Monthly Archives: August 2015

Self-Taught Artists and Writers

I’m guessing that very few of you reading this post graduated from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and  many did not graduate from any graduate writing program, and possibly you were not even an English or journalism major in college. You might have had a major that was totally unrelated to writing, like Nobel novelist Saul Sorbonne634035_640Bellow, an anthropology major, or innovative French novelist/ screenwriter/essayist Alain Robbe-Grillet, an agronomist, or may not have attended college at all. Many great writers, like Nobel winner Ernest Hemingway, had no interest in attending college, and many others, like Nobel winners William Faulkner and playwright Eugene O’Neill didn’t take college seriously (well that’s probably true of 30 or 40% of all college students), and quit it because they thought it was not only not helping them, but holding them back. And I’m guessing that not more than, let’s see, two of you painters attended the Sorbonne, and some possibly never attended any art school. Yet you’re capable and have had writing and painting success. Your work has been published and art works have been shown. Some of you are professionals earning a substantial living.

The majority of you are autodidacts—mainly self-taught–and many of you autodidacts, you formally “untutored” creative people, have surpassed and achieved more success than many if not most Iowa writers, and Sorbonne painters. When most of what you know about how to paint or write creatively is a result of what you have taught yourself, of knowledge and experience you’ve acquired on your own, there is directness, freshness, and truthfulness in your work that you might not have achieved had you followed a more conventional developmental route that “everyone else” seems to be following.

French painter Henri Rousseau (1840-1910) was a self-taught autodidact too. An official with the French customs office, he began painting as a late-blooming amateur “Sunday painter” who might take his cheap paint box out into the park for an afternoon’s relaxation. He signed Rousseauhis first picture at the age of 36 and exhibited in his first show at 40. His earliest paintings were technically incorrect and unsophisticated as the work of a beginner usually is. The forms were stiff and simple; the proportions were inaccurate, and the perspectives were wrong. But in his work there was “something” that drew the attention of critics and the public—the honesty in the works, a directness that came right out of his obvious joy in the act of creation. He was an advanced autodidact and did things that other unschooled artists did not usually do, and conventionally trained painters did not do. Paint which in a run-of-the-mill painting of a beginner would be thin and dry is applied with rich body. Colors that would be anemic or muddy in the ordinary newcomer’s work were clear in Rousseau. His work continued to grow in popularity. His paintings created a world of enchantment.

This was a dangerous point for Rousseau because he had to strike a balance of learning to be more technically proficient, but not to the point that technical qualities would obliterate the originality that came to him naturally, just as I hope however technically advanced you become, you never lose your natural and authentic voice.  Rousseau had to guard his naiveté and so he created for himself a personal style based on the forms that had been spontaneous to him as a beginner—a highly cultivated style that at the same time was rooted in an untutored simplicity. And that is Rousseau’s special charm.

Although seriously technically limited by conventional standards, a painting or a story, poem, or novel, or any creative product, may be a work of art even if the work’s quality is half-accidental, as it was with Henri Rousseau.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), another thoroughly self-taught autodidact, ended his formal education at eleven. During the six years between 1849 and 1855 he turned himself from a lazy second-rate journalist and less than average creative walt-whitman-391107_640writer who couldn’t hold a job into–through a “liberation of language” never seen before on earth—one of the greatest poets the world has ever known. Prior to his first book– Leaves of Grass–he seemed to be a very untalented man. Before becoming the” father of American poetry,” he worked as a carpenter (building his own home) and as an elementary school teacher, printer, editor, shopkeeper, and in the world of newspapers, paled around with artists and sculptors, attended operas (said he learned more about writing from operas than from anything else), studied history and astronomy on his own, read voraciously, and believed in self-help and self-education. He said that during those years before Leaves of Grass when he was writing “conventional verse” he was “simmering, simmering, simmering.” This man who wrote, “I have not once had the least idea who or what I am” developed in those mystical six years a vision and style that no one since has been able to duplicate. His poetry startled the literary world and started a new direction in poetry. Readers were astonished.

Living not far from Whitman at the time, and working in solitude, unknown to the literary world, was quiet, subdued poet Emily Dickinson. Do you think it is a coincidence that those two untutored autodidacts who worked alone, were unknown, taught themselves, and never met,  would become America’s finest poets and produce work the likes of which no one had ever seen before?

