Monthly Archives: February 2015

Setting Your Artistic Potential Free

 “Think differently about yourself today than you did yesterday.”

“We should weave more of the actor into our lives.”

tool-210385_640A sculptor told me that for most of her life she considered herself average in every way. She was never the worst in anything, and never the best either. But when she stopped conceiving of herself as an average sculptor and conceived of herself as exceptional, she became exceptional and met one goal after another and had success after success. No longer considering herself average, she did what exceptional artists do–she took her art more seriously, became more ambitious and more conscientious, worked harder and learned all she could about sculpting and sculptors—took more classes, went to workshops, read. She made it a point to develop relationships with other artists and people in the field. And no longer average, her art quickly became less inhibited and freer and bolder. Her confidence grew every day, and her art came out of her more effortlessly and was of a higher quality. She gained the reputation as the hardest worker among her artist friends, and as a very bright and determined, successful woman. No one thinks of her as average.

When I was a business consultant, I once consulted with a company that had a rule that no one from one unit was to visit another unit during working hours. Signs to that effect were posted everywhere. Faced with such a ridiculous rule, the first thing people with any imagination will do is what you would do if you are an artist—they break it. But in this company you had to be very careful. Wherever you went you heard people whispering, “Whatever you do, don’t get caught out of your unit.”

Your self-concept is lot like that rule. It is like a miniature judge sitting vigilantly and unforgivingly on your shoulder, its eyes wide open, continually telling you like that company rule: “Be careful. Don’t get caught out of my definition of the kind of person you are, the kind of artist or writer you are, and of what you’re capable of and what you aren’t.” If you’re living inside a self-concept that limits your art because it is the wrong self-concept (“you’re average, not exceptional”), you’re up against a major inner obstacle that directly affects the quality of your work—your paintings, your stories, your poetry–and your ability to produce it. When you rid yourself of a limiting self-concept you’ll see other obstacles in you disappear. They will melt away.

We don’t just hold our inner views of ourselves in our mind as if they are some kind of internal ornament. No, we act as if they really are not just an opinion we’ve formed of ourselves, but the Gods-honest truth, as if they are accurate representations of ourselves. That’s the law of consistency–our self-concept and our actions are ordinarily consistent. All of your actions, and even your abilities in any area, including your art, tend to be consistent with it. We do what it tells us we can do, and shy away from what it tells us we can’t. The sculptor fashioned a new “exceptional” concept of herself and her exceptional actions became consistent with it.

The Ubiquitous “I Ams,” “I’m Nots,” and “I Can’ts”

You create and then maintain your self-concept by characterizing yourself in particular ways. You do that in the “I ams” you use when thinking or talking about yourself–“I am a generous person,’ or “I am clumsy.” And you shape it also by the “I am nots” you habitually use: “I’m not an affectionate person.” And there are “I cans” that you use when thinking or talking about your capabilities: “I can ride a bike, drive a car, and draw a lovely landscape.”

“I’m nots” lead to “I can’ts.” “Since I’m not A, I’ll never be able to do B.” “Since I’m not X, naturally I can’t do Y.” “I’m not a person who’s good with numbers, so I can’t help my daughter with her math.”

De-hypnotize Yourself

oil-painting-571164_640When under hypnosis, a timid man who’s afraid of public speaking is told and believes that he’s a confident public speaker, he is changed instantly. He speaks like an orator. He becomes what he’s told he is. His “I can’ts” disappear. Now he can. Under hypnosis we can do amazing things. We can become convinced we’re powerful and strong. Then we are able to lift heavy objects that we normally couldn’t lift. But what has really happened? Our physical strength hasn’t increased. We have merely lifted the limits we had been placing on that ability. In essence the hypnosis did not take place when we were told we could do things we didn’t believe we could. The hypnosis was taking place all the time that we believed that we did not have these abilities.

