Category Archives: Artists

Why Some Writers and Artists Give Up, but Others Never Do

Examples of a Writer’s and an Artist’s Adversity:

A Painter

You’re in the arts–you’re imaginative–so imagine that you are like an artist friend of mine named Ariel and you have worked very hard and Woman artist working at an easel in front of a windowhave finished a painting that in your judgment is excellent in every respect. Like Ariel you are trained and educated in your craft and recognize your paintings’ consistently high quality and dazzling originality. You know you can’t do better. You feel that no one but you could have executed this project. It required blending many abilities not every painter possesses. You see in your painting, as Ariel saw in hers, something especially flamboyant and fetching. Your hopes for its artistic and financial success are high.

But in the marketplace the work is ignored without a word.  Paintings that you know are lower quality are praised and sold for impressive prices. Your work is considered a failure, your reputation tarnished. You are as discouraged as deeply as you have ever been, heart-broken, feeling cursed, dejected, doubting that the experience of being content–that glow of the heart–that conviction of strength you remember–will ever come back again. You lose your appetite for the artist’s life. You have had enough and like Ariel you give up.

Were you to enter Ariel’s apartment and walk down the hall you would find that painting on an easel in an unused bedroom close to the kitchen.

 

An Author

Now imagine that you are an author with a new contract with a big advance and the publisher–highly regarded in publishing–is ecstatic about Writer working at an old-fashioned typerwriter in front of a windowyour book. She recognizes its significant sales potential. She calls you In Chicago from New York and says that your book is one of the two or three best books of any type she has ever read. She is entranced with the book and pledges to you to commit to “putting it over” whatever resources are necessary to make it the country’s top best seller (The book is topical and has that kind of potential.) You call your agent and ask him about the publisher reputation and he tells you that they are known for selecting one of their titles each year and making it the kind of best seller the publisher described.

Meetings are held, marketing plans laid, enthusiasm grows. But then like a curse you only read about, the very day–the very hour–you are scheduled to begin a long multi-city cross-country promotional tour to kick off the marketing campaign, you are called and told that the publishing house has been sold to a foreign-owned publisher who is not enthusiastic about your book and the marketing money and plan are abandoned. The cab to take you to the airport is outside waiting and you go out and cancel it.

All the plans are canceled and the dreams of being famous and rich are canceled too. You think, “It is no one’s fault. It could have happened to anyone.” But how dreary it is to fall unprepared from the heights of elation to the depths of sullen moods. (What you just read is not a case study I made up: it happened to me.)

 

Develop the Ability to “Spring Back”

During a career writers and artists who often are particularly sensitive people may encounter many adversities and hurtful failures. Being a section of a brass colored springresilient means first of all accepting such adversities and those you have experienced yourself as an unavoidable part of the writer’s and artist’s life. That insight deeply-felt and never forgotten is essential for maintaining a firm, unshakeable spirit.

The word “resilient” means “to spring back,” the way Ernest Hemingway was forced to spring back when his wife lost the only drafts of all his short stories on a train and he had to begin writing them all over again.  A painter needs to “spring back” when a prospect turns down a high-priced painting they had expressed a very strong interest in, but inexplicably changed their mind.

If you are a writer or artist–actor, composer, ballet dancer, musician, etc.– you have the advantage of a much larger tolerance for suffering than the majority of people. Make use of that advantage. Hardships, though they are difficult to bear and may create many stresses, strengthen the development of resilience.  Helen Keller was a disabilities rights activist, author, and lecturer who lived her life in total blindness. She said “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

The lives of people in the arts aren’t easy.  For example, their lives confront them with many competitions when they must prove their worth: will my manuscript have a chance among the thousands of others submitted to that publisher? Will my lithographs make an impression at the show? And when there are competitions the majority are going to fail. If you fail, will you make a comeback? Not everyone makes a comeback.

 

Metaphorically Be a Body-Builder

A body-builder’s goal is to build muscle. When heavy weights are being lifted, the fibers in the muscles are broken down.   Then during the gray and aqua painting of a bodybuilder lifting a hand weight period the body-builder rests, those muscles are rebuilt, but bigger and stronger than they had been. Don’t be so afraid of hardships, stresses, difficulties, and crises. They strengthen you emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

A knowledge of yourself and willingness to experiment with life changes and new directions will enhance your resilience. Some writers and artists are innately resilient and psychologically strong; others are not. But less-resilient writers and artists can learn to be stronger and more resilient. Begin by being self-encouraging. Tell yourself, “Don’t weaken. Be strong. This all will pass.”

Poet John Berryman thought ordeals are very positive things. He said, “I do strongly feel that among the great pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it…but mostly you need ordeal…Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing.” Harsh difficulties enhance your ability to thrive under stress. They can improve your performance, stamina, and mental health.

Adversities can be positive, leading to the discovery of unknown strengths. Crises can change a novelist or water- colorist for the better. Hope and optimism strengthen you. Deeply-held spiritual beliefs strengthen you.  Making tough decisions under pressure also makes you stronger.

 

Another Painter and Three More Authors Who Failed But Did Not Give Up

Creative people are susceptible to trials and suffering. One especially trying period is getting recognized at the beginning of your career. William Saroyan received not just fifty or a few hundred rejection slips before his first story was published, but several thousand. But he continued Black and white image of Ernest Hemingway's head with mustache and beard wearing a rugged turtleneck sweaterworking, as confident as van Gogh and became one of the most popular American writers of his era. Ernest Hemingway said that  at the beginning of his career every day “the rejected manuscripts would come through the slot in the door…I’d sit at that old wooden table and read one of those cold slips that had been attached to a story I had loved and worked on very hard and believed in, and I couldn’t help crying.”  But he had faith that eventually his work would be in demand and never stopped working. The crowning achievement was the Nobel Prize in Literature.

self portrait of Vincent VanGogh in muted blues, browns, greens and orangesVincent van Gogh spent a short, intense five-year career producing an astonishing three thousand masterpieces that are now auctioned for many millions of dollars, but in his lifetime sold only one painting, and that was for a few brushes and paints. But he continued working confidently and never doubted that in the future his talents would be recognized

The persistent hard work of an ever-confident van Gogh, a Saroyan, and a Hemingway and other writers and artists like them–the refusal to accept defeat–is an antidote to failures in the arts.

American Henry Miller lived the life of a homeless beggar on the streets of Paris while trying to learn to write professionally, artfully. He was penniless and had no permanent address, no possessions but a comb and hair brush, no successes, and no prospects. Yet he was optimistic. He said, “I have no money, no resources, and no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” He lived that way into his late forties before his genius was recognized and he took the literary world by storm, writing a new kind of fiction. He was tough and street-smart. Being abused by an editor he snarled, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off saying such things to me?”

 

Acquiring Needed Insights and Strategies

In spite of inequities among writers and artists (“Why is she so successful when I am not?”) and the emotions discouragement causes–the anger, the bitterness, the scourge of self-doubt and shattered confidence, the devastation of failure, the sense of inadequacy–some people in the arts such as van Gogh, Saroyan, Hemingway, and Miller take a deep breath, regain their composure, and imperturbable, resume their heroic efforts, trying again, following the philosophy of resilience, of being knocked down seven times but getting up eight. However, some other writers and artists who are just as intelligent, just as gifted, just as aspiring, but not as resilient are tormented and creatively disabled. They may never recover unless they acquire new insights and corrective strategies of the type I’m discussing.

 

The More Persistent You Are the Better Off You Will Be

Photograph of a proud looking lion In every era, in creative after creative, three empowering qualities like three ingredients of a potent formula have proven to help writers and artists not to give up when they fail. Those qualities are being resilient, being persistent, and having faith in yourself. Resilient, persistent writers and artists with strong faith in themselves never give up.

Without a deep, enduring, never-defeated faith in yourself you may give up at the very moment you should brace yourself, focus more clearly, and work harder.  Often unsuccessful people are those who have fallen just a little short of their goals because they failed to persist for three months longer, or two, or even a week. They lost faith in themselves when they met adversity and didn’t realize how close they were to success, acclaim, and satisfaction. Have you ever given up too soon? What if you hadn’t?

grey-white cat looking at itself in a mirror and seeing an image of a grey-white lion's faceFaith in yourself touches every facet of your being–whether you think about your prospects positively or in a self-defeating way, how strongly you motivate yourself, your susceptibility to self-doubt and discouragement, and the positive changes you will be able to make in your life.