Most often the reason a writer, artist, composer, etc. is not yet accomplished is not because she’s unintelligent or not talented, but because she isn’t knowledgeable enough yet. In writing and every other art, every other discipline, knowledge isn’t everything, but almost everything. The more you know, the more you can achieve—the greater your reach. The self-taught creator knows that and follows an atypical but most productive route to the knowledge she needs to excel. She looks for it wherever it may be and acquires it on her own. She has high motivation and a thirst for learning about her craft that cannot be quenched.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was reading Whitman in 1886 around the time he was painting the apocalyptic “Starry Night.” If you know your Whitman that makes perfect sense. A solitary who worked outside of any school or tradition, vincent-van-gogh-89422_640van Gogh was self-made. He had only one year’s total training from instructors, but studied ceaselessly on his own, the autodidact of autodidacts. He had tremendous faith in the future of his work, and felt it was worth sacrificing everything for it. He was a harsh self-critic, considering many of his paintings now accepted as masterpieces mere studies. At the time of his death he had sold one painting and traded another for brushes, had been represented by just a few dealers, had participated in a half-dozen shows, and had dissuaded critics from writing about his work. Few artists of any kind have made themselves as knowledgeable or clear-sighted about their art, or have a more developed understanding of painting. He rarely signed his works, believing that to do so was arrogant, and that an artist should work humbly. He had a short but prodigious career, leaving behind a legacy of more than 2,000 paintings and drawings at his death at thirty-seven.

Artists and writers and people in general who don’t follow a traditional route to expertise and beyond that to excellence–who go off on their own–may produce direct, fresh, original work they might not have been able to produce had they followed a traditional path. They are original often because they see that the traditional rules don’t suit them, or they don’t know the rules and aren’t limited by them. It may take them longer. By necessity they may have to be late-bloomers like Rousseau, van Gogh, and Whitman. But what does time matter if time is needed for you to come into your own? When writing Leaves of Grass, Whitman told himself, “Make it new.” and he did.

What we learn from autodidacts is to be original, be true to ourselves, be honest, be direct, don’t hide from ourselves, and find our own truth though it may be different from everyone else’s. You are not like other artists or writers. In Leaves of Grass Whitman writes, “I celebrate myself” which seems to me not a bad place for creative people to start.

(For further reading, you may wish to see the excellent Van Gogh: A Retrospective, edited by Susan Alyson Stein, and Geoffrey Dutton’s Whitman)

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

Fighting to win Amazon

Click on book image to order from Amazon.com

or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fighting-to-win-samurai-techniques-for-your-work-and-life-david-rogers/1119303640?ean=2940149174379

Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

Waging Business Warfare812sCY9edLL._SL1500_

Click on book image to order from Amazon.com

or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/waging-business-warfare-lessons-from-the-military-masters-in-achieving-competetive-superiority-revised-edition-david-rogers/1119079991?ean=2940149284030

 

21 Comments

Filed under Artists, Audidacticism, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Emily Dickinson, Henri Rousseau, Vincent van Gogh, Walt Whitman

Advice to Young Writers

I was asked by an administrator of a middle school in my county (grades seven and eight) if I would speak at their Career Day. Adults from about 50 careers from soldiering to farming would speak that day about their careers for twenty minutes each to five classes of students thirteen and fourteen years old. I would be the writer. I was told by a very sincere and enthusiastic woman that it would be fun and rewarding. My first thought, as would be the first classroom-510228_640thought of any conscientious writer, was, “It would mean giving up an entire day of writing,” so I said I’d have to think it over. My wife is a writing teacher/tutor of some reputation, so she said what I knew she would: “You should really do it, you know,” and of course I knew I should—it’s important to nurture the young—I know that. (I have two adult sons who write and I nurtured them, didn’t I?)–and if your wife’s tone says, “How can you not think of doing it; what kind of man are you?”–the issue is more or less settled. So I did research and wrote notes (sacrificing another half day), and rehearsed my talk (another two hours), and a few weeks later appeared at Career Day.

I opened by asking if they knew what the author of a book means by royalties, and they knew. I talked about “The opportunities available for a person who wants to make a living writing” and gave them figures on writer’s incomes and the demand for writers, telling them that opportunities are good and that there are writers who own private jets and others who have a hard time making a living, and that the quality of the actual writing sometimes (but not always) has an inverse relationship to the income—writers of trash who own the jets and authors of masterpieces who have the tough times. (At the same time Nobel Prize novelist William Faulkner’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine, he couldn’t afford to pay his electric bill, while every atrociously written (but exciting) thing Mickey Spillane wrote about his rugged gumshoe Mike Hammer topped the best seller lists). But that statistically, on average, professional writers, including freelancers, can make a decent living. They didn’t have much faith in statistics and wanted to know how much dough I made.