We have hypnotized ourselves into believing our self-concept—this inaudible voice in us–is reality. We’ve hypnotized ourselves into believing that we are like this when we could have been something else all along, could have been a thousand other types of persons all along, had we hypnotized ourselves differently. We created a fictional idea of ourselves, and then came to believe that idea, and then acted as if it were true when all along it was just an idea, just a notion. If we’ve hypnotized ourselves into a limiting self-concept, it’s our job now is to de-hypnotize ourselves. And that we can do.

The moment you de-hypnotize yourself and think of yourself as being something else is the moment you’re on your way to being it. A woman I know never thought of herself as a particularly good mother, but one day at the playground a woman she didn’t know said to her, “I’ve been watching you playing with your children these last weeks and wanted to tell you what a perfect mother you are.” That changed her concept of herself; “I am a good mother after all.”

Research demonstrates that as soon as people start thinking, “I am creative” instead of “I’m not creative” their creativity increases, even in a matter of minutes, and sometimes phenomenally. I’ve seen that happen hundreds of times with people of all ages from all walks of life. A group of people are given a problem to solve. They are graded and the person who graded them expresses disappointment, and says, “I really thought you’d come up with more creative solutions because I know you are very, very creative people.” Then they are asked to work on the problem again, this time developing solutions that are creative, being reminded that “My expectations of you are high because you are very creative people.”

A few minutes later they turn in their solutions and the solutions are more creative. Something miraculous has happened. The problem-solvers have abandoned their old self-concept that they hypnotized themselves into believing and have taken another which they needed in order to solve the problem creatively. The creativity that was in them all along waiting to be ignited shined through once they changed their self-concept. They have learned that they are creative after all. When an artist reaches a plateau, and doesn’t progress, it may be because his self-concept needs to be changed.

Two Strategies for Overcoming a Limiting Self-Concept

There are two methods you can use to free yourself from a limiting self-concept. One, you can change it. You can do that by trading it for another that you intentionally create that’s more beneficial, more to your liking, and that serves you better. Or, two, you can do without any self-concept at all. You do that by attending solely to the actions that life presents to you which are right there, right in front of you at every moment that need attending to. You pay no attention to this concept of yourself or that one. You pay no attention to yourself at all, but only to what needs to be done right now.

 Strategy I–The Storekeeper and the Thief: Trading in your Old Self-Concept

samurai-41200_640In Japan in the nineteenth century, storekeepers were considered lily-livered cowards and weaklings. One storekeeper became sick and tired of that reputation. To prove that it was totally false he took lessons at a martial arts dojo. He devoted himself religiously and after some years he became an expert.

After closing his shop late one night, the storekeeper and his wife started home down the dark streets. They had just turned a corner when a man holding a knife stepped out of the shadows and ordered the storekeeper to hand over his money.

At first he refused, but when the thief charged him, growling, “You miserable merchant, I’ll cut you to pieces,” the storekeeper lost his courage, fell to his knees, and began to tremble with fear.

Suddenly his wife cried out, “You’re not a storekeeper, you’re an expert in the martial arts.”

The storekeeper turned his head and looked at his wife. “Yes,” he said, “I am.”

He stood, a warrior now, totally fearless, completely calm. He let out a powerful katzu, “battle shout,” and leaped at the thief. He defeated him easily in a matter of seconds.

 Strategy II–The Teaman and the Ronin: Doing Without a Self-Concept

In feudal Japan, a servant, a poor practitioner of chado, the Way of tea, unwittingly insulted a ronin, a masterless samurai. Outraged, the ronin challenged the servant to a duel.

“I’m not a warrior,” the teaman said, “and I’m very sorry if I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to. Please accept my apology.”

But the ronin would have none of it. “We meet at dawn tomorrow,” he said, and as was customary he handed the terrified teaman a sword. “Go practice,” said the ronin.

The teaman ran to the home of a famous sword master and told him the terrible thing that had happened.

“A unique situation,” the sword master said. “For you will surely die. The thing I might be able to help you with is isagi-yoku, the art of dying well.”

