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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Claude Monet

File:Claude Monet 1899 Nadar crop.jpg"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."

— Claude Monet
French Painter
1840 - 1926

File:Claude Monet - Water Lilies - 1906, Ryerson.jpg
Water Lilies 1906
Why did you become a painter, a writer or a storyteller?  Why did you start playing music and composing songs?  Why do you love to take photographs?  What drives you to be creative?  What is your story?  I began writing poetry when I was a junior in high school and I submitted my early poems as a paper for a social studies seminar.  My English teacher asked me why I had not shown them to her.  At the time I had not made the connection between writing and English class.  I wrote because it was a way to express my ideas on societal problems.  Why are you an artist?  I'd love to hear your story.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Robert Frost

"A poem . . . begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. . . . It finds the thought and the thought finds the words."

American Poet
1874 - 1963

Does your art grow out of your emotions?  How often does your pain find expression in your painting, your poem or your story?  Does your joy find the words to express itself?  Many times we forget the original emotion that triggered the thought that ultimately finds its expression in our art.  Some art begins in anger, some in love.  And if we paint or write well, our audience feels the emotion.  

Here is my favorite Frost poem.

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ursula K. LeGuin

Photo by Eileen Gunn
"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end."

American Novelist
1929 -

We all need a sense of purpose, a goal of what we want to accomplish, but we must not lose sight of today and what we are doing.  Stay focused on the current moment while keeping the dream of what you want to accomplish in your mind.  We must enjoy the creative journey because the achievement fades quickly.  When the first novel is written, you need a new goal, a new creative journey.  When the painting is finished, we need to start another.  When the play is over or the film finished, we must find another part to play.  Are you enjoying today or are you dreaming of tomorrow?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nelson Mandela

"We are all meant to shine, as children do.  As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

South African President/Anti-Apartheid Activist
1918 -

Do you let your light, your inner strength, shine through your creative work?  Each of us is special and unique.  There is not another person exactly like us in the universe.  We all have things in common, but at some level we are unique and special.  So let that which is you shine.  Don't hide your talent under a bushel basket.  Share it with others.  We each have a responsibility to help the people around us with our creativity and talent.  If we keep our light locked up inside us and hidden from the world, we have failed ourselves and others.

Friday, November 26, 2010

John Cage

"As far as consistency of thought goes, I prefer inconsistency."

American Composer, Author and Artist
1912 - 1992

There is a desire on the part of human beings to make their lives consistent and we become disillusioned when we find that our heroes don't live up to our ideals.  Life is not consistent despite how much we wish it was.  Life is messy, disorganized and inconsistent.  As creative leaders we do not always live up to our ideals.  We make mistakes, screw-up and form bad habits.  Art at its core is inconsistent and messy.  Every picture we paint, every story we write or song we compose is different in nature and form.  Learn to accept the inconsistencies in your life and in the lives of those you love.  You are only human.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Eric Hoffer

"The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings."

American Philosopher/Writer
1902 - 1983

We should give thanks daily for the gifts that we have been given.  The world we live in can be a difficult, negative place and yet we must find a way to celebrate the positive, to believe in that which is good and precious.  As creative leaders our gifts and talents are many.  I am thankful that I can type, that I can read, that I can write, that I can create.  Sometimes it is the small things that are most important.  

Give thanks for what you have been given.  Develop an attitude of gratitude.  Every day write down ten things for which you are grateful.  The choice is yours.  Focus on what you have, not what you don't have.  Don't like that picture you painted?  Don't think you have much skill in drawing?  Don't despair.  Focus on your talent for color or your insight into human nature.  Honor the gifts that you have.  Appreciate your strengths. Celebrate life.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist
"Don't give in to your fears.  If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart."

Brazilian Novelist
1947 -

Fear causes us to lose touch with ourselves.  When we let fear win, our art will not reflect our heart.  Although fear is a natural part of being human, we need to stand strong and not let fear dominate us.  Listen to your heart and it will teach you how to conquer your fears.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

e. e. cummings

"most people are perfectly afraid of silence"

American Poet/Artist
1894 - 1962

e. e. cummings

Writers and artists require silence to focus on their work and, yet, many people are afraid of silence.  Silence helps us find our way through the maze of life.  Silence opens like a flower in the morning.  Take time to enjoy the silences of your life.  The hardest silence to find is the silence of the mind.  We are constantly talking to ourselves even when we have silenced the voices around us.  Learn to slow your mind down and quiet the voices talking inside your head.    Rid yourself of your mother's voice.  Your father's voice.  The voice of the critic.  The voice of the editor.  Learn to love silence. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marcus Tullius Cicero

"A room without books is like a body without a soul."