Even the students who were not especially interested in becoming writers were kind of curious because the life of a writer is romantic to most people, including the young. When I was a boy planning on being a writer, I thought all male novelists—the only kind of writer I thought at the time a man should be—wore cool green corduroy sport coats with leather patches on the elbows, were automatically remarkably handsome, and beautiful women with long legs and dangling earrings that glittered thought them uncommonly sensual, and couldn’t help themselves, and fell in love with them right and left. Popular novelist of the fifties John O’Hara wrote, “How nice, people say, to be a writer and be your own boss, work when you please and don’t have to punch a time clock, knock off whenever you feel like it, and go to Sun Valley or Hobe Sound or Placid or Bermuda” and later said, “I’m afraid that one illusion is responsible for more brief writing careers than any other single factor.” But I told them Flaubert, who sweated and moaned over every word and comma, said “It is a delicious thing to write.”

hand-299675_640(1)They found it appealing that if you write at home, as many writers do, you have tremendous freedom, can break for lunch whenever you want,( but, I cautioned, need equally tremendous discipline so as not to slough off and miss deadlines and get editors furious with you), and can work in your underwear if you’re in an underwear sort of mood. And if you’re a man, since you’re not planning to see anyone, you don’t have to shave every day if you’re not inclined to, which the average nine-to-five man would give an arm and a leg not to have to do.

They asked was I famous, and that gave me a chance to tell my famous story. Someone in a Canada was trying to get hold of me and didn’t have my phone number, but knew I lived in Chicago, a city of three and a half million. So they called Chicago Directory Assistance and asked for the number of David J. Rogers. Now there are scores of David J, Rogers in Chicago. Rogers is the seventeenth most common name in the U.S. But without a moment’s hesitation the operator said casually, “You must mean the author” and put them right through to me. The Canadian said to me, “Wow, you must really be famous” and I thought, “Somewhere here in this city is at least one operator who read my book.”

Then we got into:

What the life of a professional writer is like; what a professional writer is like

What a professional writer does

The skills and abilities a writer needs

How a writer prepares for a writing career

I told them that “all writers take pride in their writing and are always trying to get better. It’s important to them to improve and that happens the more you write and the more you study how to write. Making it a point to improve your writing all the time is important. Ask yourself today, “Am I improving,” and tomorrow and the next day ask, “Am I improving?” You are learning how to write here and will in high school and college, if you choose to go there. There are many books and magazines and web sites about how to get better. Just try to get better and better and learn as much as you can about writing. Many famous writers were more or less self-made and pretty much self-taught. Good writers are reading and learning all the time because who knows what they might have to write about? Writers are craftsman. Words and language are their tools—the sounds of language, the rhythms of language, the meanings. Words are at the center of a writer’s existence. Writers have the strongest appreciation of words, the largest vocabularies, and a highly sensitive ear for speech. Build up your vocabulary every day. not to impress people—who cares about that–but because the more words you know, the more you can express, and a goal of a good writer is to be able to express anything he/she has ever experienced or can imagine.”

When I was in business I hired only English majors not business majors because English majors can express themselves and they can also think clearly. If you can’t think clearly, you can’t write clearly. To me, clarity is the most important thing. And I believe it is to the reader too.”

“Also, you’d better like working alone in solitude at least a few hours every day. If you like working with other people go into sales or acting.”

The day ended. I was exhausted. I thought, “How do teachers do it?”

A Writer’s Cork Board of Inspiration

A girl named Hannah in one of the classes whose ambition was to be a writer sent me some quotes by writers about Girl writingwriting (she could tell I loved writer’s quotes), and I sent her a letter thanking her. She wrote me another letter thanking me for what I had said in my letter. I had merely asked her what kind of writer she would be: “Will you be writing novels?” She wrote: “I really enjoyed writing those quotes and I’m glad you like them. It’s really inspiring to hear them and think how true they are. The quotes, along with the letter I have received from you are going on my cork board of inspiration. I’ll have it in front of my desk to motivate me and spark my imagination.”

