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Saturday, April 30, 2011


"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."

French Novelist
1873 - 1954

Humans are not perfect.  We make foolish mistakes.  We behave in ways that we know we shouldn't.  We make choices that we later question.  We take the wrong turn in the road and find ourselves at a dead end.  We run out of gas and find ourselves stranded at the edge of the road.  We trust someone when we should have been wary.  Even the most rational of beings can make foolish decisions.  And creative leaders are not immune from this disease of foolishness.  Read the biography of any writer, artist or musician and you will find story after story of mistakes.  

Are you enthusiastic about your mistakes or do you try to sweep them under a carpet so no one finds out?  Do you celebrate your foolishness with a toast?  Are you able to laugh at your foolish mistakes?  Do you find humor in your imperfections?  Do you learn from your mistakes or are you doomed to repeat them again and again?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Eric Fischl

"What experience has shown me is that it takes your life to become an artist."

American Artist
1948 -

Becoming a painter, a poet, or a novelist takes a lifetime.  We are always in a state of becoming.  If we stop growing and changing, if we plateau, we die as artists.  We are on a journey.  The work we leave behind is the record of our journey.

Where are you on your artistic journey?  What challenges are you facing today?  What challenges have you learned to overcome?  What are your dreams for tomorrow?  What paths have you taken?  What roads have you avoided?

Don't despair if you feel you have lost your way.  Maybe you have just taken a detour and you will soon find your way again.  What we sometimes feel are the wrong roads turn out to be the right roads in the end.  We often cannot see the forest because of the trees.  Climb up the nearest tree and your world will change.  

I often hear people complaining about the weather.  It's too cloudy.  Too rainy.  Too cold.  Too hot.  Can't see the sun.  Yet if we get in an airplane and fly above the clouds, the sun is there.  It is always there.  So don't become discouraged.  Instead change your perspective.

Here is Eric Fischl talking about one of his paintings.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Matsuo Basho

"Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought."

Japanese Haiku Poet
1644 - 1694

Poems by Basho on Tanzaku paper
Yamagata Museum of Art

Sometimes we seek to copy the masters.  We need instead to look deeper than the surface technique and understand what they were attempting to accomplish — what was the passion in their lives.  We need to connect with their souls.  What was their moment of enlightenment?

I believe we have a spiritual connection with those artists and writers who have gone before us.  We need to explore this connection and learn from it.  We should not simply copy what we like.  We should connect with the meaning in their work.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your art?  What do you want others to perceive in your writing?  What is your understanding of the universe?  Have you achieved enlightenment?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Walt Disney

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity leads us down new paths."

American Film Director, Producer
1901 - 1966

Are you curious about the world around you?  Curiosity fuels our creative thinking.  Curiosity provides the sparks for new ideas.  Disney was the creative genius who changed the world of filmmaking and animation.  What are you doing to change your world?  How are you challenging yourself to try new ideas?  How are you stepping outside your comfort zone?

It is easy to get caught in a rut — to do what is safe and secure.  Creative leaders need to keep moving and growing.  They need to walk down new paths and open new doors.  They need to be curious.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Music is the universal language of mankind."

American Poet
1807 - 1882

Music is a special art form in that it touches the soul at a deeper level than most of the other arts.  Music can cross language barriers often without translation.  Music connects people in ways that the other arts don't.  When we are happy, we all have a desire to sing with a joyful voice.  When we are sad, our singing gives voice to our melancholy.

In college when I was blue, I would walk along the railroad tracks and sing to myself.  I cannot carry a tune, but when alone I will sing to myself.  Music moves me at a deep level.  

During the last 24 years, I have seen the impact of music on my training classes.  I have the participants of my classes sing and dance as part of the class.  I am amazed at the power of music to break down barriers and cause people to open up and share their thoughts and feelings.

Many writers and artists listen to music when they are creating.  What kind of music do you listen to when you are creating?  What music gets your creative juices flowing?

Here is a video of Carrie Underwood inspiring an audience of country and western singers with her rendition of How Great Thou Art.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Grace Hartigan

Frank O'Hara
"I cannot expect even my own art to provide all the answers — only to hope to it keeps asking the right questions."