While they talked, the teaman prepared and poured tea. The masterful way he did it caught the eye of the sword master. He slapped his knee and said, “Forget what I just told you. Put yourself into the state of mind you were in as you prepared the tea and you can win this fight.”

The teaman was shocked. The sword the ronin had given him was the first he had ever held. “What state of mind?”

“Were you thinking ‘I’m a teaman?’ ” asked the master.

“No. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

“That’s it!” The sword master laughed. “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head, ready to cut your opponent down. Don’t think you’re a teaman or that you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

The next morning the ronin appeared on the field and the teaman immediately raised his sword overhead, his eyes on the ronin, his ears waiting for the battle cry.

The ronin too raised his sword and stood staring at the teaman. Then he saw the determination in the teaman’s eyes and said, “I cannot beat you.” He sheathed his sword and walked away.

The teaman had taken an alternative to changing his self-concept. He didn’t exchange one concept of himself for another. He didn’t change, “I’m just a teaman and not a warrior, so how can I hope to beat this trained ronin?” to “I am a good fighter.” He forgot about having any self-concept at all. He just did what life called on him to do—be prepared to strike the ronin down.

If I am a painter applying Strategy II, I do not replace the thought, “I’m an average painter” with “I’m a great painter.” I just pick up the brush and without any self-concept at all, just use all my skill and paint.

Strategies: Change or Do Without

  • Define your artist or writer current self-concept. What is it? It’s helpful to write an essay titled, “My Current Self-Concept.” It can be a paragraph or twenty or more pages–as long as you want. What do you say and think about yourself that begins, “I am,” “I’m not,” “I can,” and “I can’t”?
  • Design a more beneficial self-concept to your own specifications. Describe in writing what you want it to be. If you want to change it you should have in mind what you want to change it to.
  • Start with the realization that you don’t have to be any particular way. You don’t have to have the opinion of yourself that you do now. You can change it, and by changing it you will change your entire life. Or you can force it to change by stepping out of it and acting differently, even in a way it would never expect you to.
  • Wholeheartedly believe in your new opinion of yourself. As soon as you see yourself in a different light and believe completely what you now see, you instantly change.
  • Remember that all behavior is an act, a performance, and you can learn to be a good actor. You can author a new play with a new part for yourself. The first part of the word “action” is “act.” We should weave more of the actor into our lives. Act as if you can and you are when you feel you can’t and you’re not. Do that for an “I can’t” and “I’m not” and you’ll prove to yourself that you can and you are. Do that time and again.
  • Be careful what you say to yourself. You are what you are because you keep telling yourself you are. When you stop telling yourself you are, you change.
  • Replace every “I just can’t” that is holding you back with a determined, “I can.” Stop telling yourself nonsense. Don’t tell yourself that you’re fated to be in the future what you’ve been in the past. Don’t think so much and tell yourself that there are forty-four things–or one hundred and forty- four things– that could go wrong. Think differently about yourself today than you did yesterday.

lotus-214619_640Strategy II

  • Do what you want to do without any self-concept at all. Just turn your attention outward. Act as if you already are the way you want to be. Act as if you’re brave and you are brave, act as if you are a person of action and you are, act decisively and you are, act confidently and you’re confident, etc. Act that way consistently, at every opportunity, without any exceptions, moment by moment. Become what you want to be.
  • Absorb yourself in the action and not in yourself. Don’t think of anything else but the action. Don’t say to yourself that you are one way or the other, a good artist or a bad artist, courageous when facing life’s setbacks or cowardly, shy or outgoing, self-doubting or confident, happy or unhappy, discouraged or confident. Just put all concepts of yourself aside with no thoughts whatsoever of yourself and do what at every moment is right there in front of you to be done. Let no inner view of yourself get in the way.
  • Take no thought of any “I am,” or “I cant’s,” or “I’m nots,” and don’t concern yourself with “What great things will happen if I succeed,” or worry about, “What bad things will happen if I fail.” Don’t worry about anything. Don’t struggle to protect your inner view of yourself: “Oh, no, I could never do that. I’m not good at that kind of thing. I would be embarrassed if I tried and failed.” Every moment and every day and all lifelong just turn your thoughts away from yourself and back to the matter at hand.
  • Bloom like a flower. A flower is not a flower all its life. It starts as a seed and becomes a flower. Every moment affords you the opportunity to set your life out in a new direction and grow into the artist you have the potential to be.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Artists and Writers in Ecstasy

