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Monday, April 29, 2013

Edgar Degas

"A picture is first of all a product of the imagination of the artist; it must never be a copy . . . . The air we see in the painting of the old masters is never the air that we breathe."

Edgar Degas
French Painter
1834 - 1917

We all need to encourage, foster and invest in our imagination.  Without imagination, most art, writing and music fail.  Imagination is what we the creators bring to the table.  All creative people have the same raw material.  How we mold and shape that material is what makes each creative person different. 

If we merely copy the work of others, then we are technicians following a pattern.  We need to alter and reshape the landscape of the world we inhabit.  We must imagine new ways of seeing.

Young children are very imaginative.  We all need to become a child again and see the world through a child's eyes.  We need to see the world as if we have never seen it before.  We need to see the world with fresh eyes untainted by experience and knowledge.

Creative Practice
This week I want you to step outside your comfort zone and explore the movement of your body.  Find a large space and where you can move about freely.  Dress in loose-fitting clothes.  Move about the space and explore the following through movement.  (You may want to watch the video below before you start.)
  • Become the color red.
  • Change into a rabbit.
  • Become light blue.
  • Fly like an eagle.
  • Become the color green.
  • Climb like a monkey.
  • Become the tree the monkey is climbing.
  • Become bright pink.
  • Become a runner who has just finished a marathon.
  • Become the bride walking down the aisle to her future husband.
Now, sit down and write for 30 minutes.  After you have finished writing, ask yourself what you learned through this process.  How did the movement influence your writing?

Background of Artist
Edgar Degas was born in Paris, France, the eldest of five children of a modestly wealthy family.  His mother died when he was thirteen.  He began painting at a young age.  His father wanted him to study law, but he did not apply himself to his studies.  He entered art school when he was twenty.  He also spent three years in Italy studying the Italian masters. In 1872 he traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana where his Creole mother was from.  He lived with relatives for a short period of time.

Degas is often identified with the Impressionists, though, he did not identify himself in that way.  He preferred to be called a realist.  His style showed a deep respect for the old masters whom he copied well into middle age.  He began by painting conventional historical paintings such as the Daughter of Jephthah (1859 - 1861) and the Young Spartans (1860 - 62).  In the late 1860's, Degas shifted his subject matter from historical events to contemporary life.  He painted women such as milliners and laundresses at work.  In 1868 he exhibited the first of his paintings of dancers.  More than half his creative output is of dancers.

One of the most powerful classes I have ever taken was a class in in creative drama where we explored the world around us through our bodies.  In order to portray a character, actors have to have immense imagination.  Watch this video of a acting class.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Robert Greene

"At your birth a seed is planted.  That seed is your uniqueness.  It wants to grow, transform itself, and flower to its full potential.  It has a natural, assertive energy to it. Your Life's Task is to bring that seed to flower, to express your uniqueness through your work."

Robert Greene
American Writer/Speaker
1959 -

What makes you unique?  What is your life's work?  Are you doing your life's work?  Have you found your passion?  What is the reason you were born?  What are the gifts that you have been given?  What skills do you need to master?

I think my life's work has been to inspire others to be better than they are.  The seed for my life's work found expression when I was young in my desire to be a preacher.  Later, the seed was expressed in my desire to rid the world of racism and war.  Ultimately, my life's work found expression in my speaking and training within health care.  I've touched people's lives through my voice and the telling of motivational stories.

Creative Practice
This week write about your life's work.  What is your purpose for being here?  If you don't know why you are here, then use this writing exercise to help you discover your purpose for being.

Robert Greene was raised in Los Angeles.  He attended the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  Greene estimated that he worked at 80 jobs, including construction, translation, and editing, before becoming a writer.  His first book, The 48 Laws of Power, was published in 2000 and has sold over 1.2 million copies in the United States alone.  His fifth book, Mastery, was published in 2012.  Green speaks five languages and is a student of Zen Buddhism.

A Book Review

by Robert Greene

Mastery is a great inspirational book that every creative leader, who wants to master a skill or a talent, should read.  If you want to be a writer, an artist, or a musician, you should read this book.  If you want to own your own company, or be president of a company, or be a successful employee, you should read this book.  If you want to start a new career, become a doctor or a mechanic, or run a marathon, then read this book.

Robert Greene shares the stories of people who have become masters in their fields.  Using the stories of both dead and living masters, Greene reviews what it takes to become a master in a field of endeavor.  He shares the stories of Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, John Coltrane, Martha Graham, Buckminster Fuller, Zora Neale Hurston and Wolfgang Mozart to name a few.  He also shares the stories of living masters like Yoky Matsuoko, Freddie Roach, Daniel Everett and Santiago Calatrava.  From these inspirational stories, Robert Greene identifies the keys to mastery.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to become a master of some skill or talent.  Pick up a copy today and change your life.


Here is Robert Greene discussing creativity and mastery at Google.

Monday, April 15, 2013

John W. Gardner

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser."

— John W. Gardner
American Educator, Author
1912 -2002

How would you feel if you did not have an eraser?  Or in our current language: a delete key?  How would you feel if whatever you typed into the computer or wrote on paper could not be changed?  Or if your brush strokes could not be covered up?  Or if the song you recorded could be done with only one take?

Some writers and artists suffer from writer's block because they feel their first draft or painting needs to be perfect.  They don't realize that they have an eraser and can change what they write.  We have all been given a great gift in the delete key.  Be sure that you use it responsibly. 

Life unlike art does not have a delete key?  Our actions cannot be erased as much as we would wish they could.  Have you ever done or said something that you wish you could undo?  We all have.  Art gives us this opportunity?  We can rewrite our story — repaint our world.