American Painter
1922 - 2008

What questions are you asking with your art?  One of the roles of a creative leader is to challenge the status quo?  To ask questions that others are afraid to ask.  Seldom do artists provide the answers.  Then we would be preaching.  Our job is to question and to question our questions?  To ask what others won't ask.

What questions are you raising with your art?  Your writing?  Your music?  In recent years my poems are questioning what God is.  I have had other writers tell me you can't write about God or the soul — that these words are too limited and vague.  And yet I know it is what I must write about.  I must raise the questions.  I must challenge our understanding of God.  I know I don't have the answers — that I will probably never have the answers, but I must keep asking.

Here is a fabulous video of Grace Hartigan talking about her art.  Be patient because the movie is slow to start.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Alan Watts

"Faith is, above all, openness; an act of trust in the unknown."

British Philosopher, Writer, Speaker
1915 - 1973

Creative leaders need faith in their talent and in their ability to find the answers to the problems they face in their artistic endeavors.  This requires being open to new ways of viewing the world — to believing the answer lies within the psychic.  Creative leaders must also trust the unknown.  

When you find yourself staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank canvas have the faith that you will fill it and complete your story, your poem or your painting.  You must have faith in yourself and trust that you have the skill and the talent to complete the work.  If you lose faith,  you will fail.

Do you have faith in yourself?  In your talent?  In your skill?  In your artistic vision?  Do you trust that you will produce the creative work that you are meant to produce?  Do you trust the unknown?

Listen to Alan Watts in this animation video.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kimon Nicolaides

"Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see — to see correctly — and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye."

American Artist, Teacher, Author
1891 - 1938

The arts involve the five senses of seeing, hearing, touch, taste and smell.  We understand the world in which we live through these five senses.  How we see the world impacts our ability to draw, paint and write.  

When I arrived home yesterday, my wife asked if I had noticed a hat hanging on one of my favorite wood statues.  I had not.  She said the hat had been there for several weeks.  My visual intake of the world around me is very selective.  I never notice the clothes people wear and I could not tell you what you were wearing yesterday.  Yet, if I visit a place I have not seen in five years, I will recognize the buildings.  

I put very little description of places and people in my writing.  And when I am reading a book with a lot of description, I tend to skip over it.

On the other hand, I am very auditory.  I can hear the slightest change in the tone of a voice.  I can hear the softest of sounds.  I cannot sleep with the radio or TV playing.  But I cannot sing worth a lick.  In fact, some people would say I am tone deaf.

How do the five senses impact your painting or writing?  Are you a visual person?  An auditory person?  How about the senses of touch, taste and smell?

Friday, April 22, 2011

James Baldwin

"One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself — that is to say, risking oneself.  If one cannot risk oneself then one is simply incapable of giving."

American Novelist
1924 - 1987

All art is risk.  As creative leaders we risk being vulnerable to criticism and ridicule.  We risk doubt and failure.  We risk being misunderstood.  Yet, there is no creation without risk.  There is no art without giving of oneself.

Taking a risk requires that we step out of our comfort zone and try something new.  Taking risk helps us to grow and progress as artists.  Taking a risk means that we might fail.  Taking a risk requires courage.

What risks are you not taking because you are afraid?  What risks do you want to take but you don't have the courage?  If you knew that you would die in a year, what risks would you take today?  What truth have you not told because you are afraid of what others might say?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Robin Moore

"To truly own a story, you must fashion it and shape it, as you would a garment, to fit your frame."

American Storyteller, Writer
1950 - 


Do you own the stories you tell with your art?  Do the stories you tell touch your heart?  Do they bring tears to your eyes?  Art is about communicating emotion through the stories we tell.  Reach deep inside your soul and touch the power of who you are.  Show us the love you feel.

During the last thirty years there has been a rebirth of oral storytelling in the United States.  Robin Moore has been one of the leaders of this storytelling movement.  For me, there is a lot to be said about the oral tradition.  Prior to the invention of the printing press, storytelling was how people shared information and entertained each other.  And while I love the printed word and average reading about two books a month, I find something exciting about listening to a well told story that makes me laugh and cry.