You must always strive to overcome the paralyzing sense that your efforts are futile. You must have enduring faith in yourself and not permit anything to interfere with it. Having faith in yourself, being resilient, and being persistent are cornerstones of success and fulfillment whatever your art.

Make the word “Persist” your motto, your rallying word. Whenever you are thinking of giving up your work, your career, say the word “Persist.”  Whenever you think “It’s just too much for me. I can’t continue,” say “Persist.” Say “Persist” if your submitted work is rejected. “Persist, don’t give up. Try again.” And when you are losing heart, losing confidence say, “I have faith in myself.”  Persist and have faith in yourself. “I will persist and finish my novel, and it will be the best I can do.” Then you will be strong.

Many psychologists believe that whatever the field or the activity the most intelligent person–the person with the highest I. Q.–will be the most laurel leaves on top and bottom of the words "Dont Give Up!" written with marker in a journal successful.  Catherine Cox studied greatness and disagreed. She found that persistence is a key. Persistence is so important in almost every endeavor that it compensates for lesser intelligence. Cox concluded: “High but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence. “

Many writers, artists, composers, musicians, actors, ballet dancers, and other creatives have learned that their persistence has been more important than talent.

 

If you want a successful future in the arts, you will never think of yourself as a failure or give up if you don’t succeed.  You will be level-headed and do your best to respond calmly with composure and confidence to setbacks, difficult periods, insults, abuses, deprivation and failures–bravely, with hope, courage, and positive thinking. In the most despairing moments of your career you will think, “It’s bad, but my goodness, it’s not that bad. I’m not dead and I’m still very talented.”

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Good Advice, Quotes, and Concepts for Writers and Artists

You Don’t Have to Feel Good to Have a Delightfully Productive Day

I follow sports closely, and it surprises me how often swimmers, tennis players, track stars, basketball players, and other athletes perform their record best on the very days they are not feeling fit physically or emotionally. They feel “off” but nevertheless they compete and often they excel. Field with pink green, orange, white and purple rows of flowers curving in front of a blue sky with white cloudsI think of the famous Michael Jordan “flu game” when he had to be carried off the floor after the game with the flu by a teammate, yet scored 38 points and led the Bulls to victory.  “Probably the most difficult thing I have ever done,” said Jordan.

That illogical phenomenon of feeling unprepared and yet excelling also applies to people in the arts. Robert Boice said, “Beyond doubt, creative writers who begin a project before feeling prepared or motivated achieve more quantity and quality.” Feeling out of sorts used to stop me.  When I wasn’t feeling right, I’d think, “Why even try?” But now, because I am familiar with athletes not feeling good but performing so well, when I feel not ready at all to write, I become optimistic and confidently sit down at the computer and expect a productive day, and usually have one.

You will be more productive if like those athletes you don’t make your mood the dictator of your performance, but simply however you feel you do your work. Don’t live by how you feel. Everyone Girl looking sad leaning on her handwould prefer to be cheerful and happy, but as far as creative work is concerned, how you feel is secondary. What matters most are the requirements of the craft you have committed yourself to, and one requirement is day after day to put out effort to achieve your creative goals. It seems to me that one constant goal that is shared by most people in the arts is to develop your in-born talents to the fullest and that another requirement is to produce finished works.  When you see your talents growing and you are producing original works regularly and everything is meshing, you are at your best, and you know it.

In the nineteen-sixties a number of America’s excellent poets who knew each other well felt that to write their best poetry–to be in what they thought was the ideal mood for writing verse– they had to feel deeply depressed.  That was their philosophy and what they talked and Young man looking depressed with his hand on his foreheadcorresponded about. Nurturing depression in and out of psychiatric hospitals, some of them committed suicide including John Berryman and Randall Jarrell. Poets Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton were friends and felt the same. They talked to each other often, and also committed suicide.

But you don’t have to feel miserable to write a poem or a tragedy or be in love to write a romance. Anton Chekhov said that ironically happy writers write sad things and sad writers write happy things. Gustav Flaubert said that the less writers feel a thing, the more likely they are to express it as it really is. J.D Salinger wrote that ecstatically happy prose writers have disadvantages. They can’t be moderate, temperate, detached, or brief.

Some writers seem so grim and bitter about their need to write. George Orwell said that “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon one can never resist or understand.” Opera composer Giacomo Puccini said “Art is a kind of illness.” Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway felt differently. He felt awful when he wasn’t writing, the opposite when he was: “Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty…Never feel as good as while writing.”

Silhouette of a person with arms outstretched looking at a sunriseWhatever has been said about the relationship between creatives’ state of mind and their performance,  writers and painters I know or have read or heard about have found writing or painting the most fulfilling and blissful thing they do.

 

Overview

I have assembled a number of quotations that pertain to many aspects of the lives of people in the arts– their function, their preference for simplicity, their complex nature, and the construction of their work.

 

The Creative’s Function

It is not coincidental that the remarkable art and architectural critic John Ruskin and novelist Joseph Conrad with his dazzling visual imagery Drawn outline of an eye with an illustration of the world map as the eyehad the same view of the function of writers and artists. Ruskin: “The whole function of the artist in the world is to be a seeing and feeling creature.”

Conrad: “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”

 

Don’t Complicate Arts That Are So Simple

Usually, over the course of a career, noted practitioners of an art simplify their views of their role.

“What shall I say about poetry? What shall I say about those clouds, or about the sky? Look; look at them; look at it! And nothing more. Don’t you understand that a poet can’t say anything about poetry? Leave that to the critics and the professors. For neither you, nor I, nor any poet knows what poetry is” (Frederico Lorca).

Picture of a green grassy hillside with buildings and trees and blue sky with cloudsPainter Edouard Manet thought the urge to create is a simple reflex that doesn’t require thought: “There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again.”

William Faulkner wrote in a highly complicated rhetorical style that is difficult to understand unless you read the sentences over and over. Yet he was the most direct person when he spoke. When asked what he thought made a good writer he said, “I think if you’re going to write, you’re going to write and nothing will stop you.”  Saul Below, like Faulkner a Nobel Prize winner, was as direct when he said, “I am just a man in the position of waiting to see what the imagination is going to do next.”

Henry Moore felt that his art had a spontaneity of its own. He believed that if he set out to sculpt a standing man and it became a lying woman, he knew he was making art.

Henri Matisse is reported to have said, “When a painting is finished, it is like a newborn child. The artist himself must have time for understanding it. It must be lived with as a child is lived with, if we are to grasp the meaning of its being” (John Dewy).

 

The Makeup of Creatives

People generally are fascinated by creatives and want to know what makes them able to produce memorable works. A survey was done dealing with women’s preferences for a husband. The most attractive partner was thought to be a writer. And creatives are self-absorbed and fascinated by themselves.

Creatives express love: Alfred Werner of Marc Chagall: He is a painter of love. He loved flowers and animals, he loved people, he loved love. There is sadness in his paintings, but there is no despair and always a metaphysical hope. “When he paints a beggar in snow, he puts a fiddle in his hands.”

Blue and brown fantasy illustration of a face with diagrams of the brain on either sideCreatives have complex memories from which their art derives: “The essential factor of development of expertise is the accumulation of increasingly complex patterns in memory” (Andreas Lehmann).

Creatives convey great ideas: “He is the greatest artist who has embodied, in the sum of his work, the greatest number of the greatest ideas” (John Ruskin).

Creatives involve their whole selves in their art: “It is art that makes life, makes intensity, makes importance…and  I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process “(Henry James).

Creatives are especially perceptive: “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings…The great difference, intellectually speaking, between one man and another is simply the number of things they can see in a given cubic yard of the world.” (Gilbert Murray.)

 

How is a Work Made?

Pink, brown and gold pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on a dark wooden tableSince the earliest civilizations people have been theorizing about creatives among them and the creative process. The first question was: is creative ability a gift from the gods?

