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Monday, April 28, 2014

Piet Mondrian

"The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel."

Dutch Painter
1872 - 1944

Sometimes creative leaders let their egos get in the way of their painting, their writing or their art. They believe they know all and are all powerful. They berate others and often are hostile to the ideas of others. An artist needs to be humble and realize he or she has been given a gift. Pride and ego will ruin the gift. 

Like Piet, many artists and writers talk about simply being a channel for something greater than themselves. Have you ever created something and afterwards wondered where it came from? When we learn to let go of the conscious egotistical self and become a channel for creativity, we will surprise and amaze ourselves with the gift we have been given. Don't seek to understand the source of this gift. Simply accept the gift with humility.

Piet Mondrian grew up as the second of five children in a Protestant home in Holland.  His father was an amateur artist who gave drawing lessons to his son.  His uncle, an accomplished artist, taught him to paint.  At twenty, he entered the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam.  His education included drawing models, copying old masters and genre painting.

In 1905 Mondrian was introduced to the paintings of the French Post-Impressionists which deeply influenced him and opened up the world of color in a new way.  In 1912, he moved to Paris and was introduced to Cubism, another stop on his way to his mature work of abstraction.  In 1914, he visited his sick father in the Netherlands and was unable to return to France because of World War I.  

While in Holland, Mondrian published a journal, De Stijl (The Style), that presented the ideal of total abstraction as a model for harmony.  He emphasized the need for horizontal and vertical lines.  The movement had a major influence on art, architecture and typography in the 20th century.

Mondrian moved back to Paris after World War I where he continued his work in abstract art.  Prior to World War II, he moved first to London for two years before moving to New York in 1940.  He never married and died of pneumonia at the age of 71.

Monday, April 21, 2014

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?  Whom do you dislike?  Whose shoulders are you standing on?

Do you worship your heroes and put them on a pedestal?  Or do you accept the fact that they are human and have flaws just like you?  Too often we believe that our heroes are super human and better than those around them.  And if we are unfortunate to get too close, we learn the truth and are disappointed.  All heroes have clay feet.  No human is perfect.  In fact, many of the great creative leaders have major flaws and weaknesses in other areas of their lives.  They may be terrible husbands, wives, parents or lovers.  They may hold serious biases and prejudices.  They may not be able to manage money or are penny pinchers.  They may drink too much or take drugs.

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 to every creative leader is to work hard every day and enjoy what you do.  Fame is often fleeting and unfulfilling.  Fortunes come and go like the weather.  How you make the journey is much more important than when and where you arrive.  Because in the end we all arrive at the same place — the cemetery.  What we leave behind is our legacy.  What legacy will you leave behind?

Years ago, a speaker asked his audience:  "Who was President when you were born?"  Like most people in the audience, I had no idea, but I soon discovered that it was Harry S. Truman.  I began reading books about Truman as well as books that he wrote.  Harry S. Truman became one of my heroes.  I like much of what the man did and said, but I also recognize that he had clay feet.  Not everything he did was right.  Do you know who was President when you were born?

Harry S. Truman was born in 1884 in Lamar, Missouri.  He was the oldest child of Martha Ellen Young and John Anderson Truman.  His father was a poor farmer and livestock dealer.  He graduated from high school in 1901 and worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, held various clerical jobs and was employed by a bank.  He returned to farming in 1910 and began courting Bess Wallace who later became his wife.  He failed to be admitted to West Point because of his poor eyesight, but he later fought in World War I as an officer.

After the war, Truman opened a haberdashery in downtown Kansas City with his partner, Edward Jacobson, but went bankrupt during the recession of 1921.  In the army, Truman met James Pendergast, a fellow Lieutenant, and nephew of Thomas Pendergast, a Kansas City political boss.  In 1922, Truman was elected one of three judges of the County Court in the eastern district of Jackson County.  The position was administrative in nature, not judicial.  He functioned like a county commissioner.  His election was supported and helped by the Kansas City Democratic machine led by Tom Pendergast.

1948 Election: Newspapers predicted Dewey to Win
After serving as judge for several years, Truman wanted to run for Governor but Pendergast refused to support him.  In 1934, Pendergast supported his candidacy for U.S. Senate from Missouri and he won.  During his first term as a Senator, he was ignored by Roosevelt.  He won re-election in 1940 despite some major obstacles.  During World War II, he earned a national reputation through his chairmanship in a subcommittee of the Committee on Military affairs.  He attacked waste and profiteering by suppliers to the military.  In 1944, Truman was nominated and elected Vice-President of the United States in Roosevelt's fourth term.  When Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Truman became President.  He was re-elected in 1948 and chose not to run in 1952.