It’s not unusual for artists–painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, musicians–who are at work to be in a state of bliss, a state of ecstasy. Their enjoyment is deep, their focus uncommon, intense, and virtually super-human. Time means nothing at all and self-consciousness and self-awareness disappear. Every thought is solely of the task at hand. They have no attention left to think of anything else. There is only they and the work; all distractions, all worries, all fears, all self-doubts, and all impediments are gone—an extraordinary state of existence.

sunset-100367_640Fully absorbed, there is a rightness about everything they do; their every action is sure. The possibility of failure is of no concern. They need nothing more than the brush in their hand, their fingers on the keyboard, dancing slippers on their feet. There is nothing else—no other pleasure, no other enjoyment–that is more meaningful and brings such rewards. It is as though they are thinking:

This thing that I am doing is essential to my fulfillment and well-being. I will be tenacious; I will persist for long periods of time, not being diverted, and try to make this work I am doing exceptional, applying all the skills I’ve developed. I am finding that my skills are all that I’ve wished for and just right for this work. My mind will be sharp, my energy unstoppable. I will be relaxed and alert too—confident, in balance; in control of all my faculties. I am willing to sacrifice. At times I will forget to eat, forget to sleep. I will block out distractions as best I can. When I reach an impasse, I will ask for help. I will arrange a life-style and personal habits and routines to accommodate my work and will find the time.

 Seeking a Perfect Match of Goals and Skills

Artists begin with a vision of what at last they could become. That is the basis of their goals–a guiding vision. The major factors in achieving creative ecstasy are: being powerfully motivated to succeed, (so powerfully that it is almost impossible to keep you from your work); having the confidence that you will succeed, (if not now, eventually); making decisive choices and pursuing goals that are personally extremely meaningful (few things in your life are as important, possibly nothing is as important); receiving immediate feedback on performance every step of the way (performance feedback and high motivation go hand in hand); and possessing all the skills required to perform the task (no skill is lacking).

Often feedback comes from an external source—a teacher, for example, or mentor, the audience the artist is aiming to please, or in the case of a writer, an editor. But experienced artists have internalized the “rules” of the art and know good work from bad work so well that their most useful feedback comes from themselves. They don’t have to wait for feedback from the outside.

sisters-74069_640Many writers, painters, and dancers—possibly most; possibly most people– don’t give their goals much thought and don’t care if they achieve them. Only a minority do. And if they do care, many aren’t willing to put out the effort to reach them. Research shows that 85% of Americans wait for things to happen. Only 15% are proactive and make things happen. Many people don’t have the first notion of the causes of success or failure or how to achieve their goals—the means that must be involved. But artists in ecstasy are clear and their motivation knows no bounds.

Of special importance to ecstasy and bliss, it seems to me, is the ideal state when the artists’ skills perfectly match the goals the artists aim to achieve. The skills are exactly what’s needed to reach the goals. That means that artists should pursue goals that are not too easy, but not too difficult, based on their assessment of their skills.

 The Alternatives

If your goals are higher than your skills, you won’t achieve the goals and will feel frustration, disappointment, stress, and anxiety.

If the goals are considerably less than your skills and success is guaranteed, you’ll be bored.

Anxiety and boredom alike interfere with work and are signals that your goals need to be changed.

But if you don’t care whether you reach the goal you’ll be indifferent and apathetic.

So if you’re meeting only frustration, disappointment, and worry, you may continually be aiming too high and should lower your sights, not permanently, but until you develop your skills further and are in a better position to reach the goals. Make developing your skills to the highest level your priority, principally through deliberate practice,

And if you’re often bored, set higher goals, you’re aiming too low.

