Interview Series with Adam Caldwell About Art-Part 1
Updated: Aug 16
By Jenny Lu | 5 May 2021
Have you dreamed of becoming a successful illustrator or artist but don’t know where or how to start? Are you so passionate about art that you are willing to try and find out every possibility to be good at it? Well. You are in the right place! We’ve collected twenty exclusive questions and divided them into two interview posts. These questions and answers are specifically for art students and those passionate about art. We hope this blog post helps you to dive in and master the world of fine art and illustration.
It was our pleasure to have a one-on-one conversation with the internationally exhibiting fine artist, Adam Caldwell, who is kind enough to share his insight and tips on art. Adam has shared his tips on becoming a successful artist, his views on creativity, and addressed the questions on whether go to an art school or not. The artist also talked about the importance of studying philosophy and great literature. Last but not least, Adam gave some of the best advice on how to avoid becoming a cookie-cutter after going to an art school.
Let’s get started!
How does someone become a successful artist?
The first thing is you have to be good. The second is you have to be lucky. The third is that if there’s an opportunity, you have to take it. You got to work hard, you got to be good, and you got to be lucky.
So many artists are amazing but never get successful. Hopefully, you’re in the right place, at the right time, and then you got a chance. You have to be good. You can’t not be good.
Even if you want to be a weird messed-up artist, you got to learn all the basics. You have to study, practice, and then throw it all away. Train, get good and then forget it all. Then start to do crazy weird paintings. It’s pretty rare that someone just sits down and starts painting masterpieces. It doesn’t really happen.
What makes a successful artist?
There are two levels. There’s the work itself, and then there’s if it’s selling. Hopefully, the two things are both happening. Some painters are awful but are incredibly successful. They’re terrible. It’s garbage, and they make millions. And then some painters are geniuses but never sell anything. Making the work is more important for success. That’s the actual definition. But in a capitalist society, success means how much money you make.
What is some advice you want to give to young aspiring artists?
Draw, draw, and then draw some more. Keep drawing and get really good at drawing. Use that as the foundation of your practice, no matter what it is.
Once you understand proportions, mark-making, and composition, it becomes more about painting. You’re still drawing when you’re painting. You’re drawing in colors! You’re drawing outside the lines. Fundamentally, drawing is the most important, but you have to let go at some point.
Do you think people need to develop their crazy, naive style first or train themselves how to draw and paint first?
Everybody has their crazy, naive style first. When you were a kid, you picked up a pencil, and you started scribbling. So that was already there. It’s great when someone has that. Someone commits to a way of drawing that they love. Because if they go to art school, you can teach them techniques. And that drive and passion they have for developing other style can translate into learning realistic stuff and more traditional things. The problem is when they forget it. When they lose it, they become cookie cutters.
Do you think it’s a must to go to an art school?
No! But it’s a must to train and to practice. You can get almost anything you can get from art school and YouTube. If you want to learn how to do a technique, you can get it on YouTube. You can see somebody do it.
What art school does is it gives you space. It provides you space where you can grow as an artist and flourish because everything else is taken away. You’re just in this place, literally a physical space in a time. It’s separate from the rest of your life. All you think about is developing as an artist, whereas if you’re just in the world trying. It’s like being a monk. You go to the monastery to learn how to meditate and be spiritual.
This separation from the rest of your life allows you to have this empty space to really become and to develop. Some people have to go to art school because otherwise, they will not ever do it. But if someone was self-motivated enough, there was no reason why they couldn’t get really good without going to art school.
Some art schools are so expensive. What do you consider to be some other alternatives for those who can’t afford to go to art school?
You can go to workshops. So instead of just teaching online, you can go and take workshops with really great artists that last for three or four days and get a lot out of that.
You can also take adult education classes where you take one class. For example, I took Art Community college, where I learned figure drawing. I met an amazing anatomy teacher there. I knew almost all my figure drawing skills at a Community college, where I paid $150 for a class. You just got to look. It’s out there.
Do you think it’s possible to teach students how to become very creative and original?
No! You can’t teach creativity. I think that’s ridiculous. That’s more about people’s makeup of their experience and how their brains are wired. It’s more about their neurology. I don’t think you can train it either.
You can give them strategies to unlock their creativity, but creativity is sort of innate. It’s something that you either have or don’t have. So you can only give them some techniques to unlock it. Help them see it and help them develop it. But you’re not teaching the actual creativity because creativity involves seeing connections where most people don’t see. You can’t force someone to make a connection. Because if you force them to make the connection, they didn’t make the connection. So they’re not being creative.
If you tell them to be creative and say, “you should put an apple on top of that guy’s head.” When they do that, they’re not creative. They’re just doing what you tell them to do and following your creativity. To be creative, they have to see a connection like that or a possibility themselves. You can’t tell them about it. You certainly can’t force somebody to be creative.
They weren’t necessarily born to be creative. However, it is through their life within their experience. You can influence people to be more creative. If you’re a great teacher when they’re young and they love what you’re teaching. They feel excited about it. That makes them want to work more, and then they do more art. They get more creative in a sense. You’re helping them be creative, but you can’t teach creativity.
If they practice, they will develop their inherent creativity. There are techniques of developing your creativity and giving people tools to help unlock their creativity. But I don’t think you can teach creativity.
You can’t teach them to be good, though. You can’t teach someone to see something that someone didn’t see before. Because how could you. If people want to see something that no one saw before, they have to see it themselves, for no one ever seen it. It’s like teaching someone how to make a great scientific discovery. They have to do that on their own for it to be a discovery.
What are some of the setbacks you have experienced of being a professional artist?
Starting really late and then getting sidetracked for a long time. I didn’t even really start being an artist until I was in my 40’s which is crazy. I’ve had some art shows that didn’t go well. That made my career go sort of backward, which was almost enough to make you give up.
Starting really late and having some shows that didn’t go very well. That’s about it! Otherwise, it’s been pretty steady and good.
Why do you think studying philosophy is so important for artists?
Philosophy is studying knowledge in the most abstract way. Philosophy studies what it means to be anything. What is a thing, and even what is existence? When you learn to think that way, you can apply it to any field of knowledge. There’s a philosophy of history; there’s a philosophy of science; there’s a philosophy of language; there’s a philosophy of mathematics.
But basic philosophy is just studying questions about what exists. How do we know things? How do we come to know things in the world? Then the third is how you should act. It’s morality or ethics. What’s the right way to act or to govern yourself. What kind of government? And those completely applied to art. So having a good foundation in philosophy is just good for any. No matter what you’re going to do. If you’re going to be a politician, a doctor, or a scientist, you should have a basic grounding of philosophy. It influences all those things.
Are there any book recommendations you have for art students? Any books that will change their life?
There are lots of great books for anybody to read. Reading great literature is important for any artist, writer, or thinker. Reading philosophy is important too. As far as the art books go, there are some really good books. Some are about criticism, and some are about art history. There are great books on drawing as far as specific books to read; there are great anatomy books; there are great books on composition.
Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid is an excellent book. Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis is another good one. One of my favorites is How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way by Stan Lee. It covers many aspects of drawing!
It’s fantastic to know that foundation art principles and techniques are necessary and essential for someone who wants to become a successful artist. But the important thing is how not to lose the crazy and naive style you’ve developed before you go to an art school. In addition, there are different ways and places to find and learn all these skills. Art school is just another good place that offers you a space to grow as an artist.
We hope these ten exclusive questions and answers help you understand art a little better. So what are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned from this interview with Adam Caldwell? Feel free to let me know in a comment.