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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Winston S. Churchill

Churchill, Age 26
"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."

— Winston S. Churchill
British Artist, Historian, Writer and Statesman
1874 - 1965

Churchill painting (1946)
Churchill was a man who faced both failure and success multiple times throughout his life.  He did poorly in school, had a speech impediment, grieved the death of a child, smoked Havana cigars, and was captured and spent time as a prisoner of war in South Africa.  He wrote a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs and several books of history.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.  He painted hundreds of paintings and several now hang in museums.  He served as the Prime Minister of Great Britain twice.  So when Churchill speaks of failure and success we all should listen.

We all face both failure and success in our lives.  How we respond to what life hands us will tell others a lot about our character.  When you suffer the humiliation of defeat and rejection, how do you respond?  Do you become angry?  Do you seek revenge?  Do you withdrawal into depression?  When you receive some honor and are applauded by everyone, how do you respond?  Does the recognition go to your head and you become arrogant?  Do you act like a diva and expect everyone to do your bidding?  How we deal with the successes and failures of life tells us a lot about ourselves.

Daybreak at Cassis, near Marseilles

Monday, May 30, 2011

Albert Einstein

"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.  Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world."

German Theoretical Physicist
1879 - 1955

Unfortunately, most schools are focused on increasing the knowledge of their students, not their imagination.  And while knowledge is important, imagination is even more important.  There is a limit to how much knowledge we can gain and retain.  The span and accuracy of knowledge is constantly changing and expanding.  What is considered truth today is considered foolish tomorrow.  Once people believed the earth was flat.  We would be much better off if our schools also encouraged imagination.

And the same can be said about creative leaders.  Many artists, writers, actors and musicians study to increase their knowledge of their art.  And this knowledge is good but limited.  We need to be encouraging our imaginations.  We should be exploring the worlds of our imaginations.  What are you doing to increase your imagination?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cynthia Ozick

"We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude."

— Cynthia Ozick
American Novelist
1928 -

Are you thankful for the abilities, talents and gifts that you have?  The gift of sight is something that many of us take for granted on most days and yet without it our lives would be dramatically altered.  Our ability to see allows us to navigate the world in which we live and gives us the opportunity to go where we want without assistance.  Writing that novel or painting that canvas would be much more difficult if you could not see.  You would not be able to read a book unless you learned Braille or listened to books.  You would not be able to see the faces of those you love.  Give thanks for your ability to see every day.

Are you thankful for your ability to hear?  What would your life be like if you were deaf?  You would not be able to listen to music or hear the words, "I love you."  Yes, you still should be able to write that great novel or paint that masterpiece, but you would miss out on much that happens around you.  You wouldn't hear the birds singing in the morning or the wind in the trees or the rain falling.  Be thankful that you still have your ability to hear.

Life gives us so many challenges and difficulties that we often lose sight of what we have.  We become lost in all the things we don't have.  We are unhappy because we have not published a novel or sold a painting.  We wish we were rich and famous.  Life is so precious.  We should be happy that we awoke this morning and are still above ground.  We should be happy that people love us and care for us.

Learn to develop an attitude of gratitude.  Give thanks every day for the gifts you have been given.   I challenge you sit down right now and write down ten things that your are grateful for.  Post them to this blog if you would like to share.

Here is a video of Ozick discussing her life and writing.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Larry Wilde

"Like all creative souls, writers learn over time that while they may be failing, they are not failures.  They learn from their mistakes, and they keep on going.  When it seems they've hit a stone wall, they find a way to move ahead.  Even if it takes them down a radically different path."

American Writer, Speaker
1928 - 

The challenge that many creative leaders face is learning to separate their creations from who they are.  If we identify too closely with our creations, we will not be able to handle criticism or failure.  We must realize that we are much more than our creations.  We are human beings with friends, families and other important relationships.  If we let the failure of our creations to depress or anger us, we are identifying too closely with them.  Sometimes our creations will not find a worshiping or adoring audience.  And this is okay.  Learn not to depend on the praise of others — editors, publishers, readers, critics, etc.  Taste is arbitrary and fickle.  Believe in your work and some day an audience will appear.  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Terry McMillan

"Writing is my shelter.  I don't hide behind the words; I use them to dig inside my heart to find the truth."

