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Monday, December 31, 2012

Richard Avedon

"My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph."

— Richard Avedon
American Photographer
1923 - 2004

As a speaker one of the truths that I have learned is that a speaker often talks about what he himself has to learn.  And I believe the same is true about writers, artists and other creative leaders.  Our stories and poems are more about us than about the people we write about.  The subject matter we choose for our paintings is more about us than others.  We all have lessons that we need to learn in life.  For me, that is the chief reason we are here.  We need to learn and grow as human beings.  The creative process helps us learn those lessons.  Sometimes I run across a person who says he writes to help others and there is some truth in that statement.  But the heart of why he writes is to help himself.  I often say that I teach others what I myself need to learn over and over.  

Creative Practice
This week identify 5 life lessons that you have learned through the creative process and share those lessons with others.  Has the creative process taught you patience?  Have you learned about the importance of attention to detail?  Have you learned to trust your intuition?  How can these lessons learned in the creative process be applied to your life?

Background on Richard Avedon
Avedon was born in New York City to a Jewish Russian immigrant family.  His father owned and operated a successful retail dress business.  In high school he worked on the school newspaper with James Baldwin.  He joined the Merchant Marines in 1942 as a photographer.  In 1944 he worked as an advertising photographer for a department store.  In 1946 he set up his own studio and started publishing his photographs in Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and Life magazines.  In 1952 Avedon became the staff editor and photographer for Theater Arts Magazine.  In 1962 he became a staff photographer at Vogue magazine.  In 1992 he became the staff photographer for the New Yorker magazine.

Besides fashion photographer, Avedon turned his attention to studio portraits of civil rights workers, politicians and cultural dissidents.  He was interested in how portraits capture the personality and soul of its subject.  His subjects included Buster Keaton, Marian Anderson, Marilyn Monroe, Ezra Pound, Isak Dinesen, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Hillary Clinton, Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow and Andy Warhol.  He published more than a dozen books of his portraits and photographs.

Here is the first part of a documentary about Richard Avedon from the 1995 American Masters Series.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Paulo Coelho

"A boat is safe in the harbor.  
But this is not the purpose of a boat."

Brazilian Novelist
1947 -

Life is about balance, not extremes.  Sometimes we can be too careful.  We stay in  the harbor and never leave because we are afraid of what might happen out on the open ocean.  Sometimes we throw caution to the wind and venture into dangerous waters.  We behave in a reckless manner that endangers others as well as ourselves.  Too much of anything is harmful.  

So have you been sitting in the harbor too long?  Have you been waiting for the perfect wind so long that you have forgotten how to sail?  Or have you thrown yourself into an adventure without adequate preparation?  Are you seasick from the bumpy ride and looking for a safe harbor?  Life is about balance, not extremes.

Some writers sit on their manuscripts too long, wanting to make sure each word is perfect. I have read stories of writers making changes even as the book is headed to press.  Perfection does not exist.  We can always make changes in the next edition.  Other writers fail to put enough time into perfecting the manuscript.  They are sloppy.  Which are you?

Creative Practice
This week raise the sail on the boat that you have left in the harbor.  Prepare to sail into unknown waters.  Is there a manuscript you can send out that you have been unwilling to submit to the eyes of critics and editors?  Is there a painting that you have been wanting to complete, but have not had the courage?  Set sail for the unknown.

Background on Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He wanted to be a writer but his parents were opposed so he entered law school only to drop out after a year.  He traveled through South America, Mexico, Europe and North Africa.  Upon returning to Brazil, Coelho worked as a journalist, actor, songwriter and theater director.

In 1986, Coelho walked the 500-plus mile pilgrimage on the Road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.  Following the pilgrimage, he wrote his most famous book, The Alchemist, with a small Brazilian publisher.  The novel has sold more than 65 million copies and has been translated into 71 different languages.  He has published 30 books.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fiona Robyn

Satyavani Fiona Robyn"If we are serious about being artists, or about being true to ourselves, I believe that it is essential to spend time alone."