Roman Philosopher and Author
106 BC - 43 BC

Creative leaders are lifelong learners.  Learning helps to fill the subconscious with fodder for creative thinking.  One important source of learning is books.  Creative leaders spend time reading even if it is only 10 or 15 minutes a day.  I encourage creative leaders to read novels, poetry, biographies, memoirs and history.  The more you read, the more you know.  I usually average about one book a month and I usually read 15 - 20 minutes a day.  I also listen to recorded books while I drive.  Listening to books is a powerful way to learn.  

If you are not a reader, it is never to late to start.  Develop the habit of reading daily.  Set a goal for how many books you will read in 2011 and keep track of the books you read on goodreads.com, a great online method for keeping track of books you read.  And you also will meet other people who read.  If you are looking for some novels to read, I highly recommend the novels I have listed on this blog.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Peter Ustinov

"The point of living, and of being an optimist, is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come."

British actor/novelist
1921 - 2004

No matter what age you are, the best is yet to come.  No matter where you are in your career, the best is yet to come.  Each day we live provides us with new opportunities, new ways to grow and new things to learn.  Colonel Harlan Sanders was sixty-five when he opened his first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.  Thomas Edison was sixty-seven when he reinvented the phonograph.  At seventy-seven, Grandma Moses began painting.  At eighty, Jessica Tandy won an Oscar for the film, Driving Miss Daisy.  Winston Churchill wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples at age 82.  Peter Ustinov acted in the movie, Luther, at age 83.  At ninety, Picasso was still producing drawings and engravings.  At age 93, P. G. Wodehouse was working on his 97th novel when he died.  Remember the best is yet to come.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Alice Walker

"Don't wait around for other people to be happy for you.  Any happiness you get you've got to make yourself."

American Novelist/Poet
1944 - 

The appreciation and support of others may be short-lived and fickle.  We need to believe in ourselves and our work.  Our happiness and satisfaction must come from within.  We must learn to care for ourselves and encourage our artistic work.  The world may not understand what we do or why we do it, but we must find the inner strength to keep going.  Pat yourself on the back today and give yourself a compliment.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bill Moyers

"Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous."

American Journalist
1934 -

Most artists and writers will tell you that there are periods where the work can be boring, dull and mundane.  You feel like everything is on hold and then inspiration arrives in a flash as the light bulb goes off and the sun explodes.  In between the lightning bolts of creativity are hours and days of routine and monotonous work.  But when moment of insight arrives, the heart races to keep up with the mind and elation abounds.  And you know the long wait was worth it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Paul Gauguin

Self Portrait, 1893
"Poor artist!  You gave away part of your soul when you painted the picture which you are now trying to dispose of."

French Artist
1848 - 1903

Tahitian Women on the Beach
The ying and the yang for most artists is the conflict between the passion for creating and the need to eat, between time spend painting and time spend selling.  How do we balance these two opposites?  Most of us would prefer to paint, to write and to compose, but we also have the need to feed our families and to a lesser extent ourselves.  Some people take jobs teaching.  Others work in business.  The poet Wallace Stevens spent his career as a lawyer for an insurance company.  How do you balance the need for creating art and the need for cash to live?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mother Teresa

"If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

Catholic Nun/Humanitarian
1910 - 1997

In my experience, I have often found writers and artists to be judgmental and critical of each other's works.  I have participated in writing groups where a writer would present his work and then the others would proceed to tear it apart under the guise of constructive criticism.  Beginning writers and artists do not need criticism.  They need support and encouragement.  For established writers, every new book is a new beginning.  For established artists, every blank canvas is a new beginning.  Both need encouragement and support.  Constructive opinion even at its best is only opinion and often the opinion is way off base.  At its worst, criticism can be vicious and absurd.  As critics we often bring our own prejudices to the table and attempt to impose them on others.  In the words of Mother Teresa, we need to criticize and judge other creative leaders less and love them more.  Look for the good in the creative work and praise the good.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ferruccio Busoni

"The function of the creative artist consists of making laws, not in following laws already made."

Italian Composer, Pianist
1866 - 1924

When I teach people how to speak, I always tell them to learn the rules of speaking, but to understand that they can break every rule.  Speaking is an art, not a science.  Creative leaders understand that there are rules and techniques governing their art, but they have the right to break the rules.  Creative leaders are willing to take a risk and attempt something that lesser artists are unwilling to risk.  If you study the long history of the arts, you will see the pattern — every generation breaks the rules of the older generations and makes new rules.  Think of the changes the impressionists, the cubists and the abstract expressionists  made to art in the last 150 years.  Think about the rules that writers and musicians have broken in the past and continue to break today.  What risks are you taking with your art?  What rules have you been willing to bend and break?  What new rules have you put in their place.  In art, nothing is absolute.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Henri Matisse

"Creation is the artist's true function; where there is no creation there is no art."

