The Perfect Creator Is Bold
What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your creative potential free? And you will not do that without being bolder.
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. The teacher 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 creative lives, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”
The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life. It’s a quality of excellence, of greatness, in every discipline, every field, especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks. Even becoming creative at all carries risks. Creating seriously isn’t a typical life. Most careers are much less risky.
For almost all people—creative men and women among them–the problem isn’t being too audacious, but not being audacious enough. Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life and your creativity are going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward boldly. Boldness brings a new intensity and sets you apart. When the situation is unclear but the outcome is important, be bold.
I’m interested in the samurai way of life and wrote a book about it. I find in it many analogies to creative peoples’ lives. In kendo—samurai swordsmanship—there’s 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 frightens 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 is bold and knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade. Your greatest future success in your creative life may lie close to the blade.
The Perfect Creator Is Sincere and Has Integrity
The true center of our experience with any kind of creation is the sense that someone with a mind, a personality, and a range of experiences is trying to communicate with us. That sense accounts—if it’s favorable–for much of the pleasure we get from the work or performance. What a creative person is intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally radiates in the work and can’t be hidden. Herman Melville said, “No man can read a fine author, and relish him to his very bones, while he reads, without subsequently“ forming “some ideal image of the man and his mind. And if you look…you’ll find the author has furnished you with his own picture.”
The most loved creator is the one who’s able to develop a relationship with the audience that goes beyond liking and beyond friendship to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity we find in the work or the performance. Sincerity is what I sense all through the works of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee. Anyone who can write so beautifully and so sensitively, honestly, and intensely must be trying to pass on to me something that he cares deeply about. (See especially Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.) The sincere, intimate creator invites us in to her inner life and says “Here I am.” The sincere creative man or woman is trying hard to convey something directly to me as well as he or she is able. And I respond.
Good creators have integrity. They are whole and authentic. When we have integrity we guarantee we aren’t faking, or deceiving, or compromising. It’s futile to think we can hide ourselves from the audience for very long or fool them into believing we’re something we’re not. The person we are—with our history and our points of view and perspectives and opinions–comes through clearly.
A creative person’s authentic voice isn’t achieved by adding something, but by the opposite process—by subtracting what’s pretentious or phony. Every creative person is different from every other. There are no duplicates. But whatever he is like, we’re trying to locate him, understand, and admire him.
The Perfect Creator Is Fearless
All athletes, business executives, adventurers–and cab drivers, accountants, homemakers—and all creative people of any kind know that the single emotion that most often holds them back is fear. Hardly a single day goes by without most people being afraid of something.
Every early morning I go to my work room upstairs and settle down to write. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words that generating text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days, and certain days it’s powerful and tries to keep me from work. On those days I pause, fold my hands in my lap, gaze at the screen and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “What I’m feeling right now is fear.”
Author Joan Didion wrote, “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning.. I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.”
I ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”
Bear in mind that I’ve had many successes in writing. I’ve proven myself. Also, I am no coward who’s easily intimidated. I once rescued a woman from a would-be rapist–chased him, caught him, fought with him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him till the police came. I was heroic. Yet, when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than I do anything else, sometimes I’m scared.
Each time I visited a painter friend I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years. When we got together again I asked, “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel so long?”
She said, “I never finished it.”
I said, “You were afraid.”
She said, “I was terrified of it.”
The goal is to be fearless when facing your creative responsibilities and tasks and obstacles, as many creative people are. Or to learn to be unafraid, or being afraid, to face up to fears and conquer them. There are creative people who are totally fearless. They don’t experience any fear whatsoever, the way some soldiers are fearless—and happiest–when under fire in combat. Such creative people have a high threshold of fear, just as some people have a high threshold of pain.
There are creative people who experience fear and are stopped by it. They may be superb creatively but that doesn’t matter. They’re at fear’s mercy. When you’re stopped by fear, you have only the slightest chance of being successful. That’s why the top is such an exclusive place—because fear stops so many people from reaching it. Thousands upon thousands of wonderfully talented creative people fall by the way and simply quit–hundreds or thousands every day– because fear paralyzes them and they aren’t able to recover. There’s no premium on gifted creators. Gifted creators with indefatigable courage are a rarer breed.
