Barry Moser speaks at Montserrat graduation

Barry Moser, the illustrator, printmaker, and painter of Hadfield, Massachusetts, delivered the commencement address at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly on May 28. (Note: I taught there during the spring semester.) Below are some excerpts from his speech:

“The most important advice I can possibly give you all – and forgive me if this seems glib – is work, work, work. Every day. At the same time. As long as you can take it. Work, work, work. You can’t depend on talent.”

Moser was inspired by an uncle, Bob, a traveling salesman, who tinkered when he was home on weekends. “His most frequent comment: ‘Jesus H. Christ, son, that is the most halfassed goddamned thing I’ve ever seen in my life. What got into you?’ These affectionate comments were usually delivered in his basement workshop.”

A mantra Moser got from his uncle that he’s long repeated to his students: “When the job is first begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor large or small, do it well or not at all.”

“There have been far, far more failures than successes.”

“Bob died of a heart attack a few months before my twelfth birthday, and I wonder what advice I’d have gotten from him if he had lived.”

“I think of Herman Melville, who said nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.”

“Listen to music. Yeah sure, listen to whatever blows your skirt up. … But for God’s sake listen to Bach … Sibelius, Schubert. Listen to them over and over, day after day, till you begin to sense what they’re up to. Then begin to implement what they do into your own work.”

“Be willing to fail. … It will never be as good as it could be, and that’s okay. It’s okay because it’s part of the never-ending growth process.”

“Never think of yourself as an artist. Certainly never refer to yourself as an artist. Leave that up to somebody else. To do so is to be self-congratulatory and arrogant.”

“Work and fail, that’s important. And in so doing, be the best you can be.”

“Don’t squander your gifts by pandering to fashion or art lite or anything lite.”

“Always trying to make art instead of fine objects is the surest path to failure.”

“Be what you do.”

“Teach. If not in a school, then at least hire on apprentices when you’ve established a workshop or school. … It is your responsibility as an artist, as a craftsman if you will, to pass what you’ve learned on.”

“Put love first in your life, love of your work, and other people.”

“Be certain of nothing other than your imagination and your heart’s passions.”

“Have fun. Laugh a lot. It’s good for you. There are few things that are so serious they can’t be laughed at.”

“Don’t get drunk and drive a car. Get plenty of sleep. And eat your greens.”

Photo by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. Self-portrait by Barry Moser.

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