John Ruskin communicated his ideas so beautifully. About the making of a work of art he said, “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart go together.”

Novelist George Eliot said about creation:  “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

Creatives have a strong need for independence and resist having their work meddled with, as communicated by this quote from Patty McNair: “Get your mitts offa my story.”

The need for a developed expertise: “The repeated reminder of Mr. (Ezra) Pound: that poetry should be as well -written as prose” (T.S Eliot).

Eventually a writer will come to the conclusion that simplicity and naturalness are the keys to effective styles: “As for style in writing, if one has anything to say, it drops from him simply and directly” (Henry David Thoreau).

Brown tree branches in front of a gold sunsetThe best writing resists critical explanation:  “In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and the mystery does not dissect out” (Ernest Hemingway).

Inspirations are creative urges such as “Go ahead and do it”: “If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” (Toni Morrison).

 

The Work is Greater than the Artist Who Produced the Work

It is very common for people meeting someone who has produced a great work of art to be disappointed, not with the work, but with the impression the artist makes: “I thought he would be better looking”  “He writes so beautifully but he’s not much of a conversationalist, is he?” Poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky said aptly, “What people can make with their hands is a lot better than they are themselves.”

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

Interview with David J. Rogers

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What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Really Good Writers and Artists?

Once you are a really good writer or artist, you enjoy many advantages. But beware because now you will also have new weaknesses.

Red silhouette of a woman on yellow background, with an indication of her brain, as she looks at shelves of booksAs a really good writer, painter, actor, architect, or composer you have the ability to generate the best solutions to creative problems. The solutions are much better than the solutions less capable creatives settle on. Your aesthetic judgment is better than theirs. You perceive features of the problems facing you and the solutions to them that lesser creatives don’t notice and can’t think of.

One reason why you are so capable is that if you are  really good at your craft, you are able to keep huge amounts of useful information in your working memory, far more than less excellent writers, painters, etc. can keep in their minds. You can easily draw on that wealth of knowledge you’ve acquired about your art–its history, its techniques and artists, its methods leading to success and those that lead to failure or exasperation. Even genius, left alone with no help from extensive knowledge, is not strong.

As an example of the wealth of knowledge possessed by excellent creatives, let me cite multiple Academy Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize winning composer and song-writer Marvin Hamlisch. Torn or burnt fragments of sheet musicHe had a staggering knowledge of American songs. I knew Marvin and would do exhaustive research trying to stump him with the least known and most esoteric songs my research could find, asking him “Who wrote…?” and “Who wrote…?” However obscure the song and no matter how confidently I thought, “He will never know this one,” he always knew.

But you must guard against a common weakness of really good creatives: over-confidence in their artistic judgement. Capable as you may be, your judgment is not infallible, and sometimes it is wrong. For example, even a supremely talented writer, painter, or architect can waste months or years on an ill-advised project that looked promising but turned sour. Thomas Wolfe studied playwriting at Harvard and wrote bad plays for nine years before realizing, at the suggestion of his lover, that he had no future in playwriting, but was “meant” to write novels.

In another instance it took George Bernard Shaw five years of submitting to publishers one novel each year to realize the opposite: that he had no future writing novels, but could write plays masterfully. An editor who had turned down Shaw’s novels had said, “Unfortunately we must reject this novel too, but the dialogue was wonderful. Did you ever think of writing plays?’ That was all that was necessary for Shaw to turn the direction of his career.

Really good artists and writers are generally (though not always as in the cases of Wolfe and Shaw) good judges of their own abilities. They are self-critical and self-demanding to a very high degree. They are self-absorbed in a positive way and closely study themselves and their work, which they are obsessed with. They are motivated by a so-called “urge to improve,” and monitor themselves so that they are able to detect errors in their knowledge, technique, style, and skill, and do something to correct those errors.

Woman's hands typing on a laptop with a yellow post-it note stuck on the corner of the screenUnlike ordinary writers who might not be aware that their plots are not believable, a really good writer would be aware if theirs were not. Yet, in spite of being vividly aware and quite objective and accurate about their own work, expert artists and writers have the weakness of often being wrong in their predictions about the performance of novices they have been asked to evaluate. It is as though they are unable to recognize talent while it is still in a formative state. In fact, the greater their expertise, the more likely they are to be wrong in predicting the performance of novices.

Something very similar may happen in the field of professional editing–highly experienced editors not recognizing the promise of young writers. For example, when young English schoolteacher William Golding’s submission of his first book, Lord of the Flies, was being considered by Faber and Faber Publishers, the editors, Wooden table with sheets of paper with a red pen on top and a cup of coffee on the sideincluding the senior editor whose judgment was “always right” rejected it as impossible to understand. Only Charles Monteith, who had never edited a book before, argued angrily on behalf of the book he had fallen in love with despite its obvious flaws. Unlike the experts, he saw that good editing could remedy its weaknesses. Lord of the Flies, edited by Monteith, became an international best seller.

Golding went on to write many books, essays, and plays. Golding and Monteith became an example of a superb writer-editor-friends team working together in harmony for many years of productivity culminating In Golding’s Nobel Prize.  So if you are a novice and are looking for objective and accurate appraisal of your ability, it may be a good idea not to ask an expert, but to go to a teacher and to hope  the publisher’s editor assigned to you is as enthusiastic as Charles Monteith was and as willing to fight for your book.

To improve their artistic performance, really good artists and writers will be more opportunistic, making use of whatever sources of information they need to solve their creative problems. Just as stand-up comedians steal jokes from each other, artists and writers “borrow” insights and techniques from other artists in their own art and from other arts as well, and from any other field they are familiar with.

green and yellow field with a fantasy-like swirl going up to a cloudy sky of blue and whiteReally good creatives are able to pull out of their minds–with ease–the insights they need. They are so able and accustomed to using the substantial skills they have developed, that they do so automatically, “without thought” as a Zen master would say. To them writing or painting is easy.  Yet, at the same time, they may be victims of inflexibility in the face of new circumstances. At times they have trouble adjusting to situations confronting them.

For example, marvelous actor Charles Laughton was offered the starring role in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, but hard as he tried, he could not form a concept of the role sufficient for him to play it. He turned the role down. He said that he finally realized how it should be played when he saw Alec Guinness play in the movie the role he might have had. Was it an Academy Award winning role, whoever would have played it? Would Laughton have won the Oscar for best actor as Guinness did?

blue, purple, and pink jigsaw puzzle pieces in a disordered pileReally good creatives spend considerable time analyzing the problems facing them while less accomplished creatives spend less time and are not as patient as the exceptional creatives. A study discovered that students in art school who would become the best and most financially successful after graduation took much longer to meditate on and plan their paintings, lithographs, and sculptures.

A weakness of many really good artists and writers is overlooking details that don’t seem to them to pertain to the problem, but do pertain to it. Highly talented people are notoriously blasé about details, don’t worry about them, and don’t like to bother with them. (For example, when F. Scott Fitzgerald submitted the manuscript for The Great Gatsby, it had more than 100 misspellings.) That can also be seen in areas other than the arts. People with extensive knowledge about a sport recall fewer details of a text about that sport than people with little knowledge of the sport.

painting of a serene blue-green lake with trees and blue mountains in the backgroundGenius in the arts or in any other pursuit is almost always specific to one art, one domain. Often it is assumed without too much thought that a person with a high level of skill in one area will almost automatically be skilled in another area or many other areas. That’s called “the halo effect.”  Yet while there are exceptions, the halo effect is generally invalid.  High-performing creators do not excel in areas where they have no expertise. But in a single domain they are on their home turf, and their work is really good.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

Interview with David J. Rogers

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Do You Have Enough Knowledge To Do Expert Creative Work?

Preface

Most of the time the reason writers, visual artists, and other creatives aren’t yet accomplished isn’t because they are unintelligent or lack talent but because they don’t know enough. Many writers, painters, and other creatives across the globe reading this post are experts. Expert artists differ from non-experts in the knowledge they possess and can bring to the creative task.

Owl sitting on top of a bookExpert creatives have outstanding performances because their knowledge is extensive. An expert’s knowledge is ready at hand to be used and easy for the creative to access.