American Novelist
1951 -

What is your art for you?  Is it your shelter?  Your protection?  Your connection to the outside world? Whether we are writers, painters or poets, our art serves us in many ways.  Sometimes it provides us hope for a better world.  Sometimes it provides us with the strength to go on living.  Often it saves us from our own worst selves.  Some of us are better people because of our art.

Do you tell the truth with your art?  Do you share what needs to be shared.  Or do you hide behind your art?  Do you dig deep inside your soul and reveal the truth?  Or do you share only what floats on the surface of the water?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Robert Browning

"A moment's success pays for the failure of years."

English Poet
1812 - 1889

Success is short-lived and fleeting.  Success rarely makes you a better person.  The demons that haunted you when you were a failure still haunt you when you are a success.  In fact, success often makes the demons worse.  Success has even destroyed some creative leaders.  Yet, ask any writer, singer, actor or artist if those years of failure, hardship and poverty were worth that moment of success, and most will say yes.

Here is a poem by Robert Browning about two lovers sneaking out to meet each other late at night.

Meeting at Night

The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low:
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Catherine Lanigan

"I learned that writers make something out of nothing.  We make dreams into reality.  That's our nature, our mission.  We were born to it.  I will never give up my dream again.  Never." 

American Writer
1947 - 

Catherine Lanigan gave up on her dream of writing while in college because a college professor told her she had no talent.  Years later after encouragement from a journalist, she returned to writing. 

We all have people who try to destroy our dreams and it takes courage to stand up to them.  If you are a beginning artist, writer, actor or singer, don't ask if you have talent.  No one can judge that but you.  Ask if you have the passion and persistence to keep creating even when others discourage you.  Ask if you have the heart and the courage to stand up for what you believe in.

Writers and artists make something from nothing.  They take a blank canvas and fill it with color.  They take a blank sheet of paper and fill it with story.  Believe in your dream.  Believe in yourself.  Believe in your creative gift.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wassily Kandinsky

"The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning."

— Wassily Kandinsky
Russian Artist
1866 - 1944

When I graduated from college, I wanted to be a writer, but I had no idea what to write about. I had nothing to say — nothing that I wanted to say.  I had an idea about writing a historical novel about a sleeping preacher who had lived at the beginning of the 20th century.  Maybe through the life of someone else, I would find something to write about.  The novel never materialized.  I failed at the research.

Creative leaders must have something to say — something that needs saying.  If we focus on form but have no substance, we will not be successful.  Substance has the power to overcome weak technique, but technique cannot support a lack of substance.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?  What is the message that you want to deliver to the world.  What is the substance of your writing?  Or have you allowed your mastery of technique to overshadow the substance?

Composition X

Monday, May 23, 2011

Marsden Hartley

Photograph of Marsden Hartley
by Alfred Stieglitz
"My work is getting stronger & stronger and more intense all the time.... I have such a rush of new energy & notions coming into my head, over my horizon like chariots of fire that all I want is freedom to step aside and execute them."

— Marsden Hartley
American Painter, Poet
1877 - 1943

Have you ever experienced that moment when the ideas flowed and you had a hard time keeping up with them?  Your hand couldn't move fast enough.  People often talk about not being able to create — about being blocked, but they talk less about the moments when they can't stop working.  When they are in a zone and the work continues to flow.  These moments also happen.  Celebrate them when they do.  They are a gift.

Mountain Lake - Autumn

Here is a poem by Marsden, a prolific poet.