If you’re apathetic, pursue only goals that mean something to you. (I realize this isn’t always possible, such as when you’ve been given an assignment that you dislike but have no choice. But in that case find ways of making the goal more interesting, such as making it a game, as how quickly you can finish the work while still doing a good job).

If you’re often in ecstasy—some artists are every day–the balance between the difficulty of the goal and your skills is perfect.

Things That Are a Little Out of Reach

piano-302122_640The most challenging goals—and those leading to the best benefits–are those that you’re most interested in, are not completely certain you can reach, and will get the greatest satisfaction from when you achieve them. We work harder to get what is a little out of reach—but not too far. When the goals you set are difficult but achievable you’ll have no problem persisting until you achieve them. That happens automatically. If you come up short, all is not lost. Every failure is valuable feedback indicating what needs to be improved.

As your capabilities develop, as they will if you apply yourself, you will have a natural urge to seek increasingly greater challenges, higher performance, and higher achievements. As your skill level rises, so do your ambitions, and a goal that was once powerfully motivating becomes less powerful and needs to be replaced by a more difficult one. You wanted to have your artwork displayed in a gallery. Now it has been, so you want to see it in a more prestigious gallery. Your short story was published and was highly thought of; now you’re aiming for a novel. Your songs are popular, so now you will write a musical.

Setting difficult goals that require considerable work can significantly increase an artist’s motivation and at the same time, his/her performance. Difficult goals are motivating in and of themselves and build a strong sense of self-confidence. You’ll work harder to reach them. Attainable doesn’t in any sense mean easy. To write a good book may take an almost unbelievable amount of effort and persistence. Harder goals will take you to higher levels of performance than easy goals provided you’ve chosen the goals voluntarily and have or can develop the necessary skills.

People put out more effort if they consider the goals difficult, but not so difficult as to be unachievable. Yet, the creative person must also be willing to work hard and long on ambitious projects that verge on the impossible—an epic novel, an opera, a symphony.

The Definition of “Difficulty” All Depends

vincent-van-gogh-85799_640(1)Now the definition of what is a difficult or easy goal depends totally on who you are. For example, a goal that may be impossible for me may be perfectly reasonable for you. Whenever I hear someone say, “The odds of succeeding are one in ten,” I think, What you’re saying is that you think they are one in ten for you. However, they may be one in five for me. I’m going ahead with it because I think one in five is very attainable.

A Little Quiz

A goal is more difficult—and possibly impossible– to reach if you aren’t a hard worker. It’s particularly difficult if you’re lazy. Ask yourself, “How hard a worker am I?” Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten, one being “Not a very hard worker” and ten being “An exceptionally hard worker. I’m inexhaustible.”

Are you a one, a seven, or a ten? It is hard to imagine artists who have reached high levels being anything but tens. They pour tremendous stores of energy into their work. If they are separated from their painting, their writing, their music for more than 24 hours they get nervous; any longer, they get depressed. Artists who are not hard workers are in trouble.

Do you know what the causes are of success or failure in reaching goals?

Do you set artistic goals?

If so, what are they?

Are they clear? Some artists are not any more talented or intelligent than others, but they are far more successful because they have not a single doubt about what specifically they are attempting to accomplish. They are single-minded, with only that supreme goal in mind.

Do your goals match your skills or are they too high or too low?

If they are too high, how will you change them to better match your skills?

Are they a little out of reach? (If yes, that’s good.)

If they are too low, what will you do to make them more ambitious?

How important are they to you?

Not very important

Kind of important

Couldn’t possibly be more important

How do you plan to attain them?

Often when their goals are not properly matched with skills and artists are enduring periods of anxiety, disappointment, or boredom, they try to force themselves, and the work product is usually not up to the artists’ standards. But when in ecstasy and everything is aligned, they are fully functioning and can do no better.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Steps to Becoming a Successful Artist and Writer

You can develop as an artist any way you wish. This post lays out a process of development that is generally, in one way or another, followed by successful artists. The steps are not necessarily linear, occurring one after another in a strict order, but they are usually present in the lives of writers and artists of all kinds. I’ll be curious to hear from you about your own development. Did it follow a direct path or was it roundabout? What steps were involved? How difficult was it? What did you learn from it?