Most of the mistakes any artist makes are a result of incorrect or inadequate knowledge. If you have the knowledge, you won’t make the mistakes you would otherwise make.

Knowledge guidelines for practitioners in the arts are:

  • Absorb as much knowledge of your art, other arts, and of the world as you are able to.
  • Stop thinking that talent guarantees success, but do continually add to your knowledge.
  • Patiently watch the years of effort pass, your knowledge increasing, and your capabilities growing strong.

Creatives: Older Is Better Than Younger

Elderly woman artist copying a masterpieceIf you want to be successful in the arts, be older rather than younger. Older is better because most outstanding contributions to the arts are not made by people in their teens, 20s, 30s, or 40s, but in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.  Why is that so? The main reason why, artistically, older is better than younger is that to have the ability to do artistic work expertly and do increasingly superior work, the main factor is the artist’s KNOWLEDGE and its PRACTICAL APPLICATION over a period of time that is often long.

That people in the arts generally require a lot of time between their first exposure to their art and their first significant work is well documented. And also well documented is that usually considerably more time must pass before they do their best work. Why is so much time necessary?

It is because artist’s knowledge has to become more comprehensive with time, study, and practice if they are to reach the apex of their performance, make the fullest use of their capabilities, establish their reputation, and reap the highest rewards.

Man busy working and studyingNo artist has ever lived –Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Proust, Picasso, Mozart–who had so much talent that they didn’t need considerable knowledge to excel at a high level. Talent is a blessing, but talent alone isn’t enough.

Talent may be given to artists at birth, but knowledge must be earned through sweat and toil. Artists who reach high success like Faulkner in writing and Cezanne in painting put in many thousands of hours of exhausting work and study.

Absorb Knowledge of Your Field

Absorbing knowledge of your field is a requirement of any artist who wants to far surpass “mediocre” and “adequate.” Every art has a set of fundamental skills that must be mastered if the artist is to graduate to expertise. The rules of the art, its techniques, traditions, history, facts, principles, experts’ opinions, experiences of other artists living and dead, and criticisms the artist receives provide a foundation to help them solve problems that have to be solved if quality works are to be produced.

Eyeglasses on top of an open bookIn any field in which you are intensely engaged, such as serious writing or painting, the brain you feed with knowledge just goes on learning and learning and learning and your abilities grow and grow. The more knowledge you have, the faster you’ll recognize related information that’s relevant to solving problems you are facing. You’ll be able to say, quite quickly, “So-and-so handled the problem I’m now facing by…” Acquiring knowledge  is what you are doing all the time you’re working at your craft, talking with others about your craft, studying it, taking classes, reading, and practicing to develop your skills.

Set and Pursue Knowledge-Enhancement Goals

You would be smart to set specific KNOWLEDGE-ENHANCEMENT GOALS. The greater your knowledge and the then higher the quality of your works, the more tangible the successes you will have.

Many writers in particular are self-educated and have developed their knowledge through a rigorous learning program they designed themselves. It was only after a period of self-education that American author Jack London became the most popular and successful writer in the world.

London submitted stories hundreds of times before his first success. He realized that he had very little formal knowledge–hadn’t graduated from high school–and needed to educate himself. He got hold of the reading lists of universities and studied them on his own.

Woman reading a large bookThe more knowledge that is needed to excel in a field, the more formal education is needed, whether at a university or self-taught.  For example, writers must learn from their predecessors, their contemporary writers, their current times, and people in other fields so that  what has already been achieved becomes internalized and ready for a future use in the same way a master chess player knows the strategies and techniques past masters used to win matches. You won’t amount to much if you aren’t aware of what has come before you. In his advice to aspiring screen writers, Academy Award winning producer Tony Bill said, “Whatever you do—don’t read any ‘How-to-write-a-screenplay’ books. Just read a bunch of great scripts and let it go at that.”

Shakespeare learned from Chaucer. Proust studied the work of Englishman John Ruskin for six years and wrote a book about him. If he hadn’t done that, it is doubtful that he would have written–or even attempted to write–his monumental masterpiece In Search Of Lost Time.

Woman looking at Van Gogh Sunflower painting in an art museumFollowing in the footsteps of the greats is a vital route to writing knowledge, and knowledge leads to skills, and skills coupled with confidence lead to success. What helps is an aptitude for learning and learning fast, which I can hardly imagine a person in the arts not possessing.

An artist in one field learning from artists in other fields can be effective. You may wish to make cross-training a feature of your own training. For example, my own observation is that many painters like English artist Janet Weight Reed and Australian Michelle Endersby are also superb writers. They must have acquired that skill somewhere. Hemingway studied painter Paul Cezanne and translated some of Cezanne’s techniques into literary techniques.

Goals you set for increasing your knowledge, like any goal you might set, should be specific and should be programmed–a schedule set up. For example, if you want to improve your short story writing you may wish to develop a schedule to study short story masters Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, and Ernest Hemingway and read critical studies of their approaches.  Visual artists often select one or a small number of artists and study their work and what has been written about them

Be a Sponge

Yellow natural spongeLet’s hope that your mind is a sponge sopping up knowledge because people in the arts who can acquire knowledge quickly and remember large amounts of it have an advantage when trying to create something original.

 

Review

In any field you’re intensely absorbed in, your brain develops an insatiable hunger and just goes on learning and learning.

You can excel in the arts only when your knowledge is sufficient to excel. Not before. The person who studies harder will acquire knowledge faster and reach expertise sooner.

All artists benefit from setting knowledge-enhancement goals: “What must I know?” “Where will I find it?” “Who can help me acquire the knowledge I will need?”

 

You are a better painter, writer, actor, dancer, etc. now than you were five years ago because you have practiced and because you have acquired knowledge. The probability is that your knowledge is now substantial, and you are still adding to it and amassing it, and that your knowledge is reflected in the higher quality of your work.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Should a Painter or Writer Plan the Work?

Let me tell you about a problem I had:  I started to write a prescriptive how-to book for serious creatives interested in becoming skilled craftsmen in their art. It was to be titled A Book for Creative Writers and Painters in Training. But wouldn’t you know it, right away I was in a container of pens, pencils, and highlighters in front of a computer keyboardfix. I was writing what should be an easy section on planning what you are about to write or paint. Now planning is something I know a lot about. For years I was a trainer for a consulting company I founded. I trained thousands of people to use the best techniques of planning so they might effectively plan whatever business or career project they had in mind.

But I couldn’t go on when I realized that it would have been hypocritical of me to tell writers or painters how best to plan an artistic work when I had an epiphany, a realization which was that I never–never–plan  a written work.  I then asked myself a question: “Why don’t you plan texts?” and found myself answering “Because I consider planning unnecessary at least for me and writers and painters like me, of whom I’ll bet there are an astounding number.” It’s not that non-planning is superior to planning or planning superior to non-planning. They just suit people who create differently.

The Habit of Planning

Even as children girls and boys who will become writers and painters when they grow up have been told and taught by teachers to plan the work before they begin to execute it.  They are taught that in grade school, and in graduate school professors or experienced visiting artists and writers stipulate that every work should have a plan. Planning becomes a habit that isn’t questioned because “everyone knows you have to have a plan before you begin. How else will you know how to proceed?”

When these now adults feel that urge that stirs a person to create a work they immediately tell their mind to start concocting a plan that will guide them in making the idea for the work or the painting’s main emotion into a tangible reality, as a finished landscape or a finished novel, for example.  A novelist submitting a book proposal to a publisher must include a plan that the publisher will scrutinize and refer to to judge the potential of the book.

Having made a plan that the creative has thoroughly thought out, the writer or painter can tell anyone who asks what they are trying to accomplish in the work because the plan’s goals and sub-goals and the book’s or painting’s features are precise. Some writer’s working plans are so detailed that they are hundreds of pages long, and some painters make abundant pre-painting sketches and work-ups.

Road extending to the distance with the word start at the beginningSome creatives meticulously plan and think the work to be produced through to the last detail. But some non-planner creatives begin to paint or write without a subject in mind, preferring to permit the work to grow organically and emerge. Some writers, like me, begin without any conscious concept of how to proceed other than, at best, a notion not at all well-developed of what the work should probably be about.

