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Monday, September 29, 2014

Ralph Ellison

"It takes a deep commitment to change and an even deeper commitment to grow."

American Novelist
1914 - 1994

Change and growth require commitment.  People dream of changing their lives but usually they lack the deep commitment to do so.  Change takes hard work and follow through.  Nothing changes overnight.  

Many in the American society expect instant change.  Not happy with your body weight, take a pill or have surgery.  Not happy with your body, have plastic surgery.  Change takes commitment and patience.  It is better to lose weight slowly than quickly.  

Becoming a writer doesn't happen overnight.  It takes years.  Actors often are labeled an overnight success — a success which took ten or fifteen years.  Harrison Ford, the actor, spent 15 years in Hollywood before he got the break in Star Wars that made him famous.  Paulo Coehlo spent 15 years waiting for his best selling book, The Alchemist, to become a hit in the United States.  Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime and died broke.  Creative expression is a lifetime commitment.  Don't give up.

Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Lewis Alfred Ellison and Ida Millsap.  His father was a small business owner and construction foreman who died when Ralph was three. In his youth Ellison took radios apart and rebuilt them.  As an adult he constructed and customized elaborate hi-fi stero systems.

Ellison entered the Tuskegee Institute on a scholarship to  study music and studied under piano teacher Hazel Harrison.  While studying music, he also began to read the classics.  His reading of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot awakened in him the desire to write.  He learned later in life that his father wanted him to become a poet.

After his junior year, Ellison moved to New York to study sculpture and photography.  There he met Richard Wright who encouraged him to write fiction.  Between 1937 and 1944, Ellison published short stories, articles and book reviews in various magazines.  His first novel, Invisible Man, was published in 1952 and won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953.

For most of his life, Ellison was a college professor and wrote and published essays.  He worked the rest of his life on his second novel and wrote over 2,000 pages.  The novel was published under the title, Juneteenth, after his death.

Here is a short discussion of the impact of Ralph Ellison and Invisible Man.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Katsushika Hokusai

Great Wave of Kanagawa

"I have been in love with painting ever since I became conscious of it at the age of six. I drew some pictures I thought fairly good when I was fifty, but really nothing I did before the age of seventy was of any value at all. At seventy-three I have at last caught every aspect of nature — birds, fish, animals, insects, trees, grasses, all. When I am eighty I shall have developed still further, and I will really master the secrets of art at ninety. When I reach a hundred my work will be truly sublime, and my final goal will be attained around the age of one hundred and ten, when every line and dot I draw will be imbued with life."

Japanese Artist
1760 - 1849

Humility is a trait that many creative leaders do not possess, yet is is a behavior we all should cultivate.  In fact, the lack of humility has caused the downfall of many creative leaders.  They start believing what their admirers say and acting in accordance with what is said.  In the words of my childhood:  they grow too big for their britches.  They begin to believe their own press.

Learn to cultivate the trait of humility.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes — both in our personal lives and our artistic creations.  It takes a lifetime to become a master and even then we may not achieve that designation.  Be thankful for what you have been given and seek to be humble.

Sometimes we become so caught up in the day to day activities of living that we forget how short life is. We are here today and gone tomorrow.  In the eons of time, we live for only a second.  That fact alone should make us humble.  And if you look at our place in the universe, we shrink even more.  Practice humility.

Hokusai began painting at the age of six.  He probably was inspired to pick up the brush by his father who painted designs on mirrors.  At twelve, Hokusai's father sent him to work at a bookshop and lending library, a popular institution for middle and upper class Japanese.  The bookshop contained books made from wood-cut blocks.  From the ages of 14 to 18, Hokusai was an apprentice of a wood-carver.

At 18, Hokusai found work in the studio of Katsukawa Shunsho who was an artist of wood block prints and paintings called ukiyo-e.  Hokusai became a master of the form.  He spent 10 years working for Shunsho.

Hokusai had two wives and five children.  Both wives died young.  His youngest daughter, Oyei, became an artist like him.  Hokusai changed his name at least thirty times throughout his career as he changed art forms.

Hokusai had a long career and he produced most of his important work after the age of 60. One of his most famous works, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, was created between the ages of 66 and 73.

Here is a short biography of Hokusai.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dag Hammarskjold

"What is one to do on a bleak day but drift for a while through the streets — drift with the stream."

Swedish Diplomat/Author
1905 - 1961

Drifting is an art that many of us have never learned.  In our fast pace world where we seek to climb the ladder of success and produce more and more artistic work, we never stop and rest.  Even our vacations are full of doing.  We joke about going back to work in order to rest from our vacation.

In farming, there is a concept of letting the field lay fallow for a year — not to plant any crops.  The soil needs a break in order to replenish itself.  And the same is true of artists and writers.  We must learn to rest — to drift without direction or purpose, to lay fallow in order to replenish and restore our souls.  We must learn to enjoy a warm autumn afternoon simply for the sake of enjoying. 

From 2006 to 2012 I averaged writing more than two poems a day.  For the last two years I have written less than 75 a year.  My poetic field is fallow.  My subconscious is replenishing itself.  I need the down time in order to rejuvenate my spirit.  I am drifting down the stream, waiting for the next big surge.

Dag Hammarskjold was born in Jonkoping, Sweden, the youngest son of Hjalmar Hammarskjold, Prime Minister of Sweden from 1914 - 1917.  Dag had a successful career as a public servant in Sweden, working in the central bank, ministry of finance, and ministry of  foreign affairs.  He became the second UN Secretary-General in 1953, a post he held until his death in 1961 in a airplane crash in Northern Rhodesia.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961 after his death.

Hammarskjold's only book, Markings, was published in 1963.  The book is a collection of his diary reflections and haiku.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Portrait by Jakob Schlesinger

"Nothing great in the world was accomplished without passion." 

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
German philosopher / writer
1770 - 1831

An old man was traveling into New York by boat.  Everyone was crowding against the rail looking at the tall buildings.  A little girl fell overboard and soon the old man was in the water.  He grabbed the little girl and people hoisted her back up on ship.  People pulled him back on ship and they began clapping.  Some shouted, "Speech!  Speech!"  The old man looked around and said, "Who pushed me?"

And that is my question for you today?  What pushes you?  What motivates you?  What excites you?  What is the passion in your life?  We all need passion.

Passion is one of the keys to success.  If you are not passionate about what you do, you will not be successful.  Creative leaders need to be passionate about what they do.  Without passion it is easy to lose sight of one's goal.  Passion helps creative leaders overcome the obstacles they face.

Are you passionate about the art you are creating?  The novel you are writing?  The sculpture you are creating?  The poems that you are writing?  The canvas you are painting?  Do you wake up excited in the morning to begin work on your creative project?  Are you obsessed with your creative work?  Do you become depressed if you are not creating new work?