French Artist
1869 - 1954

Matisse, Woman With A Hat, 1905
Most of us are drawn to the arts because of a need to create something, to express what we are feeling.  Those who stay involved with some art form, such as writing, painting or acting, must also learn technique, but if in the study of techniques we forget creativity, we have lost touch with the purpose of art.  Creativity is the very heart of what we do.  The mastery and perfection of technique must never be more important then the creative impulse.  The art we create must be fresh and new, not boring and repetitious.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Muriel Rukeyser

"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."

American Poet
1913 - 1980

The universe is alive with story.  Without story, much of what we as humans know would be meaningless.  Through story we understand the world around us.  Through story we understand our lives and why we have lived the way we lived.  Story provides meaning to the events that have happened and the sorrows we have experienced.  As creative leaders, we are driven to share our story whether that be through a poem, a painting, a novel, a song, a sculpture, a film or a dance.  What stories are you telling in your art?  What stories are you telling that define who you are?  Our lives are filled with story.  Share yours today.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Santoka Taneda

"Haiku is not a shriek, a howl, a sigh, or a yawn; rather, it is the deep breath of life."

Japanese Haiku Poet 
1882 - 1940

What is your painting, your story, your dance, or your song?  Is it a shriek?  A howl? A sigh? A yawn?  Or is it the deep breath of life?  As creative leaders we need to be creating art that produces the deep breath of life.  Art that is just a shriek or a howl leaves people feeling empty.  Art that is a sigh or a yawn puts people to sleep.  Our art needs to come from deep within and we need to breathe into it the breath of life .

Friday, November 12, 2010

Leonardo Da Vinci

Mona Lisa
"The first goal of a painter is to be able to make a simple flat surface appear like a relief . . . this is done by the correct use of light and shade.  The one who can do this deserves the most praise."

Italian Artist
1452 - 1519

The arts are about illusion.  The painter paints an object, a person or landscape and wants us to believe that it represents the real thing.  The writer tells a story and wants us to believe that what he is telling us is real.  A musician plays sounds and wants us to believe the notes tell a story.  If we are good at our craft, people will believe what we show and tell them.  Leonardo reportedly took four years to paint the Mona Lisa.  Perfecting illusion takes time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kahlil Gibran

"In every winter's heart there is a quivering spring, and behind the veil of each night there is a smiling dawn."

Lebanese Artist and Poet
1883 - 1931

Hope is an essential gift of living.  Without hope, we are wandering through a dark, desolate world.   In even our worst moments, we need to remember that life will get better.  As artists and writers, we need to believe that the next painting or the next poem will be our best.    If we quit now, we may never know what is around the next corner.  Keep dreaming.  Keep hoping.  Keep believing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Zelda Fitzgerald

"Nobody has ever measured, even the poets, how much a heart can hold."

American Novelist, Artist
1900 - 1948

The heart is stronger than we think and able to recover from some of the most painful sorrows.  People through the centuries have seen and heard some of the ugliest behavior of mankind from starvation to murder to genocide.  And writers and artists have produced great work out of this pain.  When I was in college in the midst of the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement, I thought the world would explode within five years.  More the forty years later the earth still circles the sun and men and women continue to suffer and survive.  How much can your heart hold?  How much pain have you suffered?  How much love have you given?  How much of your heart can you see in your work?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pablo Picasso

"Art is the lie that reveals the truth."

Spanish Artist
1881 - 1973

When we stop and think about it, we realize that art is not real.  It is an attempt to create  reality, but it will never be reality.  As Picasso says, it is a lie.  Whether you are a writer or a painter, the world you are creating in your stories and pictures is not real.  But this lie can reveal the truth of the world that cannot be perceived in reality.  Now there is the paradox:  the lie reveals the truth.  

The question you must ask yourself:  Does my art reveal the truth?  Or is it only an illusion?  Only a lie?  Art that does not reveal the truth remains a lie.  What is the truth in your writing?  In your painting?  What insight do you have into life and living?

Here is one of my favorite Picasso paintings.  I have written a poem, Sing A Sad Song, about the painting and the truth that it reveals.

The Old Guitarist, 1903, Oil on Panel, 122.9 X 82.6 cm. Pablo Picasso, Spanish (1881 - 1973), The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.253.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman
"I was an avid reader of history and particularly the lives of great men and women.  I found that some were born to greatness, some attained it by accident, and some worked for it."

American President, Author
1884 - 1972

As creative leaders we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.  What do you know of the lives and works of these earlier artists, writers, musicians and storytellers?  What were the challenges they faced and the difficulties they overcame?  What creative ideas did they have that have made our work easier?  What knowledge did they have that has now been lost to the dustbins of history?  Which painters, writers and musicians are your heroes?

