Monthly Archives: March 2015

Boldness and Success for Artists, Writers, and Everyone Else

“Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men.”                                                                 —French Novelist Antoine St. Exupery

Be willing to incur danger.

When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning.

We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap.

 The Value of Living Dangerously

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your artistic potential free, and you will not do that without being bold.

For most people the problem is not being too audacious and bold, but not being bold enough. After serving as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower returned to civilian life speaking of the value of “living dangerously,” and that resonates with artists and serious writers; that resonates with everyone.

Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life, your work, your art is going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look particularly grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward confidently, even if you don’t feel up to it.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. He came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our personal life or our artistic life, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

People want to know more about boldness. I was asked to write an article on the subject for Success magazine and the article received one of the magazine’s highest readership scores ever.

 Boldness and Success

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life, and that it is a quality of greatness in every field of human endeavor, possibly especially in the arts where courage is not a luxury, but a necessity. The great names in the arts could not have attained great success had they not taken great risks. Boldness is part and parcel of writers’ and artists’ lives. Even becoming one carries risks. What if Ernest Hemingway had decided he was more likely to be successful if he played it safe and wrote the way everyone else of his era wrote and did not risk failure with a writing style no one had ever seen before? You must be bold to tell the truth in your work and reveal your authentic self to an audience.

It could be that right now you are hanging back from making a decision and taking decisive action because you’re afraid of taking the chance. But success often resides in one place: on the other side of those risks. You were never happy in your career, but you could have remained in it and led a secure and good enough life. But the career wasn’t you at your best. You wanted more than good enough, so you took a chance on a different career. Now you’re happier.

In kendo–Japanese swordsmanship–there is a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent scares the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foes’ blade. Your future success in writing and the world of the arts may lie close to the blade.

Psychologist Gordon Allport said, “To be able to make your life a wager is man’s crowning achievement.”