My life of devotion to writing and studying the arts and the artist’s life—setting writing as a high priority in my life; thinking of it all the time; sacrificing for it—were shaped by these experiences:

classroom-510228_640In the third grade the teacher read to the class my theme in which I’d used poetic language (I’d written a simile), and I decided I would become a writer and write similes as often as I wanted the rest of my life.

At eight or nine I saw Laurence Olivier, the world’s greatest actor, in a movie on TV and decided that I wanted one day to be able to affect people the way his performance had affected me—he had made me gasp. Even as children we are able to recognize art at its highest and wish to know more about it and about artists who are such extraordinarily talented beings.

A major event for me in college involved another teacher, a well-known teacher of writing who one day read to the class a piece I’d written about my childhood. When she finished reading, she said, “A teacher waits her entire career for a student who can write like this.”

Very quickly after that, while still in college, I wrote a story that was published in a prestigious literary journal.

Then came the education, the writing jobs, the artistic friends, the teachers, the ambitions and goals, the teaching of others, and the hard work.

I entered the writer’s milieu—publishers, agents, best seller lists, book tours, foreign editions, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, reviews, public recognition—success.

Then I took off years reading, researching, and experimenting.

Next, while continuing to research especially on artists, I began writing blog posts.

At every turn there was positive feedback, reinforcement, and encouragement.

 Steps

stairs-315952_640I’ve talked to many artists of all kinds and studied the lives of artists of every variety looking for patterns in their development: how did they become artists? In most instances the process of developing and perfecting an artist’s talent involves:

First signs of talent and interest: It may happen at any age–prodigies at three; painter Grandma Moses in her eighties. A child’s interest often follows an interest of a parent, and that parent often followed an interest of their parent. What is most amazing about young prodigies is that they are “pretuned”—they know the rules of their area of talent before being taught them. Few artists are prodigies, and in the overwhelming majority of cases later in life the artist who was not a prodigy–and often showed no particular talent in youth–surpasses the prodigy in achievements.

Some artists take to the art as a second career that may become a primary career, or they excel in both careers. Composer Charles Ives and poet Wallace Stevens were both also successful insurance executives. Award-winning American poet William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Prolific novelist Anthony Trollope was a British post office employee. Painter Henri Rousseau was a tax collector in Paris.

Interest aroused: There is almost always a moment in a talented person’s life when he/she became enamored of a particular art. There was a connection, a suitability, a symbiosis: the to-be-composer George Gershwin as a boy sitting on the curb outside his friend’s lower east side New York apartment and hearing him play the piano.

Trying it out/taking a stab: This often has a lasting effect, overcoming hesitation, shyness, reluctance, embarrassment, and fear.

Tentative commitment: “Okay, Mom, I’ll take lessons. I’ll see if I like it.”

crystal-439297_640A crystallizing experience: Often a moment occurs when the person’s existence seems to be organized and focused toward the art, a premonition that from that point forward the art will be prominent in his/her life.

Discovery of aptitude, Inclination, potential: Reinforcement comes from the outside–approval/ support/ applause/ a successful recital or performance in a play. You will not go terribly far in the art if your personality and skills are not synchronized, harmonized, and matched with those required to excel in the art.

Awakening of desire: “This is the right thing for me to do. I like this. I’m good at it. I want more of this. I will work at this.”

Establishment of “themes” important to the artist: Personal motifs begun earlier in life, often childhood, stay with the artist throughout life and are reflected again and again in everything the artist produces. These themes cannot be avoided; they are the artist’s “fingerprints.” Artists accumulate experiences, people, places, key episodes, and ideas which they will draw on the rest of their lives, endlessly recapitulating them in their work. These are the origins of their craft. Anyone who knows an artist’s work well is able to identify the artist’s recurring themes and subjects. His/her preoccupations are everywhere in the work.