As the Buck Lay Dead

As the buck lay dead, tied to the fender
of a car
coming down the Matagomon way,
I saw dried blood on his tongue of
a thousand summer dreams and winter
cogitations —
the scratches on his hooves were signatures
of the many pungent sticks and branches.
The torn place in his chest was made
by a man
letting out visceral debris to save weight-giving
morsels to many a greedy fox or other wild
thing —
over the glaze of his half-shut eye
hung miscries of superlative moments
stuck dumb

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Leonard Baskin

"Art is man's distinctly human way of fighting death."

American Artist
1922 - 2000

Some of us have a desire to live forever and look for secrets to preserve our youth.  Others consider and even attempt suicide.  Some people run from death hoping to escape the long reach of its arms.  Others look death in the face and challenge it.  None of us will escape.

Creating works of art offer us a way to extend our lives beyond our deaths — to keep our legacy alive.  When others read our novels, listen to our songs, or view our paintings, we are given a second chance at life — a second chance to touch the lives of others with the truth as we know it.

Create as if you were dying today.  Paint from your heart.  Write from the depths of your soul. Sing with all the joy you can muster.  None of us know when our time is up — when the light of our life is extinguished so live each moment to the fullest.  Enjoy the gifts you have been given.  Love those who love you.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jean-Baptist-Camille Corot

Interrupted Reading
"Don't imitate, don't follow the others, or else you will lag behind them."

French Painter
1796 - 1875

As a creative leader, you want to standout.  You need to develop your own unique style.  This can not happen if you are imitating others.  Follow your vision, not the vision of others.  Be innovative and different.  Set the standard for others to follow.  

When you follow your own vision, there will be detractors who tell you it can't be done.  Ignore the naysayers — those who say you are a fool.   Don't listen to their negativity.  Hold true to your heart and to what you believe to be the path for you.

The Bridge at Nantes

Friday, May 20, 2011

Margaret Atwood

"Perhaps I write for no one.  Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

Canadian Novelist, Poet
1939 - 

Have you written your name in the snow?  Have you carved your name on a tree?  Have you scratched your name on the sidewalk?  Have you painted your name in the heavens?  Most of us want the world to know who we are.  And on one level that is why we paint, write and sing.  So that 100 years, 500 years, even 1000 years from now someone knows our name.  We want to leave a legacy of work.  We want to be remembered. 

I have read of writers, artists and actors who were famous while they were alive but forgotten within 20 years of their death.  I have also read of people who were unknown in their lifetime, but remembered hundreds of years after their death.  Vincent Van Gogh is a perfect example.  He died believing he was a failure and had only sold one painting in his lifetime.  More than a hundred years after his death, he is one of the most celebrated artists in the world.

Let me ask you a question.  If you had to choose between fame and fortune in your lifetime or having your creative work celebrated a thousand years from now, which would you choose? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Abigail Adams

"Learning is not attained by chance.  It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence."

Letter Writer
First Lady, Wife of John Adams 
1744 - 1818

I am a strong believer that creative leaders should be life-long learners.  One of the main reasons we are here is to learn and grow as human beings.  Learning comes in many ways and from many places.  Other people can teach us a lot if we are paying attention.  People come into our lives to teach us something.  And sometimes we resist learning what they have to teach so we make the same mistakes again and again.  Are you paying attention to what the people in your life are teaching you?  Are there people who make you angry?  What are they trying to teach you?  Are there people who have hurt you?  What are they teaching you?  What are you learning from the pain?  Are people giving you advice that you have chosen not to listen to?  Are there people who encourage you and you ignore them?  What are you learning from the people in your life?  What are you learning that will improve your relationships and improve your artistic creations?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Henry Moore

"Between beauty of expression and power of expression there is a difference of function.  The first aims at pleasing the senses, the second has a spiritual vitality which for me is more moving and goes deeper than the senses."