Strategies: Take the Necessary Chances

  • Realize that every important choice involves risk. You make a choice. Your hopes are high, but the choice could always be a bad one. Nevertheless, you take your chances, overcoming self-doubt, and coming close to the blade and risking defeat, you succeed. In your life you’ve had your share of close calls. By the slimmest margin things worked out for you. They could have been disastrous, but they weren’t. And now, even in hindsight, you know that you would make the same choice again, your eyes wide open. We must make honest choices without illusion, with the full awareness of the consequences–either way.
  • Take a chance of failing. What better way is there to learn to succeed than by failing? If you never fail you’re aiming too low. You take the chance and try, but you fail. You take another chance and try again, but you fail. But you’re learning all along. Then you make corrections, take a chance again, and try again. This time you succeed. But you wouldn’t have succeeded if you hadn’t failed and taken a second or third chance. Or maybe it was your hundredth chance. You were wise: you found out what would succeed by finding out what wouldn’t. Fainter hearts would have given up, but you didn’t. You didn’t make the mistake of being afraid to make one. You were like a bulldog. You sank your teeth in and wouldn’t let go.
  • Be willing to incur danger. If your life consisted merely in avoiding risks, it would be extremely mediocre. Being courageous even in the midst of uncertainty brings a new intensity and sets you apart.
  • Be strong in the face of criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground.
  • Plan ahead–as well as you can. Plans are representations of possible reality, but are not in themselves reality. We look ahead and what do we see? We see that half of the factors on which our decisions are made and our actions are taken are obscured by a kind of fog. Some things will always be ambiguous. We will never see the lay of the land exactly as it really is. Nevertheless, those decisions have to be made and those actions have to be taken. You can’t stand around hoping to be totally sure, or go around asking people, “What should I do next?” Whatever important action you are contemplating now, you have no choice but to live in uncertainty as to whether it will be the right one.
  • When the situation is unclear, but the outcome is important, have courage. There is no greater courage than the courage to risk being wrong.
  • From time to time in our life, a moment of great opportunity opens up before us and invites us to take hold. Often we’re too cautious, or too preoccupied, or just too lazy or stupid to pluck it. The maxim goes, “Opportunity knocks but once.” Why is that such a popular saying when there’s no truth to it? Opportunity knocks constantly if we listen closely enough. It’s knocking all the time. Sometimes it’s knocking so hard it’s deafening.
  • When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning. An opportunity will present itself to you–today, tomorrow, another day. All life long you have to be on your toes, being alert to great opportunities, and recognizing that here it is—your special moment. Then you must grasp it despite knowing that nothing is guaranteed.
  • Have high expectations, but be prepared for anything. A study was done of “failure prone” people. They had two noticeable traits. One was the illusion that they were immune to bad luck. The other was the illusion that they could control life’s events. When events that they had no control over struck they were thrown off balance and they failed. The more consistently successful people took the unexpected into account. They prepared themselves for it. When it struck, they were ready. Knowing that at times the unexpected will appear and challenge your goals, you should prepare yourself. You must make the unexpected expected. You must have options in mind and be bold with them. What major goals are you pursuing? When the unexpected arrives, what are your options? What will you do?
  • Never be rash. Boldness stops at the outer edge of the impossible. There is one great disease we should be forever vigilant of–egotism. We should guard ourselves against self-infatuation and the notion that we’re invincible. We aren’t fit for everything. We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap. We should be willing to incur danger, but must never underestimate it. We should never undertake actions without sufficient means to support them, and should always obey our sober judgment.
  • Move forward if it’s to your advantage. If it isn’t, stay put. You’ll win a struggle when you know when to struggle and when not to struggle. Some courses of action should not be followed, some opportunities should not be pursued, and some decisions should not be made.
  • If you have to worry, do it beforehand, never after. In his book Psycho-cybernetics Maxwell Maltz told the story of a woman who while playing roulette observed players who were totally at ease before they placed their bets. The odds seemed not to matter to them. But when the wheel began to spin they became agitated and worried. She thought how ridiculous that was. If they were going to worry, they should worry before they placed the bet. After the wheel was turning, they might just as well forget their worries, relax, and enjoy the game. It came to her that she did the same thing in her life. She made many personal decisions without considering the risks, and after making them she second-guessed herself and worried endlessly if she had done the right thing. From the roulette experience she learned to work hard to make intelligent decisions and to do whatever worrying she was going to do beforehand. Her decisions improved; her life improved. Making better decisions, she started worrying less.
  • Maintain a strong mind. However risky, even dangerous your choice, and however excited you are, maintain a serenity under that excitement so that your judgment remains untouched and free. Show courage, decisiveness, strength of determination, and coolness under pressure even when you’re deepest in trouble or the most discouraged.
  • Lead a lifestyle of painstaking preparation combined with bold, sweeping action. Calculate what you can. But once your calculations are done, take action. Like a swordsman, develop your talents to the highest possible level and meticulously prepare yourself for the great event; then edge in close to the opportunity before you.
  • Be great at the critical moment. Most of the time life places no great demands on you. But at certain times the consequences are great, and the pressure on you is extreme. It is then that you must rise up and be equally great or all will be lost. It’s when you come through then that you’re at your finest. It is precisely when you are in dire straits and your prospects seem dimmest that you should be at your best. Then you must rejuvenate yourself with a limitless courage. You will never be as great as you are at that critical moment.

What will be your critical moments in your artistic career?

Will you be great?

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Non-Attachment: The Solution to an Artist’s or Writer’s Problem

It’s a paradox that when we detach ourselves from thoughts of ourselves and how we’re coming across and do with concentration solely what’s necessary to do to create good art, many obstacles disappear and no longer trouble us. Then the work we do is infinitely better and the artist’s life we lead is infinitely happier. We just do our work as well as we can and live our life as well as we can because that’s how work should be done and an artist’s life should be lived.

“Victory goes to the one who has no thought of himself.” (Chozan Shissai, The Way of the Sword)

 Archers and Artists

bows-and-arrows-650474_640(1)Two thousand years ago Chuang Tzu wrote a description of a situation so relevant to painters, writers, dancers, and other artists of today that he could have written it this morning. He wrote that when an archer is shooting and no external prize is at stake he possesses all his skill. The moment a prize is riding on the shot, even a brass buckle, the archer becomes nervous and loses confidence. If the prize is more valuable, as a quantity of gold, “he shoots as if he were blind.”

Describe that situation to archers today and they will tell you what they tell me: “That’s exactly what happens.”