Increased effort: Willingness to devote more energy to the art develops. What is often so impressive is how quickly some artists move from a first exposure to this level.

Self-confidence builds: The desire to succeed and the confidence that they can—along with skill and resilience—bring artists success. Those who are sure of themselves intensify their efforts when they don’t reach their goal and persist until they reach it.

Jelling: Everything starts to come together–ambitions, skills, progress, and success.

Deepening of desire: Stronger feelings toward the art increase; ambitions are raised.

Instruction, learning, knowledge, talent development: The specialized knowledge you accumulate through practicing your craft and receiving instruction, including self-instruction, is the most important factor in reaching exceptionally high levels of skills, possibly of greater importance than talent. The excellent writer or artist has acquired more sheer knowledge of the art and how to create it than the less excellent writer or artist.

All artists are to some extent studious and have the ability to apply themselves and to learn quickly; they are teachable. The need is for effective teachers. A poor teacher is as harmful, or is more harmful, than no teacher; the student of a bad teacher acquires bad habits. Being a stellar student in school is certainly not a prerequisite for artists. However, specialized training in certain arts such as painting and composing is often crucial.

Mentoring, coaching, modeling, guiding: No artists—no human beings–reach their goals and achieve success without help. The older generation passes on knowledge, styles, and techniques to the younger who emulate the older. Mentoring often plays an inestimable role in artistic development, as the mentoring that Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound provided to a young Ernest Hemingway, helping to shape his revolutionary writing style, or that Sherwood Anderson gave William Faulkner, starting him off on his professional literary career, by asking his own publisher if they would publish his protégé’s first novel.

Close personal support, encouragement: Many benefit from connectedness to others such as writers’ or artists’ groups and at times in the relationship with one other person as lovers, husbands and wives, siblings, or close friends: Frederick Chopin/George Sand, Jackson Pollock/Lee Krasner, Jean Paul Sartre/Simone De Beauvoir, Henry Miller/Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf/Leonard Woolf, Salvador Dali/Gala, Thomas Wolfe/Maxwell Perkins, George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin. Most artists form a set of personal and professional relationships in the field that support them, find them opportunities, and rally them when they’re discouraged. The partner/mate of the artist often takes pressure off the artist, freeing him to focus on his work, as with novelist Joseph Conrad and his wife Jessie George.

piano-233715_640Sustained deliberate practice: Months and years of work and improvements pass. The “ten year rule” (although it has notable exceptions) states that to progress from a novice to high expertise requires ten years of focused effort. That involves developing skills through intensive—often lonely–practice leading to competence, then to expertise, then excellence, then greatness. Even this process—tedious, boring, demanding—is a pleasure to the artist. Long periods of dogged hard work are nearly always the reason for superior artistic performance.

More focused effort: Realizing that artistic success is feasible, the artist buckles down with stronger motivation, drive, persistence, perseverance. Expectations rise. Picasso said, “Everybody has the same energy potential. The average person wastes his in a dozen little ways. I bring more to bear in one thing only: my painting, and everything else is sacrificed to it…myself included.” Some ballet dancers with an eye to excellence practice until their feet bleed.

Experimentation: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Eugene O’Neill began as poets, then switched to short stories and novels, or plays. Later in life short story master Anton Chekhov (the best there has ever been) began writing plays as well and discovered he could write masterpieces. A multi-talented man, Chekhov was also a practicing physician.

Narrowing down, specialization, development of a dominant style: As a result of experimentation and the clearer understanding of his strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, the artist defines himself more specifically: “I am a portrait painter.” “I paint skies.” A distinctive style (that develops over time) is the first sign of an artist’s high expertise. When I told that to the late composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch, the composer of “The Way We Were,” and A Chorus Line, he asked, “Is that true?” and I said, “Marvin, you can’t write anything without my knowing it’s you.”