Most people are not born to greatness.  They usually work hard to achieve what they desire, but in the end the fame they find is often by accident.  So my advice is to work hard every day and enjoy what you do.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Piet Mondrian

Composition #2 Piet Mondrian
"Everyone knows that even a single line may convey an emotion."

Dutch Painter
1872 - 1944

The line is one of the smallest elements of a drawing or a painting.  The line is the beginning of what is to be.  And in that beginning the line conveys the emotion to come, the story to be told.  All art begins some where.  For the artist it is the line.  For the writer it is the word.  For the musician it is the note.  And the line becomes the skeleton, the core of what is created.

I recently discovered the drawings of Michael Kirby.  He has the powerful ability to convey emotion with simple lines.  Check out his blog at:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

W. S. Merwin

"We are the echo of the future."

American Poet
1927 -

Wow!  These seven words can change the way we see ourselves.  We see ourselves as flesh and bones and full of life, but in the big picture to those who come after us we are only an echo of the person we were.  We think everything that is happening to us now is important and wonder if we will be able to survive the onslaught of problems that we face.  But in the blink of an eye that is our lives we are gone.  And as artists, writers and musicians all that is left are the works we created — the footprints we left behind.  The echo of person who was us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

John Sloan

"Color is like music.  The palette is an instrument that can be orchestrated to build form."

American Artist
1871 - 1951

The arts are interrelated and interconnected.  If you are a writer, you can learn from artists and musicians.  Don't just study writers, study artists.  Learn to paint and it will make your writing better.  If you are an artist, you can learn from film and theater.  Learn to act and it might make your painting better.  Why do you think some actors turn to painting or writing when they are not engaged in making films?  Don't feel you have to limit yourself to one form of art.  Explore them all.  Do you have writer's block? Go paint a picture.  Don't know what to paint?  Play the guitar.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

American Writer & Poet
1803 - 1882

Sometimes we let our worries, doubts and fears control us.  There is nothing we can do to change yesterday and the things that happened.  Yes, we may alter the consequences by apologizing, but the action is still there.  Worry is creative imagination.  We create all kinds of scenes and stories in our minds that are not based in reality.  

My mother was a worry wart.  She was always dwelling on something that happened or was caught up in what she thought was going to happen.  And she seemed to get worse with age.  She and my father had a big fight on the morning he died of a heart attack.  He had been sick and she did not want him to go to work.  Being the stubborn person he was, he went anyway and died on the job.  My mother never forgave herself.  During the nine years after my dad died, she worried about what happened and punished herself.

So, of course, some of this worrying behavior rubbed off on me and there have  been  days when I struggled to overcome it.  But the older I have grown, the less I worry.  I have learned to accept what happens and to forgive myself.  But every now and then, worry will raise it's silly head and bite me.  

Are you a worrier?  Does your imagination run wild?  Have you learned to forgive yourself when you make a mistake?  Take heed of Emerson's valuable advice:  Begin each day anew!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jack Penn

"One of the secrets of life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks."

South African 
Surgeon, Sculptor, Author
1909 - 1996

To be human and to live with other humans is to face challenges and difficulties.  We experience death, love and heartache, not necessarily in that order.  How we respond to the challenges that life deals us is a measure of the type of person we are.  Do we pick ourselves up and make something of what has happened or do we remain in the mud, wishing to die?  As creative leaders, we have the gift of creativity which can help us turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.  So get out your chisel and chisel away at that stumbling block in your way.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dame Barbara Hepworth

"I found one had to do some work every day, even at midnight, because either you're professional or you're not."

English Sculptor
1903 - 1975

Discipline is one of the keys to being an artist or a writer.  One needs to work every day.  People often say: 'I work when I am inspired.'  If you wait until you are inspired, you will be waiting a long time.  If you work whether you are inspired or not, you will find that soon inspiration will become a constant companion.  Work opens up the creative spirit and the inspiration flows.  So my message is simple:  work every day even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Miles Davis

"Do not fear mistakes — there are none."

Jazz Musician
1926 - 1991

The older I have become; the more I subscribe to this philosophy.  Mistakes are in the minds of those who need to find fault.  When I write something, it is not a mistake.  It is where my mind wanted to go — where I am meant to go.  Perfection is an illusion.  It does not exist and if it did we would invent mistakes.  The world is not black or white.  It is all gray.  As a painter, you used a green paint when convention says you should have used red.  It is not a mistake.  Learn to give your mind free rein — to explore and change the universe.  We are where we are because it is where we need to be.  Things happen for a reason even if we don't know what the reason is.  So go ahead and make mistakes today.  Taste the favor of them in your mouth and be happy.