— Henry Moore
British Sculptor
1898 - 1986

Which is more important the beauty of what is said or the power of what is said?  I agree with Moore that the impact of what is communicated is more important than the beauty with which it is communicated.  It doesn't matter whether you are talking art, literature or music.  Too much emphasis in our culture has been put on beauty.  Form often wins out over substance.  For me, the substance of the art matters more.  The spiritual aspect of the communication is more important than the surface beauty.  Some works of art have both beauty and substance.  But if I must choose, I choose substance over beauty.  When you look at a painting, listen to music or read a novel, what is more important to you:  what is said or how it is said?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Arvo Part

Portrait of Arvo Part
(2011 by Michael) 
"I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played.  This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me."

— Arvo Part
Estonian Classical Composer
1935 -

Many of the poems I have written are full of simple words and simple images.  I spent seven years early in my career writing haiku, a Japanese poetic form, that has a maximum of 17 syllables.  Most of my haiku are less than 17 syllables.  Here is one with four words and six syllables.

pregnant —
    she weeds

Here is one with three words and six syllables.

    underfoot —

For me, it is what is not said sometimes that is as important as what is said.  Listen to the silences between the words — the silences within the images, the silences between the notes.  Some writers are lavish with their words and sentences.  One of my favorites is John Irving.  His novels are written as circles within circles — very complex in construction and development and I enjoy them.  Some writers, artists and musicians seek simplicity in their work.  Arvo Part, the Estonian composer, is one of them.

Here is a track from his album, Alina.  Enjoy the pictures as well as the music.

We need both the simple and the complex in our lives.  If you are complex artist, seek simplicity in a few of your works.  If you are a simple artist, seek complexity.  And don't be fooled into thinking simple works are not as good as complex works.  Sometimes simple works are harder to create than complex works.  In a 500 page novel, you can make a few mistakes and nobody will notice.  In a haiku, one wrong word will ruin the haiku.

Here is a short poem, I wrote back in March 2011.

Your breath,
a feather

of love,
touches my ear.

I listen
to the moon

and cry softly.

(The portrait of Arvo Part above was done by Michael.  Check out his blog, Red. Yellow. Blue.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Frida Kahlo

"I paint my own reality.  The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration."

— Frida Kahlo
Mexican Painter
1907 - 1954

Do you paint the world as you see it or do you paint the world as it really is?  Can we as artists and writers know the world as it really is?  Or do we only experience a version of the world?  Only what our eyes, ears and nose tell us is out there.  Is the world we experience internal or external?  Is the world we remember internal or external?  

Roots (1943)
Sold for $5.6 million (2006)

Do you paint whatever passes through your mind?  Or do you censure what you paint because you think others won't like it or won't appreciate it or won't buy it?  Our minds often serve as judges who tell us what we should or shouldn't paint.  Our minds often limit us and hold us back from producing the art we want to produce.  Frida Kahlo was not that type of artist.  She painted the pain she felt.  She did not limit her art because she felt others wouldn't like it or understand it.  She painted the world as she saw it.  

Here is the movie trailer for the great movie of Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek.  If you have not seen this movie, you need to see it today.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Graham Greene

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation."

British Novelist
1904 - 1991

Have you ever thought of your writing or your painting as a form of therapy, as a way to help you through the challenges you face in life with at least a part of your sanity?  This goes to the heart of who do we create for?  Ourselves or others?  I think the answer for the most part is ourselves.  If we write what others want us to write or paint what others want us to paint, I think we hurt ourselves more than help ourselves.  We all have demons in our lives that we must work through.  For some it is their childhood.  For others it is the death of someone they loved dearly.  For others it is the spiritual doubts they have.  Creating works of art helps us cope with the pain that is at the heart of our lives.  It helps us face the fears that try to force us into hiding.  It helps us to keep the madness at bay for a little while.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Vincent Van Gogh

"If you hear a voice within you say, 'You cannot paint,' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."

— Vincent van Gogh
Dutch Painter
1853 - 1890

Most of us have a voice inside that plants seeds of doubt in our hearts.  "You can't paint.  You can't write.  You can't draw.  You can't speak.  You can't sing...."  The list goes on and on.  Today we call it self-talk.  One expert says that 75% of what we say to ourselves is negative.   We need to silence that negative voice by proving him wrong.  Don't listen to that negative voice that is determined to make you fail.  Keep writing.  Keep painting.  Keep drawing.

