CRAFT: A Rededication — Martin Scorsese’s 2014 Commencement Speech

I.

“He gave us a fair warning that it could get a little rough out there and maybe sometimes a little more than rough.

I’m not sure if I knew how much more then and if I did, well then who cares.  We didn’t care, and I don’t think you would either.

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Any of you, wether you’re actors, writers, directors, painters, dancers, musicians, all of you are in different disciplines, but every one of you are engaged in the same struggle. To preserve that initial desire, that animating impulse, that brought you here and will carry you along.

It’s a very strong thing, that desire, that initial impulse — like an obsession. But it’s delicate too and it needs to be nurtured and protected against the incursions of the world which can be merciless.

The thing is, your position is never secure. So what you have to make secure and guard with your life, because it is your life, is the same pure creativity that brought you here and that brought me here too. It’s the one thing that’s got to carry you through so irresistibly that sometimes it seems like it’s barely in your control and, you know, mostly it shouldn’t be.

II.

There’s a way that the force of disappointment can be alchemized into something that will paradoxically renew you. It’s something you’re not gonna take a seminar in. You either learn from it or are undone by it. 

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I mean there was no immediate happy ending . No money was forthcoming . There were certainly ruptures in my self confidence both before and after this. It was just an early sample of the familiar lifelong trajectory. Good reviews, bad reviews. Awards, no rewards. Recognition, none. Box office, really big, my pictures the last ten years? No box office. And all of it outsize, all of it out of scale, because in this line of endeavor nothing seems trivial. But what keeps your perspective and what protects and enhances that precious creative impulse is; you know, the good stuff every now and then. Some of the work that you do that you are proud of and that you like and certainly the work of other artists that deeply inspire you.

III.

It’s the work of the old masters, whoever your masters are really, that remind you that you have to be singular, inflexible, unyielding in your own work so that even the struggle, that very struggle to achieve, becomes its own reward.

The hard simple ability to continue is a kind of blessing. The world may think of it as an obsession and your parents may think of it as  — sorry parents– as mine did which was something  akin to crazy. But you can’t do your work according to other people’s values.

And I’m not talking about “Following your dream” either. I never liked the inspirational value of that phrase. Besides being sentimental, it’s beside the point. Dreaming is a way of trivializing the process. The obsession that carries you through the failure as well as the successes. I mean, if you’re dreaming, you’re sleeping and it’s important and imperative to always be awake to your feelings, your possibilities, your ambitions, and don’t get hung up on the consequences because they can be good like awards, success, and even celebrity and they can be bad like no awards, no success, and no celebrity. Its a tricky balance. For myself I’ve fallen off the big wire many times. The seductions of the rewards are as risky as the temptations of anger and self-doubt.

Theodore Roosevelt said in 1910, in another springtime, at another university:

“It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. Or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Who strives valiantly, who errs, comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. But who does actually strive to do the deeds. Who knows great enthusiasms; the great devotions. Who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement. And who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

That’s uh..  I didn’t write that. That was Theodore Roosevelt.

I mean, I don’t think there are any cold or timid souls out there or you wouldn’t have come this far. If you had been you wouldn’t be sitting here today. You may be shy. You may be tentative. And even, at times, you may be fragile. But you have to protect your own voice, your creative spirit, no matter what it costs. That takes tenacity, confidence, and resilience.

I still find that trying to weave together into a visual narrative and cutting together two pieces of a film; two different images. When they come together in a way that’s unique and that’s different, something you hadn’t expected, that’s surprising and revelatory. It’s still exhilarating to me. It’s still satisfying. It’s still fulfilling. It’s still worth it.

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I mean I keep trying to keep going beyond that and to push the limits of visual storytelling but they are my limits. Not the limits of the medium. That’s for you to do. Because with everything added up, the frequent blows weighed against the sporadic triumphs, this is I have to say, not just a vocation — it’s a great gift.

But you also know this. For your work, for your passion — every day is a re-dedication. Painters, dancers, actors, writers, filmmakers.  It’s the same for all of you, for all of us. Every step is a first step. Every brushstroke is a test. Every scene is a lesson. Every shot is a school. So let the learning continue.”

  • Matin Scorsese, speaking at NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts.
    May 23rd, 2014

 

Watch the full commencement speech here.