For example, it seemed to me that a “How-to-live” book containing the knowledge, spiritual insights, and wisdom of the Japanese samurai I had acquired could be helpful in many practical ways to people now living everyday lives if it were adapted and written properly. I wrote a brief six -page proposal, it was accepted, I wrote the book successfully without a plan, and from its revenues I bought a house.

Like the speaker in the poem “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke, non-planners “learn by going where [they] have to go.” They start not knowing yet what they will create, waiting for an inspiration to guide them.  Writers will write something and then react to what is written, and then without a plan a work begins to take shape little by little. They write a book this way. Non-planning painters work the same way–each brush stroke an experiment.

hand of a child painting vibrant colors Non-planning Virginia Woolf said that her idea for Mrs. Dalloway started without any conscious direction. She thought of making a plan but soon abandoned the idea. She said, “The Book grew day by day, by week, without any plan at all, except that which was dictated each morning in the act of writing.” Had someone asked her what exactly she was trying to accomplish other than to follow a woman throughout a day she would have replied, “I’m not sure.” The planner- writers are sure of where they are going. Their plan tells them.

Research

The research cited in David W. Galenson’s book Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creation sheds light on the question this post asks: should a painter or writer plan a work? The answer is that not everyone profits from planning the work because given the methods of creativity of some artists and writers planning a text or a painting is superfluous.

Mona Lisa paintingThe more spontaneous process which non-planning creatives like greats Woolf and Mark Twain (possibly America’s greatest writer) and Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci use to complete a work is contrary to the rational goal-setting, plan-making processes.  Following a plan inhibits certain creatives for whom a more spontaneous approach results in better work.

If a writer for whom planning the work is contrary to the way they think and create is forced to develop a plan, doing so will be difficult and stressful because doing so is unnatural to someone for whom planning a painting or a text is unimportant. Such people are dying to omit planning and to get to the keyboard or the easel and create the way they do best, relying on repeated inspirations to guide them to the right words and pigments as they experiment with this sentence or brush stroke, and that until they are satisfied that they have done the best they could, and the work finished.  With regard to a plan before starting the execution of the work they think: how can I possibly plan the death scene, for example, when I don’t know at the moment what my mood and state of mind will be when I reach that section a year from now?

Often in the act of executing the work the non-planning writer or painter realizes that the plan that seemed perfect as they imagined the work will simply and emphatically not do the job. I’ve had that experience with every book I’ve written. I ignored the plans and proceeded in what Galenson would call an “Experimentalist’s” manner. A plan sometimes has to be done because that’s what teachers and publishers want and “grade” you on, but no plan will ever satisfy a writer or painter whose methods of creating works make detailed plans unnecessary.

Planners and Non-planners

colorful abstract paintingGalenson describes two significantly different types of artists. The “everything must be planned” artists are called Conceptualizers: they must have a full-blown concept of the work they wish to create in all its detail before they begin writing or painting the work. Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Herman Melville, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were Conceptual writers. Pablo Picasso was a Conceptual painter. Conceptualizers state their carefully- wrought goals for a particular work precisely before the work’s production. For their paintings conceptualizers like Georges Seurat (the best example of a painter who planned)–a very cerebral painter) make many detailed preparatory sketches that may be so detailed and finished that they are works of art in themselves. While painting, they closely follow a preconceived image they hold clearly in mind.

The other type of writer or painter Galenson calls” Experimentalists”–each new idea they set about to write is an experiment. Experimentalists such as Charles Dickens, Henry James, Twain, and Woolf, and painter Paul Cezanne have a totally different approach.  They allow the work–a novel’s plot, for example–to take shape as if it were growing organically on its own because they believe that creating should be a process of discovery.

The extreme Conceptual painter “is one who makes extensive preparations in order to arrive at a precisely formulated desired image before beginning the execution of the final work.” In contrast extreme Experimentalists “make no decisions for a painting before beginning to create what will become the final work” except to have needed materials and a space to work, etc.

watercolor landscape with mountains in blues and purplesOnce Conceptualizers find the crucial problem they advance slowly with a plan, but Experimentalists move fast without a plan. Experimentalist’s goals are imprecise. They have ideas about what the work will be like when it is finished, but are unclear about everything else until the piece is written, the painting mounted on a wall. That imprecision is how Experimentalists like to work, but it creates problems. Not clear as to what they want the final work to look like, they have trouble finishing works.

Because they have trouble finishing a work many Experimentalists often return even after many years to finish works they earlier abandoned. They “hang on” to works rather than being done with them. They have difficulty deciding when the work should be presented to the public in the form of a painting that is for sale, or a book that is ready to be offered to a publisher. It is said that Experimentalists Michelangelo and Da Vinci never really finished a single work. Mark Twain was very slow in producing works and labored over his books’ endings. His endings are never satisfying.

One of Da Vinci’s greatest contributions was his rebellion against the rigid procedures of traditional artists’ training that emphasized the use of careful preparatory studies, advocating in its place methods that allowed artists the freedom to develop their own ideas as they worked.

Which Bloom Early and Which Bloom Late?

orange and yellow tulips with green stems and leavesConceptualizers tend to bloom early, often with a striking new style or innovation or great success at the start of their career. They mature quickly, starting very early, not gradually through years of trial and error as Experimentalist painters like Jackson Pollock and Claude Monet did, but rapidly.  A young Ernest Hemingway’s innovative writing style quickly revolutionized writing throughout the world.  At twenty-six he took over as “the big man” in American literature.

A problem for Conceptualizers is that they may be captive to their early success and develop fixed habits of thought and become too committed to a single way of approaching artistic problems.  They become stuck.  Experimentalists experiment, writing works that are not all the same.  Another problem of Conceptualizers is that like F. Scott Fitzgerald, so mournful in his last auto-biographical short stories, many Conceptualizers spend their last years wondering where their talent has gone.

Experimenters tend to bloom late. As in the case of Impressionist Monet, their skills are not full blown at the beginning of their career as is often the case with Conceptualizers, but develop slowly over the course of a career spanning sometimes decades: they get better and better as time passes.

Is One Method Better than the Other?

It may be thought that non-planners are not as well-organized as planners and may produce disorganized works, but that not true. They organize as they go. Throughout history, both methods have produced superb works.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Finding Fulfillment in the Arts

Abstract watercolor in blues and greensPeople in every walk of life and in every hemisphere on earth–in cities, on deserts, in towns and villages–long to create something. My nine year old grandson is a talented artist and cellist studying architecture. His six year old sister takes dance and will begin taking piano lessons in the fall. Their forty two year old father was an excellent cellist in his youth and was inspired by the performance of a famous cellist to return to it last year. My wife, is a former cellist, and has taken up water colors and has returned to the piano. I write every day. I have for many years, and when I am not writing I am thinking about it and planning what I will write. We are representative people no different from millions of others with whom we share the globe because the current era is an Age of Heightened Creativity. Little children and women and men of all ages are bent on having creative experiences. They will not let their creative instincts be stifled.

I think it is worthwhile to look at what happens to creative people who have turned to art for fulfillment.

If You Are to Be an Artist, a Decisive Moment Occurs

A decisive moment occurs early in your life or later—an experience happens—and if you are to be an artist, you become aware that this art is the direction that fits you as no other direction will. You feel that it will lead to fulfillment that you probably would not enjoy were you to follow another route. You’ve had a crystalizing experience in a critical moment when you were first focused and organized toward an artistic purpose you knew was right for you and which you wished to pursue further, a sudden attachment to an artistic field that brought with it a motivation and a sense of knowing what you wanted to do in life.

Watercolor paints with brushIt became a permanent part of your entire being–an idea, a theme, or an image that became a guiding force in your life. You may not be conscious of it, but it starts you out in a creative direction, and gives you a sense of moving steadily in that direction, of heading straight toward something concrete and specific. Making a living in art is difficult and so most artists must find financial security other than in art. But whatever your occupation if you are to be an artist you will define yourself first as an artist, an accountant, HR manger, or English teacher second.