What had happened I could see was that I had taken her seriously–possibly in a way no one else had yet–and given her a vote of confidence. I just assumed that what she wanted to have happen would in fact happen: sure as I’d followed the writer’s path, one day she would follow it—and in fact was already following it. I was acknowledging that, and that acknowledgement in that one sentence of my letter—“Will you be writing novels?”—would be on her cork board of inspiration and would be there for her to see and gain encouragement from every day. How glorious that made me feel.

Who knows what treasures one day Hannah will write?

© 2015 David J. Rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

Fighting to win Amazon

Click on book image to order from Amazon.com

or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fighting-to-win-samurai-techniques-for-your-work-and-life-david-rogers/1119303640?ean=2940149174379

Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

Waging Business Warfare812sCY9edLL._SL1500_

Click on book image to order from Amazon.com

or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/waging-business-warfare-lessons-from-the-military-masters-in-achieving-competetive-superiority-revised-edition-david-rogers/1119079991?ean=2940149284030

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Expectations, Goals and Purposes, Inspiring Young People, Motivation, Personal Stories, The Writer's Path, Writers

Writer and Artist Warriors

sunset-190922_640My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman who had the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I’d had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published—the odds were against that as they are against any book being published–and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed, that I didn’t have what it took. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. She whispered in my ear, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you. Write it for me.”

I returned home and organized my work space and set to work, thinking of her “Write it for me.” I told my wife, “I’ll close the business and I’ll finish the book in one year, and during that year we will have no income.” My wife said, “I understand. Go ahead. It’s important.” Nothing could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was discouraged that purpose made me return to the book and to work till dawn, to sleep a few hours and get back to work for a year until the book was done. While I was working on it I thought, “I’m making a book Sharon would be proud of.”

I dedicated it to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage,” and that word meant a lot to me because in this life everyday courage is so important.

Fighting to win Amazon

My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life came out and has been called “an underground bestseller” because with almost no advertising it swept the country and my life was changed in so many ways. The book became known in my family as FTW. It went through multiple printings, and appeared on bestseller lists; the cover price rose and rose. FTW discussion groups took shape in big cities and remote towns in America and Europe. Articles about this strange book with the Japanese symbol “spirit” on its cover appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines alike. The book was read by generals, governors, and dancers, writers, artists, and riveters, heart surgeons, business executives, retirees, and sales clerks. It began being included on university required reading lists. It was not about Anthropology, Physics, or Botany, but about how to live. This little book is about musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship.” It teaches the skills and passes on the insights of samurai warriors adapted to everyday life.

It is an optimistic and encouraging book. That’s how I intended it. It is full of promise, full of hope. It teaches strength and makes you strong. It says we have but one life, but this one life can be changed in an instant. It can become two lives. The life before the changes and the richer, more fulfilled and stunning life after them. We can renew ourselves and start fresh at will on a new creative course, a more fruitful course, a better course any moment we wish, putting aside disappointments, discouragements, false starts, and failures and emerging as full-blown, skilled, exceptional artists or writers. Every living thing, every artist, every writer, has an urge to grow, to realize its full potential. My life tells me that. I believe it more every day.

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

The book teaches us to persevere, to be brave and not hide from difficulties, but to race forward to meet them so we may overcome them all the more quickly, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. It teaches that we must never be stationary, but must be always moving at a good clip toward a better life, never slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set back by circumstances. “When you meet calamities and rough situations, it isn’t enough simply to say you’re not flustered. Whenever you meet difficult situations dash forward bravely and joyfully.”

Readers started contacting me, and I was happy to get to know them and listen to the stories they told me. In the revised E-book edition I mention a few of their stories.

A Hollywood movie director called me and said he felt that people in that aggressive film industry had been “eating him alive.” A successful opera singer wrote me and told me she had been overwhelmed by a sudden and inexplicable fear of performing. She felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do and stopped singing. They read FTW. He became more assertive, self-confident, and successful; she overcame her fear and went back on stage and resumed her career.

A newspaper was having serious financial problems. Its existence was in jeopardy. And so the publisher was going to launch a five-day intense telephone subscription sales campaign using 100 sales people. The publisher, who was also a playwright, was confident that exposure to FTW ideas would inspire them, and had me speak to them for an hour. Following the campaign, he called me and said that the campaign had been a huge success–the staff was fired up and the result was thousands of new subscriptions. He said, “You and FTW saved the paper.”

The book teaches us the samurai concept of mo chih ch’u, “going ahead without hesitation.” It’s not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Once you can say to yourself “This is what I want to do”—“Write the novel I’ve been talking about so long;” “Rent a studio;” “Move”– then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch ’u. Why delay when life is so brief and the most important time of your entire life is this present moment?

