In his commencement speech for NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Oscar winning actor shared some brutal truths with the graduating photographers, actors, filmmakers and other creatives.
“Tisch graduates, you made it… and you’re f*cked,” said De Niro, comparing their unclear future to those who decided to study nursing, dentistry, business or law.
“On this day of triumphantly graduating, a new door is opening for you: a door to a lifetime of rejection”, De Niro added, letting the class of 2015 know what the future holds for them.
No matter where you studied, or which field you chose, if you’re a professional creative you’ll relate to this speech.
De Niro went on to mention how fellow students used reason, logic and commonsense to opt for stable career paths, but while they could make that choice, creatives could not. Creatives are forced to follow their talent and ambition and can’t fight it:
“When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump commonsense. You weren’t just following dreams, you were reaching for your destiny. You’re a dancer, a singer, a choreographer, musician, a filmmaker, a writer, a photographer, a director, a producer, an actor, an artist. Yeah, you’re fucked”.
Back on the topic of getting rejected, De Niro didn’t sugar coat the truth, but he did have a few encouraging words:
“Rejection might sting but my feeling is that often it has very little to do with you. When you’re auditioning or pitching, the director or producer or investor may have something or someone different in mind. That’s just how it is”.
Sharing with the audience the advice he gives his own children, De Niro said he tells them to get an accounting degree.
He then contradicts himself and offers them the kind of advice that only free spirits (and kids with rich parents) can easily take:
“I tell them don’t be afraid to fail. I urge them to take chances, to keep an open mind, to welcome new experiences and new ideas. I tell them that if you don’t go, you’ll never know. You just have to be bold and go out there and take your chances”.
De Niro goes on to discuss the importance of giving everything you’ve got, also when working with others, and maintaining good relationships with your colleagues, but also being able to know when a bad collaboration is not your fault.
The examples given in the speech mostly discuss acting terms, but are mostly relevant to all fields of creative work.
Many creative fields, especially photography, have changed dramatically in recent years. With the vast transformation the work market has seen, and the easily accessible information found on the internet, many creatives find themselves wondering if getting a photography degree is worth it.
But whether you choose to go down the road of formal education or autodidacticism, it’s going to be tough to make it in the industry.
This shouldn’t discourage you, just help you prepare for the future. As De Niro said, “there will be times when your best isn’t your good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best you’ll be OK”.