Nature Cooperates With Gifted People

In his Confessions Saint Augustine wrote, “People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Artists may be guilty of being so totally absorbed in their work that they neglect their health and their families, but are rarely guilty of passing by themselves without wondering. They wonder insatiably about themselves, and explore themselves continually. They do not always understand how it happened that they are more gifted than others but are fascinated by what capabilities they discover in themselves that make their art possible.

Nature equips artists for the creative pursuit that most suits them, making available to them what often will be their most highly developed skill, their core capability, and with an aptitude for a particular art–for painting rather than writing, or acting and not dancing, for example.

Girl with headphones listeningNoted composers and performing artists in musical fields–so sensitive to sound and tone—possess what the Germans call Horlust–“hearing passion.” Writers–particularly poets and lyrical writers–have a word passion (they adore words), and painters adore colors and shapes, often from the cradle.

The Self-Absorbed Artist

Artists are absorbed in themselves and smitten by their craft for many practical reasons: first of all because the task of being creative is not like any other tasks.  Art comes from the mind of the one person you are, and your duty is to probe that mind’s depths and breadths every time you create. You must plumb from it words, or music, or colors that will be shaped into a finished work with your name on it that will be passed on to an audience who will think, “This is the creation of… (your name); no one else’s. I wonder what they’re like.”

The Inner World of Artists

In a poem poet Emily Dickinson said that the soul selects her own society and shuts the door. Often what is sacrificed and left outside the artist’s closed door is the world of ordinary life–of Wordsworth’s “getting and spending,”

Jean Paul Sartre said, ‘Rather than face the real and terrifying risks of becoming, many human beings prefer not to develop behind the structures, rules, and patterns that society gives them.” Those things may have little or no importance for creative people. Marcel Proust said, “Those who have created for themselves an enveloping inner life pay little heed to the importance of current events.”

Door opening to sceneWhat is inside the shut door is the artist’s rich inner life from which creative products pour–without stopping if the artists explore themselves more and more deeply. Transformation of what is inside the artist into what is outside is the overriding goal –to make a book, a painting, a song or a symphony — that is completely as the artist wishes and offering it out to be shared with an appreciative world.

To Artists We Remember Best, Their Art Is All-engulfing.

If you are an artist you are the embodiment of your art. There can be no separating one from the other–art, artist–the work, the producer of the work.  You are a daughter or son, citizen of a country, lover, and teacher, true, but you’re also an artist and that artist’s identity may be your center of gravity.

Your art is always somewhere in your mind. It is being processed–being worked up into a properly embellished work–and it is impossible to extract your personality from the work. You cannot be hidden even if you wished to hide. Creative works are the products of the whole person: your intelligence and courage, talents, training, and commitments, your energy, and your memories.

Novelist Henry Miller said, “I don’t care who the artist is, if you study him deeply, sincerely, detachedly, you will find that he and his work are one.” Novelist Joseph Conrad said, “The writer of imaginative prose stands confessed in his works.” Pablo Picasso said, It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is…What interests me is the uneasiness of Cezanne, the real teaching of Cezanne, the torment of van Gogh, that is to say the drama of the man.” Artists may try to eliminate themselves from the work, but they can’t. Henry James said that the artist of a work “stands present on every page of every book from which he sought so assiduously to eliminate himself.”

pink rose openingPoet W.H. Auden wrote, “Speaking for myself, the questions which interest me most when reading a poem are two. The first is technical: ‘Here is the verbal contraption. How does it work?’ The second is, in the broadest sense moral. What kind of guy inhabits this poem? What is his notion of the good life or the good place? His notion of the Evil One. What does he conceal from the reader? What does he conceal even from himself?” William James said it is the amount of life in the act of creation which artists feel that makes you value their mind.

How Is Creative Excellence to Be Identified In a Person?

As a creative you’re specially endowed with (and may have been born with) not only “creative stuff” but with an assortment of personality qualities that equip you specifically for the writer’s, painter’s, actor’s, composer’s, architect, or dancer’s role. And it’s that identity that gives you the sense that you’re a person with a definite life task—to write, dance, paint, etc.–to create something that comes from your mind, your spirit, and your muscles.

What does a person need to be creative: an active, complex, and excitable mind, and a combination of such inner qualities as curiosity, obsessiveness, doggedness, and endurance.  Plus an openness to experience, and an abundance of physical strength and energy. And a high tolerance for ambiguity.

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself” (Henry Miller).The most interesting thing in art is the artist’s personality. Artists need intensity: “Nothing is at last sacred but the intensity of your own mind” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

purple neon designArtists must be people of action because their main goal is production of works over which they think and sweat. Jean Paul Sartre said, “There is no reality except in action” and said, “Man is nothing else than his plans; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts.”

Artists must be feeling beings because whatever the art may be, the artists’ aim is to express emotions. “Every day I attach less and less importance to the intellect. Every day I realize more that it is only by other means that a writer can regain something of his impressions, reach, that is, a particle of himself, the only material of art” (Marcel Proust). When they are denied the expression of emotions they experience conflict and tension that must find an avenue of relief.

According to critic Malcolm Cowley “Genius is energy–mental energy first of all, but sometimes…physical, emotional, and sexual energy. Genius is vision, often involving the gift of finding patterns” (where others see a random collection of objects.) “Genius is a memory for essential details. Genius…is the capacity for brooding over a subject until it reveals its full potentialities…Genius is also a belief in oneself and the importance of one’s mission, without which the energy is dissipated in hesitations and inner conflicts.”

Besides genius, a creative person has to have talent: technical skills, self-critical ability, and notions about how to present their work so that it appeals. The only obligation that art can be held to is that it be interesting.  Who will be the judge of that? Composer Igor Stravinsky preferred the general public: “I am convinced that the spontaneous judgment of the public is always more authentic than the judgment of those who set themselves up to be judges of works of art.”

The Artist’s First Notable Work

The “years of silence” artists often experience is the period when they–even those who are highly gifted–have few tangible successes, or none at all. But that period is not wasted or unimportant. It is a crucial period of growth when the artist acquires knowledge and experience that through practice will culminate in the artist’s first notable work.

What follows then is the full flowering of the artist’s capabilities. Those capabilities become automatic. Then there usually is a rapid increase in the artist’s production of his or her best works that continues for years. There need not be a period of decline. Many artists produce popular works into old age.

Smiling child with art suppliesChildren and adults may drop out, but those who turn to art may well be playing the cello or dancing or painting, only getting better and enjoying their art perpetually–all their lives– with fond memories of what they accomplished and of the exciting people they met on the path they took.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Why Do Writers, Painters, and Other Artists Bloom Late?

deep pink proteaAlthough talent in the arts most often shows itself early, because it takes so many years to develop their talent and become highly proficient in the arts, people who will become expert musicians, painters, performers, and writers can expect to be late bloomers. Artists who perform at a high level do not demonstrate remarkable talent in short order.  They are not usually in their twenties or thirties, but in their forties, fifties, and sixties. All spend many years developing the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that will eventually enable them to be recognized for their mastery. All arts involve learning form and the art’s devices, and the need for control, craft, revisions, and structure–time consuming efforts.  All begin by imitating existing techniques they have studied.

Harriet Doerr’s first novel was published when she was seventy three, and won the National Book Award.  Playwright George Bernard Shaw and novelists Sherwood Anderson and Joseph Conrad were famous late bloomers. American short story specialist Raymond Carver was too. Painters Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, and Grandma Moses bloomed late, as did composer Camille Saint Saens. Gauguin worked for years in the French stock market before quitting and turning to art, and Polish Conrad who would become the quintessential stylist in English, didn’t speak or write a word in English till he was in his twenties.

Gold color rose bloomA survey of 47 outstanding instrumentalists found that their ability was first noticed on average at the age of four years and nine months. Then they began a very long and arduous period of development of their talent. Pianists work for about seventeen years from their first formal lessons to their first international recognition, involving many thousands of hours of intense practice. The fastest in one study was twelve years, and the slowest took twenty-five years. In other fields you may even be an early bloomer, but in the arts if your expertise is to be at a high level of mastery, unless you are a Dylan Thomas, a rarity who was at his peak at nineteen, you had best avoid discouragement and expect to bloom late.