The archer’s skill hasn’t changed, but the importance the archer has attached to the prize has made him care too much. Because he is thinking more about winning the prize than simply shooting the arrow he becomes anxious and his performance suffers.

When realizing that a critic, an editor, an agent, a reviewer, a gallery owner, a potential buyer, an audience will soon be evaluating the work, for most artists, even the best and most highly regarded, the self-conscious uneasiness begins.

Crippling self-doubt and fear of not succeeding and falling in someone’s estimation are not only the archer’s, but the artist’s, major internal obstacles, haunting many artists, writers, composers, and performers, replacing self-confidence with discouragement at the first hint of possible failure, and making many magnificently talented people give up and quit their art rather than endure them.

So the question is: How can artists keep from going blind?

 What is Non-Attachment?

On the one hand, making a painting or story should be its own reward. The artist should be happy just because of the fulfillment inherent in the artistic work itself. He shouldn’t care whether the work will be liked by others, or whether he will receive public recognition and possibly wealth. But he does care, and the conflicting motivations of art for its own sake on the one hand and art for profit or other external signs of success on the other put the artist in a quandary, particularly if to achieve success he is asked to make compromises and do things he does not want to do. Is there a way to solve this quandary?

misty-364498_640To non-attach means to be totally engrossed, completely absorbed in the fulfillment of the task before you, whatever it is, and the full realization of your art and your potential, giving everything to them and nothing but them, forgetting everything else. Bullfighter Juan Belmonte, the greatest torero of his era, an artist of the bullring, wrote, “I forget the public, the bullfighters, myself, even the bull.” Japanese samurai, the most action-oriented and decisive people ever to live, were advised that to be effective in action they must “forget life in the face of an opponent, forget death, forget the enemy, forget yourself.” Free yourself from any preoccupation with yourself—your fame, your wealth– and you’ll overcome impediments to your best work because your focus will be on the work 100%, nothing left over for anything else. All your attention will be brought to bear on the one thing to be written, painted, composed, or performed.

The non-attached artist is the most conscientious of people. All actions are equally important to him or her. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be indifferent to the results of your efforts, or not to be ambitious. Be active, be industrious, like a sculptor, make chips, be ambitious, accomplish goals, emphasize actions, get things done.

If fame or fortune, success, honors, and achievement come your way, that’s fine, that’s wonderful, that’s something to be happy about. But the mistake we make is getting caught up in them, hungering for them, clinging to them, needing them desperately and, measuring our self-worth against our ability to achieve them. If we make that mistake and don’t achieve them, we’ll feel we’re failures. Just put your mind, your spirit, your energy–your whole being–into the action at hand, the person at hand, the life at hand, the writing or painting or dancing at hand, and forget everything else.

 The Woodworker and “Outward Considerations”

woodwork-166695_640There was a master woodworker who made such beautiful works that the king himself demanded to know the secret of his art.

“Your highness,” said the woodworker, “there is no secret. It’s all very simple. When I set out to make a chair I enter the forest and look for the right tree, the tree that is waiting there to become my chair. I cut it down and set to work. I clear my mind of everything else. I become oblivious to any reward to be gained or fame I might acquire. When I’m free from such outward considerations I just do exactly what I have to do, using all my skill.”

When you free yourself from everything else, and again and again bring your concentration back to what you have yet to do, you’re at your best. The woodworker produced masterpieces, but didn’t worry about producing a masterpiece. The highest performers in field after field—business and industry and the arts–are motivated by the work itself—to do the best job possible–and not by external rewards. Even though they are more successful and receive those rewards more than other people, they aren’t driven by them.

When you work best you accept yourself with no strings attached. Finally, at last, you don’t have to prove yourself. You just do whatever is there for you to do. If you’re a woodworker you absorb yourself in creating the finest chair you can, never stopping to think of what glories will be yours when you produce a masterpiece. If you’re a baseball player you don’t worry about how cheered you’ll be if you get a hit, or what a goat you’ll be if you don’t. You just step up to the plate, keep your eye on the ball, and when it gets close you swing the bat. If you step to the podium and worry about what the audience is thinking of you, you won’t be totally focused on what you have to say, and you’ll fumble and stumble. But if you just concentrate on the words you’re speaking and speak with sincerity, you should do well.

cabbage-flower-204087_640Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote, “I was not born happy….In adolescence, I hated my life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more about mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more. Very largely it is due to diminishing the preoccupation with myself.”