I shouldn’t have to ask where you intend to go in your career. I should be able to tell by watching you and hearing and reading about you. Your undeviating aim should be to reach the fulfillment of the creator’s life you can envision, letting no impediments keep you from it. You know that in this life you’ve chosen rather than the other 5,000 easier lives you could have chosen, courage is a necessity, that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back in reserve, and that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Getting closer each day to a more fulfilled creator’s life, becoming extraordinary, your energy and strength will be boundless. Others will let go of their dreams, but you never will. You’ll draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust yourself for the sake of your happiness.

You must never lose the expectation that no matter what, you will succeed. Your art will work out. Your book will be published. Your skills will get better and better, equipping you for your craft in ways you haven’t dreamed of yet. Knocked down, maintain your confidence that all will go well as long as you get up. Knocked down seven times, get up eight. For that is how a better creator’s life is reached. Like a warrior, you must only “take care that your spirit is never broken.” Never let disappointment and discouragement “penetrate to the depths.” “Wear your existence light as a feather.”

The samurai warrior spoke of internal “dragons” and “striking through the dragon’s mask.” The samurai was taught what we should take to heart: “When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.” When your blocks are removed you will write, paint, sculpt, or perform without conscious effort. “Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’” After reading the book people ask themselves, or ask their friends, “What is holding me back? What are my dragons? How can I overcome them?”

dragon-149393_150Ask any small child what a dragon is and you’ll get an earful of terror and horror. You and I both believed in fire-breathing dragons until we discovered that the only place they existed was in our minds, that they were merely products of our imagination. They only “lived” and had the power to frighten us because we granted them license to. They died and no longer troubled us when we revoked their license. All obstacles inside us—in our minds–are dragons. They are no longer of the fire-breathing variety. They are now a different species entirely. But the effect of scaring us and making us draw back in horror is precisely the same. The goal of the warrior writer and artist is to strike through dragon’s masks and free himself/herself of obstacles so the mind is “free to function according to its own true nature.”

The five most powerful dragons samurai—there were women samurai too–were trained to strike through, and artists, writers and performers must train themselves to strike through, are any kind of fear, the fear of taking risks, thinking too much of what might go wrong, doubting yourself, and hesitating, particularly when that golden but fleeting opportunity appears. If the samurai was afraid, didn’t take risks, thought too much, doubted himself, or hesitated, he would lose—possibly his life–because of fear most of all. A creative person must be bold; fear cripples her: “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Overcome fear and nothing can stop you.”

The one constant factor in warfare as well as a writer’s and artist’s life is uncertainty. Half the things you try to accomplish are obscured by it. Risk and danger and fear and self-doubt are always partners. You do not go into the arts if you want a secure, uneventful life of ease. In samurai swordsmanship there is a move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In a creator’s life, as with that sword move, it is only by edging yourself in close to danger and living more dangerously that you approach great success. Who are those artists and writers who are least satisfied with their lives? Precisely those gloomy writers and artists—and actors and dancers– who regret, now when it’s too late, being timid and playing it safe all their lives.

bird-226700_640As an artist or writer, you must have an immovable mind—a mind totally committed to facing with calmness and composure any fate, circumstance, or challenge a creator’s life throws at you. An artist’s or writer’s life is often filled with troubles. But you must never let them disable you: “Forget about death, forget about the enemy, forget about yourself, keep your thoughts motionless.” Then you will “flow with whatever may happen.” Then your craft will blossom and you will reach your destiny.

Unless you have mastered your mind and body, you cannot beat your enemies on the battlefield.” Take up one idea. Make that idea your life, recalling,  “No matter what it is, there is no hardship you can’t overcome.” Like a warrior “When crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

Fighting to win Amazon

Click on book image to order from Amazon.com

or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fighting-to-win-samurai-techniques-for-your-work-and-life-david-rogers/1119303640?ean=2940149174379

Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

Waging Business Warfare812sCY9edLL._SL1500_

Click on book image to order from Amazon.com

or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/waging-business-warfare-lessons-from-the-military-masters-in-achieving-competetive-superiority-revised-edition-david-rogers/1119079991?ean=2940149284030

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Blocks to Action, Boldness, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Eastern Philosophy, Goals and Purposes, Motivation, Personal Stories, Samurai Techniques, Success, Warriors, Work Production, Writers