection to the spiritual twins in my own life have truly made the writing path less lonely, as we've walked those streets and constructed worlds together.

So, check out ‘Letters to a Young Artist’ to be encouraged and challenged in your pursuit of writing.

Because sometimes we all need some ‘straight-up advice’ from one who’s been there.


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