Trouble Getting Started: Two Examples from The Arts

Late Bloomers have trouble getting started, but once they decide what to do with their lives, there is no stopping them. Sometimes the very tardiness of their entering into a field is a powerful motivator to make up for lost time, “catching up” with people of equal age who started years sooner and often surpassing their accomplishments. They think,  “I have no time to waste anymore.” They buckle down, focusing, achieving, feeling surges of vitality which if they are in the arts they turn into paintings, novels, plays, movies, buildings and museums, and so on.

Green and purple flowersNovelist Raymond Chandler was fired from his high-paying executive job (chairman of five corporations at the same time) and found himself without an income. Luckily, he had a talent and became a writer, but not producing a first short story until the age of forty-four and his first novel at fifty-four. That book–The Big Sleep–was a success and spawned quickly many other works–many novels, short stories, essays, articles, and screen plays. Vincent van Gogh, a troubled soul, spent most of his life searching unsuccessfully for a field to work in,  trying this and that, believing that there was an appropriate occupation for everyone, including himself. He turned to a life of serious painting at thirty-three. In the brief five years remaining in his life his energy, which was almost superhuman and beyond belief, was ignited, and he produced three thousand works.

The Life Pattern of Late Bloomers

Pink lotus on purple backgroundWhen the majority of their friends and associates are settled in a career and life style, late bloomers are not. Late bloomers may eventually reach the height of their achievements and fulfillment which I call “their true destiny,” but later in life. Their lives fill us with optimism. They demonstrate that whatever your condition at present, whatever your age, a fulfilled life, even one you may not have  remotely anticipated, may await you.

To bloom is to reach your true destiny, to live intelligently, not stupidly, to come into your own, to find fulfillment. The discovery of your true destiny can come early in life, or in the middle, or late. It’s the bell curve: of those who bloom: a minority bloom early, the great majority bloom in their middle years, and a minority bloom in their sixties, seventies, or later. But some people never bloom because they don’t set their minds to.

The Sense of Constructing Yourself As You Go Along

Pink lotus on dark green backgroundIf you’re a late bloomer, you’ve made false starts. You haven’t peaked yet, haven’t reached your destiny yet, but you may be determined to bloom one day. Late bloomers are more willing than most to persevere and if need be to fail but try again and again until they reach a life they desire. If you are a late bloomer, more than most people you have the sense that you’re constructing yourself as you go along, even rejecting what other people may call golden opportunities if those opportunities don’t appear to lead you in the direction you desire most.

For example, I had published books before with good presses, starting in my mid-twenties, but my first important book with a major publisher (Doubleday) was published when I was forty-two. The next best seller was published three years later. Before I knew it I was making speeches about them to audiences of thousands in auditoriums across North America and in Europe. I have a flair for public speaking and present myself well, and was approached by an agent Red-orange poppy with little blue flowers and green grasswith the goal in mind for me to have a national television talk show. It was an excellent opportunity and would have paid extremely well. But my wife and I talked it over and I decided that what I wanted to do with my life above all else was simply to sit at a computer in my upstairs work room while my four children played noisily downstairs and my wife came up once in a while to say hello, and produce artful paragraphs that reflected my years of hard work and training.  To me that was blooming. I turned the opportunity down.  Late bloomers often make similar very difficult decisions while they are constructing themselves.

Late Blooming Is Problem-Solving

When people try to solve problems, the solutions arrived at toward the end of the solution-generating period are the best. The most effective problem-solvers tend not to accept as the solution the first or the first flurry of solutions that come to mind. Their thinking is, “This is a good-looking solution all right, but there may be better ones,” and they continue to work on solving the problem. They hold out for a better answer. This is called “deferred judgment” and requires that you live in ambiguity, possibly for a long time. But people in the arts have a higher tolerance for ambiguity than the great majority of people. It’s not far -fetched to view late bloomers as people who defer judgment for a period of time–even many years–living  patiently in ambiguity until finding a solution to the problem of living their life and reaching what is, for them, a more highly fulfilling existence that makes full use of their talents. If your life is not fulfilling, you know it. No one need tell you.

The Importance of Missions, Callings, and Occupations

Pink and purple anemoneMost people–possibly all–who find fulfillment later in life find it in a mission, calling, or vocation. You cannot be dissatisfied when you’re doing the work for which you feel you were brought into the world, a thought that consoled Raymond Carver through his alcoholic’s torturous life. Psychologist Charlotte Buhler was concerned with people finding fulfillment in a “task” as artists find in their art. She wrote, “We find our most complete fulfillment if we can be ourselves and do what we like to do while dedicating ourselves to a task we believe in. In this we transcend ourselves, but simultaneously we satisfy ourselves.”  George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.”

 

Getting More Education and Training Is a Route Many Late Bloomers Follow

Late bloomers need more time to get settled. My son was a high-powered advertising salesman making a lot of money. He began to dread his work. He was unhappy because he felt he wasn’t doing anything meaningful. He wanted to work in a helping profession. He had been hit by a car and sustained serious injuries and underwent a long, painful recovery.  His friend was killed in that accident and my son was deeply affected. He felt a powerful need to apply himself to serving an important goal that went beyond his own self-interests. In his late thirties he went back to school and acquired a Master’s degree in social work. He now provides therapy to people who survive traumas as did he.

Red chrysanthemumsGoing back to school as a transition to another field is a strategy late bloomers find appealing, in essence ending one career and starting another.

Some Goals and Interests the Late Bloomer Just Does Not Forget

Or, you may set out again in pursuit of goals that were dear to you in the past and you’ve neglected, possibly for a long time. Especially determined people are more likely than most to find success by changing their lives in mid-stream, pursuing abandoned purposes and projects, resuming activities and interests that they have laid aside, sometimes many years earlier, but never stopped thinking about. Herbert guided tours through the North Woods before stopping to assess what he wanted. After asking himself hard questions about where his life was going he returned to his earlier interest in medicine. He went back to school and became an MD. Wally Amos was an unsuccessful Hollywood talent agent who found that he had always enjoyed most baking cookies. So later in life he opened the first store in what would grow into the Famous Amos Chocolate Chip business.

It Is Never Too Late To Become the Person You Are Supposed To Be

No matter your age or position in life– a seventy-three year old grandmother of ten, a middle-aged druggist, or a young clerk, housewife, or college student– you can always become the person you have the wherewithal to be. Because you haven’t bloomed yet doesn’t mean you won’t.  Your heights of satisfaction and accomplishments may be ahead of you. When you bloom isn’t the important thing. Blooming at all is.

Orange DahliaHave you bloomed?  If you haven’t what are you going to do about that? People who aren’t leading satisfactory lives haven’t bloomed at all, and many are trying to, but many   have never started trying, and just as many have given up. Better to start if you haven’t already, whatever your age or condition in life. You can always forget the past and start out again, making no excuses for starting out late.  Experiment, follow your instincts, and assess yourself and your feelings about your life. Are you going right or are you going wrong?

You can either search for fulfillment or flee from it. You can’t trade it for someone else’s fulfillment because theirs seems easier or more profitable or praiseworthy. Yours is yours. It stands in need of you. You are asked to fit yourself to it. It is given just as it is, just as the yellow sun and blue sky are given just as they are.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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A Style Is About All There Is to Art

Style is everywhere in art and everywhere in everyday life. There would be no art without style. Picasso’s Guernica has a style, and Pride and Prejudice does too, and the building you are in has a style. Whenever you speak or send a text or dress or brush your hair, you have a style. You’re reading a style right now. It is mine, and just as, whether you know it or not, you have spent probably Interior livingroom with stylethousands of hours developing yours (so that I’d recognize anywhere that it is yours), I have consciously spent many hours developing mine.

A core reason you are attracted to one painter over others or one writer over others, or why you like Sinatra, or Chopin or Debussy or The Simpsons is their style.  Speaking of style, short story specialist Irishman Frank O’ Connor said, “One sees that the way a thing is made controls and is inseparable from the whole meaning of it.” In the same vein but more emphatically American Nobel Prize writer Toni Morrison said, “Getting a style is about all there is to writing.”