When I teach people how to be better speakers, I talk about that second voice sitting on their shoulders.  When I first started speaking, I heard two voices — the one coming out of my mouth and the one sitting on my shoulder.  The one was positive and upbeat.  The second was nervous and negative.  The more often I spoke, the less vocal the second voice became.  Today I rarely hear that negative voice.  And when I do, I give him a quick kick and he is gone.

And the same is true of my writing.  I used to hear the voice of doubt shouting in my ear.  Today, I can barely hear him mumble.  And when he does appear, he is skin and bones and dressed in rags.  Soon he will be homeless.

The First Steps, After Jean Francis Millet
(January 1890)

I have written two poems in response to this painting, The First Steps, by Van Gogh:  A Father's Dream from the point of view of the father and A Mother's Grief from the point of view of the mother.  Just click on the titles.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Leopold Stokowski

"A painter paints pictures on canvas.  But musicians paint their pictures on silence."

— Leopold Stokowski
1882 - 1977
British Orchestral Conductor

Have you ever listened to silence?  These days it is hard to find silence, because there is so much white noise.  Even in nature there is little silence.  We hear the wind, the insects, the birds and the animals.  We fill our days with noise from the moment we wake until the moment we sleep.  We turn on the television, plug in our I-Pods, and turn on our computers.   And some of us are afraid of silence.  If silence appears in a conversation, we become nervous.  Many of us can't be home by ourselves without turning on the TV or the radio so we have noise.  And cell phones allow us to stay connected to human voices so we don't feel alone even if we are deep in the woods.  I believe silence is a good thing and that we need to find ways to enjoy it more.  As an artist and writer I need silence to hear the voice of my muse.  Too much chaotic noise blocks the sweet voice of my muse.  Do you run from silence or have you learned to appreciate it?

Here is a video of Leopold Stokowski conducting Tchaikovsky.  Watch his hands paint the silence.  Fantastic1


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci

in red chalk
"Art is never finished, only abandoned."

— Leonardo da Vinci
Italian Artist
1452 - 1519

Do you have paintings laying around that you have not finished?  Or stories that you can't seem to finish?  I have one such story.  No matter how many times I have rewritten it, I am never satisfied with the ending.  I put it away and and come back to it again and again.  I have a long eighty page poem about the life of my mother that I have never finished.  

Unfinished painting of
St. Jerome in the Wilderness
But I think da Vinci is driving at something even deeper.  No art is ever finished.  Sure we may sell a painting or publish a novel, but if we could we would go back and change it.  And some artists do.  I have read of writers making changes even as the novel is going to the printer.  

And sometimes a writer spends a lifetime rewriting the same story.  He may publish 10 novels, but each is a variation of the others.  And artists may paint the same subject over and over.  Each time trying to perfect what they missed before.  Are there certain themes that reappear in your writing and your paintings?  Are there certain personal issues that you are working out in your art?  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St. Francis of Assisi

"He who works with his hands is a laborer.  He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.  He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist."

— St. Francis of Assisi
Italian Friar and Preacher
Founder of the Franciscan Order
1181 - 1226

What makes a great painting, poem or novel is the heart of the artist.  Great art grows out of the heart, not the mind.  A person can perfect his technique and think new ideas, but if the work he produces does not have heart, it ultimately will fail.  Yet a work of art that has heart will be able to overcome poor technique and weak ideas.

Emotion is what connects one human being to another.  Emotion is what connects a work of art with the audience.  Emotion is what artists must put into their work.  Have you connected with your heart?  Do you create from the heart?  Do you feel as your heart feels?  Or are you lost somewhere in your mind, thinking up new thoughts and new ideas?  Ideas are not enough. We must feel the emotion behind what we create.