May 10, 2011
when good advice is wrong
The unfortunate thing about advice is that when you are in the position of needing it, you are probably least able to ascertain whether it has any value. More than once I’ve been on the receiving end of good advice that is clearly from someone wise and experienced. Yet somehow in my gut, I feel resistance to it, and then I feel strong cognitive dissonance because it might be advice I should be taking. It only occurred to me recently that even good advice could be wrong.
As I find myself more frequently writing advice-y posts, I have been thinking for a long time about how to tell when good advice is the right advice.
Whenever I go through one of my periodic existential crises (or, “freelancer’s vacations”) I start questioning my indirect career path. This is when I am most hungry for direction. Inevitably I begin to wonder if I’m doing it all wrong – there is very little information out there specific to fashion illustrators. Still, there is a heck of a lot of advice out there – in uncertain times, people deeply crave being told what to do. How to sort through it all? When is good advice the wrong advice?
when it is good advice at the wrong time.
The more practical advice is, the more perishable it is. Most business advice that is out there for illustrators is 20th century advice. Because advice is almost always based on other people’s experiences, advice has a tendency to lag. So much of the available recommendations for illustrators were formed within systems created to support the demands of publishing. One of the wrongest pieces of well-intentioned advice I ever got was to avoid posting my work on the internet. It came from one of my favourite professors, someone I respect and admire, and it was an epiphanic moment for me when I realized even the best teachers could be wrong.
Another time-sensitive issue that will affect the usefulness of counsel is whether you are ready for it or not. Good advice for a novice won’t also be good advice for an established professional, or vice versa.
Sometimes taking instruction takes a while to practice – for instance, its takes me a decade to “get” watercolour illustration techniques I’d been taught as a teenager.
when it is good advice for everybody.
The traditional route for illustrators suggests direct mail to art directors, getting an agent, doing gallery shows. When I consider or make moves to pursue these routes, I feel frustrated. Why? I think because they are crowded channels. I become just another illustrator in someone’s full inbox. Sometimes I need to remind myself that doing what I’m doing – blogging as well as illustrating, and inhabiting the fashion industry rather than the publishing industry – has brought me everything I have so far. My situation is quite different than the art school graduates who are the main audience for the usual illustration career tips.
Which brings up the other problem with good, sensible advice, which is its tendency to become common sense. When you’re in a vast lecture hall or reading a bestselling book, the practical advice you’re receiving is a carbon copy, and won’t fit you any better than ready-to-wear. Worse, if you follow that advice closely, you are among a cohort following the same advice, which automatically diminishes the effectiveness of any action you take.
choosing the right advice for you.
So how to sort through advice, find what fits, figure out what to ignore and what to pursue? If you feel resistance, be wary. If it is standard advice, take the intended audience into account. Be aware of who is delivering the advice and whether their experiences echo your own. When it comes to practical stuff, the best advice is custom tailored just for you, and currency counts.
Above all, your own intuition will accept the right advice for you, at the right time for you.