Then there are other creative people who feel afraid but conquer their fear by nevertheless doing what must be done. They feel as afraid as anyone else, but they react differently. They have a lower threshold of fear than the fearless person. But they don’t permit their fear to stop them. You look at them and you can hardly believe your eyes. You know they’re afraid, and yet are unstoppable. They know that the best way to conquer fear is to do what you fear to do no matter how afraid you are. And that you can do.
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the old man Santiago is in his skiff out on the sea when a small bird lands on the boat to rest. The old man talks to it, saying that the bird can stay for a while but then must fly away, taking his chances like every other bird And so must we creative people take our chances, afraid or unafraid.
Paintings by Janet Weight Reed, one of my favorite artists and bloggers, are featured in this post. When I told her I was writing a post on boldness, fearlessness and sincerity and would like to use a piece of her artwork, she sent me three paintings, saying:
If ever a painting of mine symbolises boldness and fearlessness, it is the attached (large oil on canvas) self-portrait. It was painted in 1989 during one of the biggest turning points in my life and career. I keep the painting with me as a reminder of what it is to persevere through seemingly impossible obstacles.
The hummingbird (watercolour) also symbolises for me the same traits. They have been significant in my paintings, large and small over the past 35 years, symbolising the ‘unseen magic’ of our world….a source to be tapped into during times of great duress.When I observe the life of cats (small and large) – I see the same traits…..
Loving all Janet’s work, it was very difficult for me to choose one of the paintings, so I have included all three she sent me.
© 2016 David J. Rogers
For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:
Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers
Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority
31 responses to “The Perfect Creative Personality”
Good morning David. Thank you so much for this blog about one of the most important topics surrounding creatives and the creative process. Fear is indeed crippling and as you say prevents some of the most talented artists from pursuing their creative path.
Prior to 1989, when I painted the self portrait, I lived with an underlying sense of fear and anxiety which ruled my life. In 1987, I made some bold and audacious life/career choices – causing many to say that I had ‘gone mad’ -whereas in fact, I had ‘gone sane.’
Going sane, has allowed me to move forward for the most part fearlessly, however, when fear does creep in….and of course it always does, I am now able to look it square in the face and understand the whys and wherefores….and move through it.
I will share this post on my blog and with other creatives.
Janet, I never tire of admiring your strength and the ability you’ve shown to declare yourself as an independent, undeterred, bold woman and artist who’s in the habit of overcome obstacles. Thank you so much for permitting me to highlight your lovely work in this post. It enhanced the post immensely and I have heard glowing comments from so many people about the paintings. Thank you also for sharing the blog with your many friends. I’m enjoying hearing from them and hearing again how much you mean to them. I’ve seen on your blog how devoted your followers are and I can understand why.
Good morning, David and thank you so much for this lovely comment. A beautiful way to begin my week. Have a lovely day and week ahead. Janet:)
Janet, Thank you for your wish for a happy week. I wish you the same of course, and again want to tell you how pleasant it is to hear from your friends who admire you so.
I read the entire post. Yes, one must continue never stop never stop, do not let it fall by the wayside..Love Janet’s work..I love all the care free playfulness of her color. The self portrait, is strong undeterred stoic.
Yes, Ted, I like your message–be dogged, persevere, persist, don’t quit. I too admire Janet’s art so much and I’m taken by her writing and her personality as well. I think your “stoic” is the right word for her self-portrait, dignified and self-possessed.
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Dignified, perfect spot-on description!
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Positive motivation, inspiring read for any profession.
Jose, Thank you for your comment. I think what I’m always trying to say in my work is, “There is so much to you–even more than your realize. Now you must do something with it.”