Satyavani Fiona Robyn
British Writer
1974 -

Do you spend time alone?  Most writers and artists would say: "Yes, I am alone with my writing and my art?  But are you comfortable being alone with your thoughts?  Or do you run away from thinking?  We need to become comfortable in our own skin — in being alone with our thoughts.  And some would say we need to be comfortable with no thought.  Have you ever been thoughtless?  I can honestly say I have not.  My mind rarely is still.  It slows down only when tired.  Even when I sleep, my mind is working overtime.  I seem to always be dreaming.  Scientists say that we only dream during REM sleep.  I do not find this to be true.  I dream sometimes even before I am fully asleep.  I dream during those twilight moments between wakefulness and sleep.  So when was the last time you were truly alone with your thoughts?  Not listening to the radio or the television or the neighbor talking?

Creative Practice
Find fifteen minutes this week when you are alone with your thoughts.  Not writing.  Not painting.  Not listening to music or podcasts.  Not watching television.  Not reading.  Take those fifteen minutes to explore your mind, to feel the texture of your thoughts, to open your heart to what your mind has to share.

About Fiona Robyn:  
Robyn is a published novelist, poet, psychotherapist and creativity coach.  She is fond of Earl Grey tea and home-made cake.

Quote Source:
A Year of Questions: How to Slow Down and Fall in Love with Life by Fiona Robyn

Website:  Writing Our Way Home

Monday, December 10, 2012

Denis Diderot

Painted by Louis-Michel van Loo
"Only passion, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things."

— Denis Diderot
French Art Critic, Writer
1713 - 1784

Are you passionate about your creative work?  Passion is key to achieving great work.  Without passion you will likely lose your way and become lost in the desert of disillusionment.  Without passion your work will be mediocre.  

Writing a novel takes years for most people.  You have to be passionate about your characters, about the people who inhabit your novel or your novel will fail.  If you don't like your characters, neither will others.  

Writing poetry has almost no financial award and very little recognition.  Are you passionate enough about writing poetry that you can do it for years in seclusion?  Are passionate enough to continue writing even when no one reads it or appreciates your skill? Passion drives the poetic soul.  

Painting by yourself in a studio day after day can be boring.  You long to meet people and talk.  You long for noise and interaction.  Do you have the passion to keep painting even when you are drawn to put the brush down.

Creative Practice
Make a list of 10 creative activities in which you are engaged.  Using a scale of 1 to 100, rate how passionate you are about each activity.  One means no passion.  100 means totally passionate.  Focus your creative efforts on the activities that you are most passionate about.  Stop engaging in creative activities that you are not passionate about.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Soren Kierkegaard

"Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living."

Danish Philosopher, Writer
1813 - 1855

We best learn about life by living — by living in the here and now.  Books will introduce us to many worlds and open up new universes of meaning.  We gain insights into many mysteries.  But life is the mentor that teaches the most profound lessons if we are open and ready to receive.  And if we are not ready, life will teach the same lesson again and again until we grasp it.

Creative work is like living life.  You have to do it.  Yes, books, classes and even teachers can help.  But the real work is in doing the work — of standing in front of easel and moving the brush or sitting at the table and moving the hand across the page.  Doing the work teaches the most profound and important lessons if we are ready.  Many people hesitate to do the work because they believe they are not ready.  And if they don't do the work, they will never learn the lessons needed to be successful.

Creative Practice
This week make a list of the lessons that life has taught you.  Don't stop until you have at least ten.  And these should not be lessons that you heard or read about.  These should be lessons that you learned through experience.  Maybe it was a broken heart.  Or the death of someone close to you.  Or the fact that you were fired from your job.  Maybe it was falling in love with your soul mate.  Or not being asked to the homecoming dance.  After you have identify the lessons that you have learned.  Select one lesson and write about the experience or illustrate it.