Breakthroughs: Often there are “years of silence” when the artist is working hard but has no tangible successes to show until the first successes which often then come in a flurry—novelists Jack London and William Saroyan received hundreds of rejections before their first success. Thereafter, everything they wrote was published.

Application, Working Harder: The taste of success creates a hunger for more success, which inspires more rigorous application and harder work.

Self-Education, self-determination: Every artist to one extent or another is an autodidact, a self-teacher. Some, like painter Vincent van Gogh and American poet Walt Whitman, were almost completely self-taught. Other famous painters studied with masters, but van Gogh and Henri Rousseau were exceptions. Writers are more likely than other artists to be self-taught. Most composers are taught by masters, and must have high potential to even be accepted as a student by the master. But classical composers Russian Alexander Borodin (also a chemist and physician) and Englishman Edward Elgar were essentially self-taught.

Settling on a Working Philosophy, Work Habits/ Tempo: Everyone working at an art develops his or her own work pace and philosophy of working. Van Gogh always painted at high pressure and at a feverish pitch, gathering up the colors as though with a shovel, throwing them on the canvas with rage, globs of paint covering the length of the paint brush and sticking to his fingers. He had no hesitations and no doubts. Cezanne didn’t understand van Gogh and told him, “Your methods lead to confusion. You don’t work in the manner of our ancestors.” American novelist Thomas Wolfe, a huge man with an equally huge capacity for work, wrote in a frenzy in clouds of cigarette smoke at lightning speed. Gustave Flaubert, on the other hand, worked meticulously, agonizing over every word in every sentence. Some film directors re-shoot a scene thirty times; others rarely more than once or twice.

Noticeable Improvement, refinement of skill, maturity: An evolution often occurs when the artist finds his “voice” as a result of long experience and reflection. Novelist Henry Miller: “It was at that point…that I really began to write… Immediately I heard my own voice…the fact that I was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me…My life itself became a work of art. I had found a voice. I was whole again.”

Greater reach, sudden growth spurts: At times, almost unaccountably, an artist experiences a leap in performance. The best example is Walt Whitman. In a short period he transformed himself from a below-average scribbler to America’s greatest poet.

Setbacks, obstacles, and Impediments: Artists often lead troubled, unconventional lives. Almost all go through fallow periods when success seems unattainable, but their recuperative powers seem inexhaustible and they work on, developing the resilience to rebound from setbacks. The incidence of addictions, mental illness (particularly bi-polar disorder), and suicide is considerably higher than that of the general population. Self-destructive American painter Jackson Pollack, American writer Ernest Hemingway, and too many poets to mention are examples. That, to me, makes artists even more remarkable, for often in spite of enormous personal problems that would debilitate most people, they still manage to produce tremendous volumes of artistic work of the highest quality. It is as though when they are focused on their craft all obstacles wither and disappear. Writer, poet, and essayist D.H. Lawrence wrote, “One sheds one’s sickness in books.”

new-york-115629_640Increased satisfaction, rewards, a way of life: Artists differ from one another in a variety of ways, but are unanimous in this way: they all love what they do. Their art provides a source of challenges, fulfillments, and opportunities for self-exploration and self-expression. The artist experiences the intrinsic satisfaction of continuous enjoyment from the art and the extrinsic benefits of success—particularly respect and praise—even adoration–and material rewards.

You want to continue to make regular use of your principal artistic strengths–your main aptitudes, talents, gifts, personal qualities, and capabilities, to do so freely, without inhibition, without conflicts, and without being interfered with, and to be in a position to say every day, “Now, at this moment, I’m doing what I do especially well. I love it. It makes me happy.” Once you know you’re moving in the right artistic direction and feel strongly about it you fly through your days aflame with energy and determination. To become clear as to what your intended destiny is and to say to it, “I devote myself to you” is to feel an unstoppable drive toward its due fulfillment and to spring to life.

One after another, you overcome obstacles that are conspiring to keep you from your intended destiny, and now you are an artist.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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