Guidance from Dawoud Bey

Mr. Bey, a professor of Photography at Columbia College in Chicago, spoke Yale (his alma mater) commencement ceremonies.

                                                Photograph by Ashley Teplin

Here are some pertinent excerpts from his address:

“Making art has never been—as far as I know—the safest or easiest career choice. It’s one thing to do this when you are very young without any real responsibilities to shoulder and another make a serious commitment to this as a vocation rather than an avocation. So it should go without saying that making art is a real act of faith. And your faith is about to be seriously tested once you leave here. Now I have not come here today to make you any more nervous about your possible futures than you might already be. Rather I want to encourage you to believe that your work not only should continue, but that it is imperative and that it needs to exist in the world. You each need to continue to believe that your work matters and that through your work you have the ability to change and reshape the world one person or one viewer at a time and to continue to expand your own sense of who you are in the process.

“In the past we in the art community have sometimes paid a heavy price for ignoring [the] larger world and living inside of an insulated aesthetic bubble that excluded the larger social community… I am not asking you to be a social worker, but to consider what it means to be an artist in the fullest sense and how your presence in those communities can be part of a meaningful and necessary dialogue that can both enliven the civic conversation and provide opportunities for your work to embed itself in the social fabric… Contrary to what some might think, no one gets there–wherever “there” is–on their own. There is no lone genius who makes a solitary breakthrough without a supportive, and sometimes challenging, community of peers with whom to engage in an ongoing critical conversation. Each of you has that opportunity to encourage and to sustain each other; embrace it. There is room for more than one person at a time at the table of opportunity. Think about what you can do to build and sustain community with each other where you are. It is going to be an increasing necessity, one that you should welcome.”

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