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Graduation Speech: Alina Gane-Hurcomb

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Graduation Speech by student speaker Alina Gane-Hurcomb

Friday 31 March, 2023

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Everyone graduating today is receiving a qualification in Art and Creativity. But what does that mean? In its simplest form I feel like Art is the by-product of Creativity – the inevitable and often accidental result of exploration by a Creative. Which makes the larger and possibly more important question: what is art and creativity to you? I posed this question to myself and found that when I really thought about it, only one word came to mind – Essential. Absolutely, completely and utterly essential. This didn’t feel like a particularly qualified response, so I decided to trawl the internet looking at other people, to see what their thoughts were on the matter.

I think Ai Weiwei said it best when he stated, “Life is art. Art is life. I never separate it.”

This totally resonated with me. As we progress further into our journey as art practitioners, the line between ourselves; our core beings and what we create, becomes almost void. We become our art and our art becomes us. I see creativity as being essential to our very existence. Oxygen feeds our lungs, food feeds our bodies, but creativity? Well, that feeds our souls. And to me, that’s much more important.

It is my understanding that this is our first proper graduation ceremony, where we can unite and celebrate each other’s successes, as artists, since the pandemic. When the world went into lockdown, among the first things to run out, was art supplies. What does that say about the importance of creativity? When we remove all of the pretence, societal norms and pressures of everyday life, our natural default setting as human beings, is to create. Just look at children. Most kids prefer dancing to walking and singing to talking. But at some point, the construct that we call ‘life’, stifles that. Freedom is replaced with expectation and happiness with discontentment.

I have to say, that what makes me most proud, when I look around this room, is that we have each made the conscious decision to embrace what is innate within us; nurture and develop our souls and simultaneously gain qualifications that can potentially provide practical applications for sustainable creativity and at the very least, create a strong basis for internal stability, which, again, is fundamentally, more important.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ trajectory for artists. Each journey is unique to the individual experiencing it. I have been studying at The Learning Connexion off and on for seven and a half years now and in that time I have seen a lot of different people, different approaches and different outcomes. I think I’m most jealous of the students who always knew they were artists; studied art all the way through school and came straight to TLC from college. That was definitely not my experience. I was raised to be an academic; but as is so often the case, it took me a ridiculously long time to realise that the goals I had been striving for, were not my own. I was trying to please people and could never be happy constantly seeking approval from others.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that has a tendency towards attaching a fairly negative stigma to being an artist; inferring that we are only artists because we failed at some other aspect of life, but as Charles Horton Cooley pointed out, “An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.”

Graduation 2023 TLC IMG 3234aThe problem with negative social views – no matter how inaccurate they are – is they become a breeding ground for self-doubt. As Sylvia Plath surmised, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” I’ve seen so many amazing creatives crumble under the pressure of (1) external influences; typically in the form of disapproval from loved ones. (2) Inflated levels of importance being placed on making money from your art and (3), internal influences like constant beratement from our inner critics.

Like most of you I have certainly had experience with all of these. So how do we get past them? I’ve found a couple of things helpful when dealing with negative influences. Firstly, when in doubt, create! We have the enormous advantage of a career path which doubles as a healthy coping mechanism. Of all the coping strategies I’ve tried over the years, art has been the least destructive… and probably, the most expensive. Whoever said ‘art is cheaper than therapy’ has clearly never walked into Gordon Harris on pay day, while there’s a sale on. Just saying.

Dealing with judgement from others in relation to our art, is sadly, unavoidable. However, I have found that Andy Warhol’s strategy works quite well. “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” I feel like this attitude prevents us from becoming stuck; keeps us creating and therefore, ensures that we are constantly moving forward.

Another quote that I find helpful, and if I’m honest, confronting, when it comes to questioning my own worth as a creative and as a person is: “No-one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” In this quote, I feel that Eleanor Roosevelt is reminding us that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what anybody else says about us, our lives or our work. If we take their negativity on board, that’s a choice that we have made, and thankfully, is something we can choose not to do again. We have the power to decide what criticism is constructive and what criticism is destructive. If it’s constructive, embrace it, analyse it and grow from it. But if it’s destructive, ignore it. You do not need it.

And when you’re having one of those days where you just feel like a failure, remember that Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds to ever grace this planet, believed that “Failure is success in progress.”

Without perceived failure, there would be no perceived success. I use the word “perceived” because there is actually no definitive example of either. What is success? What is failure? If you ask ten different people these questions, you will get ten different answers. They’re subjective notions. Much like heaven and hell, one can only exist if you believe in the other. But again, throughout our lives, the idea of success versus failure is held over us; for some, this provides direction, for others, intimidation. But I think that what Einstein meant was, that if you feel like you are failing at your interpretation of success, know that it is only temporary and that you’re on the right track.

So where do we start? According to Austin Kleon, “Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.” I think this is fantastic advice. If you love it, others will too.

I have heard so many students say that they don’t think anyone else will like their work. Several years back, I spent a soul destroying six months studying statistics, and although I hated every second of it, it taught me a very valuable lesson: There are 7 billion people on this planet; it is a statistical impossibility that no-one will like your work. Numbers don’t lie. If you haven’t found your ideal audience yet (and I do put emphasis on the “yet”) it is because of two things: geography and marketing. When you promote your work in the right place you will find your people. So, create what you love. Someone else will love it too.

One of the most important aspects of being an artist is to keep working. Keep creating. Keep experimenting. Keep growing. Austrian artist Voka stated, “I’ve had a lot of luck in my life, but I worked for it.” This resonated a lot with me. I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities, for which I am eternally grateful, but I feel like they might not have come about, had I not been working and taking calculated risks. Jack White said, “Deadlines and things make you creative.” A lot of people believe that deadlines stifle creativity, but what I think he meant by this was, that deadlines force us into action. If you’re like me and prone to procrastination, deadlines can be a really helpful tool to keeping yourself on track. Najwa Zebia summed it up nicely when they said, “Whatever you do, do it with purpose. Being focused is not something to be ashamed of. It is something to be proud of. When you know what you are doing and have a clear vision of where you are going, you will not need to chase opportunities. Opportunities will seek you. Happiness will chase you. And, instead of being a choice, you will be the one choosing.”

The biggest advantage that we have as artists and creatives is ourselves. Neil Gaiman said, “The one thing that you have that nobody else has, is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” There will never be another you and that is what makes you great.

Graduation 2023 TLC IMG 3182Over the years, I have seen a lot of people arrive at The Learning Connexion following a major change in their life. I have heard many describe themselves as broken and have had the absolute privilege of watching these people rebuild themselves with a combination of their own strength, fortitude and creativity.

In Japan there is a centuries-old pottery technique called “Kintsugi” which poetically translates to mean “golden joinery”. They take broken pieces of ceramic, use tree sap lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum and repair each piece. What makes this technique so special, is the beautiful way in which it celebrates and emphasises the fractures, creating seams of gold which glint within the ceramic wares. To those of you who came to TLC feeling broken, I want you to know that you have become the personification of Kintsugi. You’ve picked the creativity route for healing, and any cracks you may have had, now glisten. You are perfectly imperfect, and I stand before you, to celebrate you.

I agree with Keith Haring when he said, “Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.”

As my speech comes to a close, I encourage you to go further; further in your journey into yourselves, further out into the world. Further in your creative exploration. Just. Further.

Lastly, I leave you with this quote from Emile Zola, “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”

Congratulations to every single person graduating today. May you all continue to choose creativity, and, in so doing, choose to live out loud.



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