In the final analysis when we look back across our lives all we have are our memories and our stories.  The jobs we hold and the money we make have little value when our days on the planet are coming to a close.  As a creative leader, you should mine your experiences for stories to share in your paintings, your poetry and your novels. 

Here is Robin Moore talking about story and community.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Salvador Dali

"Have no fear of perfection — you'll never reach it."

Spanish Artist
1904 - 1989

Are you a perfectionist when it comes to your art?  Are you obsessed with crossing every T and dotting every I?  During much of my life I have been a perfectionist and there are still moments when perfectionism will raise its ugly head.  The older I get the more mellow I become.  I don't have as much need to be sure that everything is perfect. 

Where does perfectionism come from?  I think it comes from the need and desire to please others.  We don't want to disappoint those we love.  We fear if we make a mistake we might lose the love of others.  

Learn to let go of your desire to be perfect, because as Salvador Dali says: "you'll never reach it."  Learn to accept imperfection.  Imperfection has its own beauty.  Everything in this world is flawed.  Nothing is perfect or permanent.  Mistakes are okay.  Failure is a chance to begin again.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weldon Kees

"Modern society pushes people in the groove.  Although I was always interested in music and painting as well as poetry, at first I thought I had to concentrate on writing. . . one thing only.  But then the urge to paint was so strong I just went ahead and started oils.  And I didn't give up my writing — one did not exclude the other."

American Poet, Painter, Composer, Short Story Writer
1914 - 1955

As a creative leader, do you limit you creative expression to one type of art?  The common myth is that people can only do one thing.  Write poetry?  Paint portraits?  Compose music?  Write novels?  The myth is that we should focus on only one form of expression; otherwise, we will dilute our creativity not not do anything well.  We have become a society of specialists.  Painters should not write.  Writers should not play a musical instrument.  Actors should not write.

Kees believed that he could both paint and write.  "He said, "Shifting from one to the other I don't get into periods of absolute sterility that are often experienced by writers who just write, or painters who just paint."

Are you suffering from writer's block?  Pick up a paint brush and explore the world of color. Are you bored with painting?  Pick up a pen and write about your feelings.  Flipping back and forth between various art forms will keep you and your ideas fresh.

Here is a poem by Weldon Kees.

The Upstairs Room

It must have been in March the rug wore through.
Now the day passes and I stare
At warped pine boards my father's father nailed,
At the twisted grain.  Exposed, where emptiness allows,
Are the wormholes of eighty years; four generations' shoes
Stumble and scrape and fall
To the floor my father stained,
The new blood streaming from his head.  The drift
Of autumn fires and a century's cigars, that gun's
Magnanimous and brutal smoke, endure.
In March the rug was ragged as the past.  The thread
Rots like the lives we fasten on.  Now it is August,
And the floor is blank, worn smooth,
And, for my life, imperishable.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sidney Nolan

"Painting is an extension of man's means of communication.  As such, it's pure, difficult, and wonderful."

Australian Artist
1917 - 1992

All the arts are about communication.  Whether you paint, write, sing or act, you are involved in the process of communicating.  And communication is one of the most difficult aspects of being human.  We never seem to get it right.  Marriages break up over the inability to communicate.  Children don't speak to their parents.  Bosses fail to inspire their employees.

Painting, poetry and novels are highly specialized forms of communication — an attempt by the artist to tell the world what he is feeling.  And sometimes he is successful and sometimes he is not.  Take this painting, Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringbark Creek, by Sidney Nolan.  What does it communicate to you?  If I asked 10 different people the same question, I bet I would get 10 different answers.  Communication is very difficult.  If it was easy, we probably would not have a need for creative leaders who work hard at communicating.

Even artists and writers don't always know what they are communicating with their creative work.  Paintings, poetry and novels are often communicating on multiple levels with multiple messages.  The painter, poet and novelist are aware of some of these messages but not all of them.  That is what makes art so fascinating.

