Dear Younger Malik,

Four years… I’ve just finished four years of art school. It feels too long and too short at the same time. If I could go back to those first few days of classes, I would give myself some advice. Not because I regret anything I did or didn’t do, but to encourage the young creator diving headfirst into a new world.

Malik Dieleman - Senior Picture

Keep Creating

It might be hard to see a lot of progress in your skills day-to-day, month-to-month, but you will make so much progress over the years. You will complete countless projects. Some will be great, and others just OK, but they will all help you become a better artist. Over the years, you will not so much change as you will grow. Focus on the steady direction of growth more than the complete shift of change.

Spend more time on the projects you’re excited about. Go above and beyond for those, if you can. You won’t be able to give 100% in everything, and that’s OK. Spread it out. Give yourself some grace.

Can’t find an idea for a project? Here’s a tip: just start making something; anything. Doodle, start writing down random thoughts, go on a walk outside with your camera, dance around to some music for a while, sort through old notes and pictures. There are so many ways to get ideas flowing. Inspiration can be found anywhere, but it doesn’t often come find you.

Be Yourself

As cheesy as this sounds, this is so important to remind yourself. Conquer the fear that others will reject you if you’re not like them: it’s not true. I know you are prone to change how you act so you fit in to whatever group you find yourself in, but make sure you stick to what is true. Stick to your values. You will find that most people will respect that, even if they don’t agree with what you believe. Why waste energy being someone you’re not?

You entered this secular institution thinking you could be a “light in the darkness.” So be one. Don’t let your eyes get used to the dark so fast.

On a practical level, don’t measure your work so much to the standards of those around you. Art is subjective after all. Seek the opinions and advice from others but take it with not just one grain of salt—take it with the whole shaker.

Take Risks

A professor once had students list out all the attributes that make up a good piece of art. After the board was full of words, he wrote in large letters covering the entire board with the word: RISK. Remember this. There is so much room for you to experiment in art school. Your profs will respect risk-takers, if they put in the work. Sometimes “failures” are far more interesting than what you first had in mind.

Don’t be put off by rejection. You’ll get a lot of it. Starting even in first year, create a portfolio and look out for exhibition/art submission opportunities. Submit, submit, submit; apply, apply, apply. You will get so many “noes,” but all the “yeses” are worth it. Also—don’t wait until 4th year to make business cards.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, think more about how you can use your art projects to express and engage your faith. Use art as a form of worship or devotion. It doesn’t need to be evangelism, it doesn’t need to be literal, it doesn’t need to be the Gospel. It’s OK if you don’t know everything about Christianity. It’s OK not to have every answer. In fact, you should ask more questions than you give answers.

You reflect God, the Creator, by creating yourself.

Keep creating, be yourself, and take risks.

Love, Malik

Author Bio

Malik Dielman is a Toronto-based photographer and multidisciplinary artist who graduated from the Ontario College of Art & Design University in 2019. He is featured in the Engage Art Cards which you can explore or our website, or order a physical copy. To see more of Malik’s work, check out his website at www.malikdieleman.com.