 The Process of Brushing Off

One person may be 25% taller than another or 25% more intelligent. We think that’s pretty significant. Yet some people are 50 or 100 times more creative than others. Creative artists are the best workers in the world. They are models of human motivation and productivity. They will work alone long hours for years, without feedback, without recognition, without praise, overcoming hardships and setbacks without flinching, always returning with high energy to the work which life has equipped them with a talent for, often producing a vast output. Yet they often meet hostility from critics of all sorts unparalleled in other fields.

English writer Rudyard Kipling would go on to establish himself as a master stylist with a staggering ability with words and to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But early in his career a publisher wrote him: “I’m sorry, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Vladimir Nabokov, also a dazzling stylist, received this message from a publisher in response to Lolita: “I recommend that you bury this under a stone for a thousand years.” Many successful writers, artists, and actors, like painter Jackson Pollock, who revolutionized painting, have been told, “You haven’t an ounce of talent.”

When you non-attach you brush off such attacks, insults, and unfair criticisms because you’re not seeking anyone’s approval. If there is one thing famous artists will tell you it is that you work best and are most powerfully motivated to create and will surmount even major obstacles when you’re not thinking of anyone’s liking but your own.

Such a confident attitude gives you courage. In response to so many heartless rejection letters from editors, novelist Henry Miller, who was not one to suffer fools, said, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off telling me these things?” It is often the artist who’s not seeking approval who receives it.

 Not So Eccentric After All

Many creative people are considered eccentric when they aren’t eccentric at all. They just non-attach and are less at the mercy of people’s opinions. They genuinely don’t give a hoot what others think. Independence is a cornerstone of the creator’s personality.

Composer Igor Stravinsky was doted on by people who knew of his greatness. But he enjoyed himself more when in the company of people who’d never heard of him. Maurice Ravel, possibly the greatest piano composer of the twentieth century, was always averse to writing and talking about himself. When complimented for his creative ideas, Thomas Edison, as creative a human being as ever lived, declined credit. He said that ideas were “in the air,” and that if he hadn’t discovered them someone else would have. Of the handful of Emily Dickinson’s poems published in her lifetime, not one bore her name.

 Strategies

Practice letting go of any preoccupation with yourself. Nudge your attention away from yourself and back to the work at hand and the actions the art calls on you to perform, and you will excel. Just render the drawing; just write the novel, just perform the dance, just market your work.

  • Whatever task you’re performing say to yourself, “This one thing I’m going to do as well as I’m able. I am not concerned with myself. I am indifferent to everything but the quality of my work.”
  • Refuse to frighten yourself with anxious thoughts of all that’s riding on your success, of the honors that may be yours if you succeed, or of the horrors if you fail. Just bring your focus back to the objective at hand and watch obstacles dissolve. If wealth, fame, or accolades come your way, they will without your worrying about them.
  • Be bold in the face of harsh criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground. Be unruffled under fire—cool and calm, unintimidated. Never let undeserved criticism weaken your confidence. They are wrong; you are right! We remember Rembrandt and Michelangelo; no one remembers their critics. You must never lose unshakeable confidence that you have the ability to produce quality art and will succeed sooner or later.
  • Always try to improve, but never dwell on your imperfections.
  • Place your emphasis on developing your skills to the highest possible level above everything else. The higher your skills, the higher the goals you’ll achieve and the more clearly you’ll express yourself, your vision, your voice.
  • Do what your life calls on you to do for its own sake. Engross yourself in it–big job or small job, important or unimportant, praiseworthy or not, paid or unpaid. Give freely of your talent without expecting anything in return.

CalderArtist Alexander Calder was asked why sculptors like to produce large works. He answered, “It’s more exhilarating…and then one can think he’s a big shot.” Rare are the people who can live five days without getting caught up in themselves–or five minutes. Ninety percent of what we talk about is ourselves and 95% of what we think about is ourselves. Our preoccupation with ourselves creates many of our miseries.

But when we become non-attached and focus on our work and the steady development of our talents to the exclusion of every other concern, we stop worrying about being big shots and talking and thinking so much about ourselves.

Then our work leaps up and becomes exceptional.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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