If you are interested in feedback from your audience, don't ask whether they liked the work or if it was any good.  Ask: "What does my painting, poem or story communicate to you?"  Then listen with your heart and soul.  You may be amazed at what others see in your work.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Edgar Degas

"Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things."

French Artist
1834 - 1917

Have you ever become so lost in your creativity that you don't know what you are doing?  I sometimes become so caught up in the writing of the moment that I don't realize what I am saying.  I read my writing a day or two later and am surprised by what I said.  The more I can quiet the conscious mind and let the subconscious mind take charge, the more creative the writing becomes.  

The difference between the conscious mind and subconscious mind is one of control.  The subconscious is more wild, free and metaphoric.  The conscious mind is more analytical, linear and controlling.  Creativity requires entering the subconscious and exploring the world through its eyes.  The more we try to control our art the less creative and original it becomes.  The more we relinquish control, the stronger the creative impulse.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ernest Hemingway

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."

— Ernest Hemingway
American Novelist
1899 - 1961

This is an amazing statement from a writer whom many would call a master.  I think what Hemingway is saying is that we should never stop learning about our craft.  Even the best of the best can learn something new — can improve their craft.  The task of becoming good never ends.  We are all apprentices — beginners.  We must come to the task of creating each work of art as a beginner would.

Those who believe there is nothing left to learn have stopped growing and will soon be spiritually dead and doomed to a life of repetition.  Life is in the learning.  Life is in the growing.  So don't despair if you don't know everything because you never will.  Don't despair if you haven't perfected your craft.  The joy is in the learning.  The joy is in the discovery of ways to improve your craft.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rita Dove

"Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful."

American Poet
1952 - 

If you stripped your art down to the bare bones, what would be left?  A line? A word?  An emotion?  If you look at the history of the arts, you will notice that artists vacillate between extravagance and simplicity, between embellishment and bare bones.  My style has been one of simple speech, with few big words or large flourishes.  If you distilled your art down to its essence, what would you find?  What is at the core of your art?

April is poetry month.  Here is a poem by Rita Dove.

"Teach Us To Number Our Days"

In  the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor
is more elaborate than the last.
The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet.

Low-rent balconies stacked to the sky.
A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon
crossed by TV antennae, dreams

he has swallowed a blue bean.
It takes root in his gut, sprouts
and twines upward, the vines curling
around the sockets and locking them shut.

And this sky, knotting like a dark tie?
The patroller, disinterested, holds all the beans.

August.  The mums nod past, each prickly heart on a sleeve.

(By Rita Dove from Yellow House on the Corner, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989)

Here is Rita Dove reading another of her poems.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Charles Baudelaire

"Any healthy man can go without food for two days — but not poetry."

French Poet
1821 - 1867

Obviously, Baudelaire was passionate about poetry.  Are you passionate about your creative work?  Are you able to live without producing a poem, a play or a painting?  While my goal is to write every day, there are some days I don't have the time.  If I don't write for several days, I can feel my need to write growing within my spirit.  I have to sit down and put pen to paper.

There are three levels of involvement that people have with their art.  These levels are best illustrated by the three key players in breakfast.  The first level is illustrated by the farmer.  He is hungry and wants something to eat.  He is interested in the breakfast.  The hen illustrates the second level.  She is committed to the breakfast.  She is willing to share her eggs with the farmer.  The pig illustrates the third level.  He is passionate about the breakfast because he is willing to put his bacon on the line.  Are you just interested in your art much like the farmer?  Or are you committed to your art like the hen?  Or are you passionate about your art like the pig?  Are you willing to put your bacon on line for your art?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Walt Whitman

"To have great poets there must be great audiences too."

American Poet
1819 - 1892

I have been listening to a biography of the singer, Marvin Gaye, and one of the emotional struggles he faced was whether to write and produce the kind of songs that he wanted to and his muse demanded or to write songs for his audience.  Gaye apparently vacilated back and forth.  He felt guilty when he pandered to his audience and the money they gave him.  He felt he was betraying his musical vision.  Every artist, writer, actor and singer has experienced similar frustrations.  We want our work to be accepted by the public, but we don't want them to dictate what we create.  It is a fine balancing act.