Favorite Story
Here is one of my favorite stories about Harry S. Truman.  I tell it in many of my presentations.  Truman was an excellent example of persistence — a trait that all creative leaders need.   http://www.slideshare.net/hgking/the-power-of-persistence-12296772

Monday, April 14, 2014

Marc Chagall

"If I create from the heart, nearly everything works, if from the head, almost nothing."

Russian Artist
1887 - 1985

Sometimes the mind gets in the way of creativity.  We are constantly talking to ourselves about our work and usually this self-talk is very negative.  "Oh, I shouldn't say that.  What will my mother say?"   Or "I am no good at painting faces."  One expert says that 75% of what we say to ourselves is negative and this negativity hurts our ability to create.  

We need to learn to use positive self-talk, to appreciate the talent and skills we have been given.  We each are unique.  No two people are alike.  We all have different skills, interests and beliefs.  We need to pat ourselves on the back.  

I and the Village
Since there are enough negative people in the world who will put us down and criticize our work, we don't need to do it to ourselves.  I challenge you to listen to your self-talk and whenever it is negative, change it and make it positive.  Become a believer in the talent you have been given.  Choose to be positive — to find the rainbow in every dark cloud.

When I first became a speaker, I used positive self-talk to overcome my fear and doubt about standing up in front of others.  I repeatedly said positive comments out loud prior to going on stage.

Where do you need more self-confidence?  What changes in behavior do you want to make?  Use self-talk to become the person you want and need to become.  You can change who you are by changing what goes into your mind.


La Mariee
Marc Chagall was born Moishe Shagal in Vitebsk, Russia, the eldest of nine children born to Khatski Shagal, a herring merchant and his wife, Feige-Ite.  Shagal was educated at a Jewish religious school where he studied Hebrew and the Bible.  There was no art in his home and the concept was unknown to him.  In high school, he saw a fellow student drawing and became interested.  He began to copy the work of the masters that he found in books.

At nineteen, Chagall moved to St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia, and spent four years studying painting.  In 1910 he moved to France at the age of 23.  He returned to Russia in 1914 planning to only stay a few weeks, but World War I intervened.  He stayed in Russia and married Bella Rosenfeld.  Chagall exhibited his paintings in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  He became a stage designer for a theater in Moscow.  In 1923, he returned to France.  In 1926, an exhibit of his work was held in the United States.  He escaped France during World War II and entered the United States.  He returned to France in 1948 where he remained until his death.

Here is a video of Chagall's paintings.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Barry Lopez

Photo by David Liittschwager

"The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them.  If stories come to you, care for them and learn to give them away where they are needed.  Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories."

— Barry Lopez
American Writer
1945 -

Do you care for the stories in and about your life?  Stories are the memories of who we are and where we have gone.  Stories remind us of what is important and what we want to remember.  Do you take care of your family stories, those tales that create the collective you?  Each time I share a story I am giving a piece of myself away.

One of those stories that circulated in my family was the time when I was six or seven and lived on a farm. My father was working the second shift at a factory because the farm did not give us enough money to live on.  One summer afternoon after my father had left, the cows meandered out into the cornfield.  Now this can be dangerous for the cows because they don't know when to stop eating and they could kill themselves by eating too much corn.  My mother and I attempted to chase the cows back into the barn but were unsuccessful.  She went into the house to call my father and have him come home from work.  She told me to come in as well and leave the cows alone.  I prayed to God and asked that He helped me drive the cows back to the barn.  And by some miracle, I did.  God answered my prayer.  What I have never understood is why the prayer was answered when the result was I disobeyed my mother.  That story has circulated within my family for years and gave me the impression that I had a special connection to God.  That connection was broken when I was seventeen, but that is a story for another time.

What are your family stories?  What are the tales that have helped to create the person who you are?  What stories are you repeating over and over to people?  What stories are you hiding that you have been unwilling to tell?  What stories do you need to change because they are hurting you and holding you back from becoming who you want to become?  Are you taking good care of your stories?  Have you written them down?  Made them available to others?

Barry Lopez was born in Port Chester, New York and raised in both New York City and Southern California.  He graduated from the University of Notre Dame.  He currently lives in Oregon where he moved in 1968.  Lopez has traveled to remote and populated areas of the world.

Lopez is an essayist, author and short-story writer.  He has received the National Book Award for his book, Arctic Dreams, and was a National Book Award finalist for his book, Of Wolves and Men.

Prior to 1981, Lopez was also a landscape photographer and still maintains a close connection with various artists and photographers.

Here is a link to his website:  http://www.barrylopez.com/index.htm

Here is a video with Barry Lopez.