Creative Practice
This week identify 2 - 3 of your past actions that you wish you could erase.  Then rewrite the story and change your behavior and the outcome.  Or paint a scene from your new story.

John W. Gardner is best known for serving as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon B. Johnson.  He also founded Common Cause in 1970.  Between 1955 and 1965, he served as president of the Carnegie Corporation where he helped to shape American education.

Gardner was born in Los Angeles to William and Marie Gardner.  His father died when he was one and he was raised by his mother.  He graduated from Stanford with a masters degree and earned a doctorate degree from the University of California.  In the late 1930's he taught college and then joined the Marines during World War II.

Gardner dropped out of college for a year and a half to try his hand at writing fiction before going back and finishing his degree.  His first of eleven non-fiction books was published in 1961.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Anne Tyler

"If I waited until I felt like writing, I'd never write at all."

— Anne Tyler
American Novelist
1941 -

Many beginning writers feel that they can only write when the spirit strikes them.  They wait until they have the urge to write.  Unfortunately, they will write very little because the spirit is often on vacation.  Writers, artists and other creative leaders must develop the discipline and habit of working every day whether they are in the mood or not.  Somedays what they produce will be great and on other days it will be terrible.  The quality does not matter.  Just like there are bad hair days and good hair days, there are bad creative days and good creative days.  They will not always hit a home run or score the winning basket.

So what about you?  Do you wait until the spirit strikes?  Or are you up and at it every day?   Do you have the self-discipline to create something every day?  There is no boss looking over your shoulder or no parent coaxing you out of bed.  You have to be the one to get yourself up writing, painting or dancing.  No one can do it for you.

Creative Practice
Experts say it takes 21 days to form a habit.  So your assignment this week to choose a time every day when you will create.  Then for the next 21 days spend that time creating.  Begin now to form habits of a lifetime.  You are responsible for the life you live.

Anne Tyler, the eldest of four children, was born in Minneapolis, MN.  Her father was a chemist and her mother a social worker.  Her youth was spent in several Quaker communities.  She did not attend public school until she was eleven. She graduated from Duke University and did graduate work in Russian studies.

Tyler has published 19 novels.  The first one, If Morning Ever Comes, was published in 1964.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for her 11th novel Breathing Lessons.

Tyler rarely gives face-to-face interviews.  In her first such interview in thirty-five years with Deirdre Donahue in 2012, she said: "I have to go to my writing room five days a week. I have to put in my time."  Donahue states that Tyler writes in longhand on unlined paper.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

When I'm Sixty-Four

Today, I reach the ripe old age of 64 and must share with you the Beatles song: When I'm 64.  Listen!

To celebrate my birthday, I am giving away a free PDF copy of my book, Mother, Don't Lock Me In That Closet!  Here is a link to download.


May your day be full of hope and joy!!!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jamaica Kincaid

"My writing depends on memory.  I have an unfortunate habit of remembering things that other people have forgotten and would like me to forget.  The trouble with remembering, is it makes it almost impossible to forgive."

— Jamaica Kincaid
Caribbean Novelist
1949 -

I had the privilege of hearing Jamaica Kincaid speak for about forty minutes on Thursday night, March 28, at the Toledo Public Library.   She told a few stories, read from her new book, See Now Then, and talked about time and memory.

Writers are often encouraged to write about what they know, write about their own experiences, and if we do that, we often write from memory, and memory is very fragile and unreliable.  What we remember is not what really happened.  It is what our minds think happened, and the memory is altered and reshaped over time as it is retold again and again in our mind.  Our retelling reshapes the facts, leaving out some and embellishing others.

Readers often want to know what is autobiographical and what is fictional about a novel or a story or a poem, and sometimes they assume it is all autobiographical.  Yet for writers it is hard to distinguish between the two.  As you write your stories, as you share your stories, the two begin to blend together until we have no idea what actually happened and what we imagined happened.  

All great storytellers embellish and expand the truth.  We re-imagine ourselves and our place in events.  We change the events to fit the story we want to tell and this has recently gotten some memoir writers in trouble for adding events that did not happen.  What is truth?  What is fact?  Are they the same or different?  I think they overlap but they are not the same.  Just because something is factual does not mean it truthful.  And just because something is truthful does not mean it is factual.

My memories of my childhood are few and they usually come from stories that were told over and over in my family or from events that were traumatic to the young me.  So while my poems will start with a simple phrase from some memory it will grow and morph into something of its own that may bear no resemblance to fact.

Creative Practice
Your creative challenge this week is to select a memory to write or paint about.  I have a painting hanging in our personal art gallery where the painter paints a scene from her childhood of her mother hanging the wash on the clothesline.  What memory can you paint?  What memory can you write about?

Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson on May 25,1949 in St. John's on the island of Antigua 51 days after I was born in Washington, Illinois.  She and I are celebrating our 64th birthday this year.  Jamaica grew up with a passion for reading although her reading matter was limited to the Kings James Bible, the dictionary, and epic poetry.  Once she was punished for misbehaving by having to copy books one and two Milton's Paradise Lost.

At the age of seventeen, Kincaid left her family, the island and her name behind.  She entered the U.S. under the name of Jamaica Kincaid.  Her first job was an au pair for upper class family in New York City.  She became a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine for twenty years.  She tells the story that the first piece she  submitted was 300 words in length and composed of only one sentence.  Long sentences is her trademark style.

Kincaid has published more than a dozen books.  Her most recent novel, See Now Then, her first in ten years, tells the story of a family living in a small town in New England.  Some claim the book is autobiographical and based on her marriage to ex-husband, Allen Shawn, son of the New Yorker's long-time editor William Shawn.

Here is an interview with Jamaica Kincaid.