Every artistic work requires an audience whether it is an audience of one or a thousand.  The great artists, writers, poets are fortunate to find great audiences, even though it may be after they die.  And sometimes great audiences will push the artists to create even greater works.  Actors and musicians will tell you that live audiences impact their performances positively and negatively.

Who do you create for?  Yourself?  Or your audience?  Are you frustrated by having to create what people want to buy?  How do you balance the demands of your muse and the expectations of your audience?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Richard Wollheim

"Learning appears as a way of staying young, perhaps of staying alive, and also as a way of growing up, perhaps facing death."

British Author, Philosopher
1923 - 2003

Life-long learning is a powerful habit to develop.  Learning something new keeps us in touch with our youth and helps us to stay active and alive.  What have you learned in the last week?  Who has taught you something new about yourself or your art?  

We experience the world through our senses — hearing, seeing, tasting, touching and smelling.  And what we experience teaches us much if we are paying attention and alert to the possibilities.  Did you smell the wind today?  Did you hear the approaching storm?  Do you taste the rain on your face?

From the time we are born until we die, our purpose is to learn, to grow, and to change.  Most learning does not occur in school and we don't stop learning once we graduate.  Cultivate a learning attitude.  Unfortunately, many people do not learn from their mistakes.  They are not willing to change and grow.  To be a great artist or writer, you must be constantly learning about the world in which we inhabit.

And when we face death, it will teach us much that we have forgotten.  Do not be afraid of death.  Understand that it is a gift.  It is a door through which we pass, a gate that leads to another world.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Power of Words

Do you believe in the power of words to change people?  Watch this.

Paula Rego

"To find one's way anywhere one has to find one's door, just like Alice, you see.  You take too much of one thing and you get too big, then you take too much of another and you get too small.  You've got to find your own doorway into things."

Portuguese Artist
1935 -

The doors we open and the doors we close hold the keys to our success.  What doors have you failed to open that would catapult you miles down the road?  What doors if you learned to shut them and throw away the key would prevent others from zapping your energy?

The door is an amazing invention.  It keeps out those people we don't want in our lives yet allows us to choose who can enter and keep us company.  The door serves a similar function for creative leaders.  We can keep out those elements of our lives that we don't want to appear in our art and we can invite in what we want to appear in our art.

The Family
To paraphrase the poet, Robert Frost, doors make good families.  Doors give us privacy and keep prying eyes from seeing what we don't want them to see.  Some doors are simple and others are complex.  Some doors have intricate designs and others are plain.  Doors help us to manage and control our lives.  Doors help us to hide things we don't want people to see and to reveal things we want people to see.

Can you identify the doors in your life?  Do these doors help you be more creative or do they restrict your creativity?  Do you need to replace some of the doors in your life?  Do you need to add doors to your life?

Here is a video with more of Paula Rego's paintings.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Maria Luz Q. King

"I have learned that in life nothing is forever, so maybe our dreams are not meant to be forever.  But the memory is forever!  The memories are what we take to heaven."

Mexican-American Artist, Author
1952 - 

Have you ever let go of your dreams?  I don't mean quit on your dreams.  I don't mean give up on your dreams.  I mean let them go.  Maybe you have outgrown them.  Or maybe you achieved the dream for a short period of time and that was enough.  Maybe our dreams are not meant to be forever.  Nothing in this physical world is permanent.  Nothing lasts forever.  The seasons come and go.  And so do people.  

Are there dreams that you need to let go of?  Are there dreams that are holding you back from success?  Sometimes our fantasies and dreams become barriers that prevent us from becoming whom we need to become.  Are you clinging to some dream that will never happen?  Is it time to let the dream go?

Where do our dreams come from?  Our genes?  Our parents?  Society?  God?  Do we take our dreams with us when we die?  Or do our dreams die with our bodies?  I think our dreams are gifts that provide meaning to our lives.  Our dreams inspire us to do more — to achieve more, to be more.