Hi David. I was delighted to see Janet and her work featured here. She is truly amazing, not just as an artist, but as a person. She has given me treasured words of encouragement. Hummingbird hugs to you both. 🙂
Teagan–what a lovely name. Thank you for your comment. Yes, Janet is a truly amazing woman who I think would have been remarkable in most any field she would have pursued. I love her work and her wisdom. Hummingbird hugs to you too. I like that.
Reblogged this on Becky's Book Notes and commented:
This is an excellent article on creativity. It mirrored me when talking of fear, and I’m assuming I’m not alone, especially among debut authors. Thank you, David Rogers!
Rebecca, thank you for reblogging the post and for your comment. You’re absolutely right–no doubt about it–fear is a universal emotion among writers, and not only debut writers. I’ve written so much that when I think about it my head spins, and still I’m no stranger to fear, but in the post I wrote about writers’ moods, I point out that no matter how the writer feels when the work session begins, when it ends the writer almost always feels terrific. In other words, fear is washed away by the work itself. I hope you’ll stay in touch.
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An excellent post, and I thank you for sharing this.
Thank you, Connie, for the comment and for following my blog. It’s kind of you, and as you point out, there are so many kind people in the blogging world. I saw on your blog what difficult times you are facing, and wish you the best. I hope we will stay in touch.
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Thank you, and we’ll stay in touch.
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I look forward to that.
I am a big fan of Janet’s, have enjoyed her fluid and bold work via WordPress. I am a writer, David, and really enjoyed your post here (from Janet’s link). Your strong words on courage and boldness really resonated. Thank you.
Jet, I’m happy that you sent me your comment and like my ideas. You can tell I’m a big fan of Janet’s too. I wish you the best on your writing and hope we talk again. I enjoyed reading your biography on your website. It seems to me you have a interesting and rewarding life.
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Thanks so much, David. I plan to be stronger and bolder after our exchange. And I hope to connect with you again….
I’m sure we will connect again, and I applaud your determination to be strong.
One of my favorite artists and perfect timing for me. Love the post David.
I’m so happy to hear from you again, Mary, and from time to time re-read your comment about how consumed you are at times by your work–how absorbed in it you become. I often have the same experience. Interestingly, several people have commented to me that this post is particularly timely for them. I think people have to be reminded–myself included–that so many good things follow from boldness, sincerity and courage. Seems these topics are always timely for creative people. Your sunflowers are lovely–such yellows, and how can I look at the painting without thinking of Wordsworth’s “Sunflowers.”
I cannot tell you, David, how much I enjoyed this post. The beautiful art from Janet (O the self portrait!), the photos, including the one from your desk, and the words, telling me to be brave. I am fearful, but I am also brave, because I refuse to let fear win. I just asked the Bear if he thought I was bold, and he smiled and said, “sometimes – especially when you talk to me!” Ha! That is actually true…sometimes I could be bolder, especially when it comes to my work and promoting myself.
Sara, I’m happy you liked the post, and I’m sure Janet will be too. If you refuse to let fear win, as you say, well that’s the secret, isn’t it? I’m glad to see you’re back posting blogs again. I always look forward to them. As a matter of fact, I’m going over to look at your blog right now, so you’ll be hearing from me shortly.
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It is nice to see two gifted persons in one blog.
Your words always touching the audience David,
With a pretty pictures from Janet Weight; the
Hummingbird is beautiful.
Have a wonderful day David.
Thank you, Marilucas. Yes, I like the idea of working with fine artists like Janet. Janet is an extraordinary person which you can probably see from her work and her comments, so I’m happy to introduce you to her. Thanks for the comment. I always enjoy hearing from you.
Yes indeed. Paralysis by analysis. With my painting blog I try to encourage to give something a go. Don’t let the fear of failure grip you. Thank you David. Kevin
Kevin, I like that attitude-give it a go. Yes, I like that. The more I think, the more I believe the answer to most of our psychological obstacles is mainly i one thing–confidence. Thank you for the comment. I’ll certainly take a look at your blog. Thanks for telling me about it.
Maya, thank you very much. I’m glad you liked it.