The total effect of what a writer says will depend to a considerable extent on how the writer says it. Style is the manner of saying what is said.  Some styles are appealing, but many are unappealing. The writer should always want to write with an appealing style. It needn’t be beautiful, but it should be appealing.

Painting of field by Claude Monet

Claude Monet

The writer’s style expresses his or her temperament and his or hers alone, and reveals verbal abilities, methods of writing, enthusiasms, and even self-doubts. By analyzing a writing style you can analyze the writer. Painters leave their print everywhere in their paintings. Style is the whole artist that is made recognizable in the work. You can see from a work that a Cezanne temperament is not a Monet temperament.

There are good styles and bad styles. .  People do not generally like weird, eccentric styles. When artists discover the style that best expresses them (which may take years to happen) they experience a breakthrough and feel a new sense of power and confidence over their work.

A sign for writers that they are on the right track is the emergence in the work at hand of their characteristic style.  When they see their style taking shape in the work, they feel secure. I’ve always felt that when I get the first paragraph under control (in my style), the piece is basically written.

Simplicity

Artists who are interested in styles today are almost automatically interested in SIMPLICITY, claiming that works of art should not be unnecessarily complicated. Speaking of simplicity, writer Willa Cather said that the higher processes of art are all processes of simplification.

portrait of Anton Checkhov

Anton Checkhov

Anton Chekhov is considered the master of the short story–the greatest, the best to learn from. He wrote to his brother, also a writer, “A strange thing has happened to me: I have developed a mania for brevity–everything strikes me as too long.” He practiced “maximal conciseness.” His phrases are simple, such as, “The sun set,” “It got dark,” and “It started to rain.”  Novelist Somerset Maugham thought that writing simply was more difficult than it might seem. He said: To write simply is as difficult as to be good.”

Chekhov believed that not only should a short story’s style be simple, but the plot should be simple too. He said, “The more elaborate the plot of a given story is, the less effective it tends to be as a work of art.” In many of his stories precious little happens.   He said, “You should take something ordinary, something from everyday life without a plot or ending.” He said a story should have a man and a woman, and a little action. Some of his most admired stories are mood-pieces in which plot is barely present.

Frank Lloyd Wright building

Frank Lloyd Wright

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designer of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, was interested in simplicity not only in architecture, but in all arts. He believed that there could be but one best way for the artist to express anything, and that the way could include only what was absolutely necessary to express the essential meaning of the thing. That requires stringent simplification. By eliminating the inessentials, the artist arrives at the nature of the object—its pure form. But the artist must know when to stop simplifying. Wright said, “Less would ruin the work as surely as would ‘more.’”  So, simplify but don’t go too far.

Accessibility and Artworks

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Artists who are interested in style and interested in simplicity are also interested in ACCESSIBILITY of their works. In any of the arts, the artist has to decide–as do you–if it is important to appeal to an audience, to be understood by an audience. Should the work be accessible? How accessible? Leo Tolstoy, whose novels are sometime considered the greatest ever written, said, “Great works of art are only great because they are accessible and comprehensible to everyone.” Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz thought what many people think: that so-called great works are too pompous, too stiff, and are not accessible. Ford Maddox Ford was all for accessibility and said, “You must have your eyes forever on your Reader. That alone constitutes Technique”

William Faulkner felt differently. He said, “I don’t care about John Doe’s opinion on mine or anyone else’s work. Mine is the standard which has to be met.” (And he won a Nobel Prize.) But his work is accessible only with difficulty–long, convoluted sentences and rhetorical style. But Francois Mauriac disagreed with Faulkner and said, “An author who assures you that he writes for himself alone and that he does not care whether he is heard or not is a boaster and is deceiving himself or you.”  (And he won a Nobel Prize too.) Delacroix wanted accessibility. He said. “A picture is but the bridge between the soul of the artist and that of the spectator.”  How accessible will your work be?

The Author’s Intensity and the Production of Literature

The artist’s INTENSITY is reflected in style.  Some artists’ style is laid back, but others’ style is red hot. Raymond Chandler turned hard-boiled detective writing into critically-accepted literature and had a lot to say about the writer’s craft.  He wrote: “When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be perfection over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over a ball.” Painter George Innes said, “The greatness of art is not in the display of knowledge…but in the distinctness with which it conveys the impression of a personal vital force that acts spontaneously, without fear or hesitation.”

Advice Regarding Emotions, Plot, and Understatement

Van Gogh self portrait

Van Gogh

A style conveys EMOTIONS. Chekhov wrote, “The more emotionally charged a situation, the more emotional restraint one must show in writing, and then the result will be emotionally powerful. There is no need to lay it on thick.” Other Chekhov quotes: “Avoid describing the mental state of your protagonist.” “Avoid describing emotional states…one should make these apparent from action.“ “To get strong emotions from the reader, try to be somewhat colder.” Thinking the same thing as Russian Chekhov, Frenchman Gustave Flaubert said, “The less one (the writer) feels a thing, the more likely one is to express it as it really is.”

The two other greatest writers of short stories–Guy de Maupassant and Ernest Hemingway–also advocated emotional understatement. Hemingway wrote “Dispassionate prose,” prose always less emotional than the events seem to demand. Understatement elicits strong emotional responses from the reader.

Emotional states in writing are amplified by brevity.  American writer Flannery O’ Connor said that the fiction writer has to realize that compassion or emotions cannot be created with emotion. The style itself must be emotion-free.

Artists Can’t Help It: They Repeat Themselves

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a highly successful writer by the age of twenty-four. He said, “Mostly, we authors repeat ourselves—that’s the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before”

Claude Monet painted the same subject over and over. As an Impressionist he was interested in conveying the effect of light on objects, and would often  set his clock to be at  the place where the subject was at intervals so he could catch the light at noon, say, and ten minutes later and ten minutes after that. He might paint seven or ten paintings of the very same thing in different light.

All Artists Need Taste

Picasso painting

Picasso

Obvious in a work of art is the artist’s aesthetic judgment, which  he/she develops over time and experience.  “At the higher levels of creativity it is probable that few besides the creators themselves are able to assess a new creation, and it is necessary that they should learn to adopt an objective critical attitude toward their own work…(the creators’ self-criticism) must be based on  sound insight and aesthetic appreciation–what one would call ‘taste” (R. Ochse).

Some Writers Are in the Wrong Art

“Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or person, as if he were painting what he is saying because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors” (Pablo Picasso). A good example is Joseph Conrad in his masterpiece Heart of Darkness.

Miscellaneous Insights About Writing

 “Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent” (Pat Conroy).

Flannery O’Connor said, “A good short story should not have less meaning than a novel, nor should the action be less complete. Nothing essential to the main experience can be left out of a short story.”

“Since Stephen Crane’s time [late nineteenth century] all serious writers have concentrated on the effort of rendering individual scenes more vividly” (Caroline Gordon).

“A novelist’s characters must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them” (Anthony Trollope.)

“It has been through Flaubert that the novel has at last caught up with poetry” (Allen Tate).

“Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first” (William Faulkner).

“Only when the moral beliefs of the reader tally exactly with those on which a story is based will the reader have the whole of the emotion which it is potentially able to produce in him” (Montgomery Belgion).

A personal style that makes you comfortable and confident helps you accomplish whatever you wish to accomplish in your art. An artist’s style evolves over a lifetime of work. What it was when you were twenty-five is not the same as it is now when you are fifty. This post and the ideas and experiences here of many important artists may help you strengthen and perfect your own style.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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15 Strategies for Breaking the Bad Habit of Avoiding Work or Quitting Too Soon

Creative people begin projects with the goal of finishing them. No writer or artist has ever thought, “My goal is to quit this project when I’m halfway through.”  If you find you’re consistently not Jigsaw puzzle piecesfinishing, you’ve developed a bad habit and you’d better do something about it.

Creative work may be joyous. Yet it is sometimes tedious and unenjoyable.  It’s natural to prefer what’s easier. The easiest choice is not to work at all today.  But that usually results in feeling guilty and irresponsible. The works you may be devoting a good part of your life to never gets done.

Productivity is the creative’s main purpose—bringing all the training and talents into the act of producing finished works of the highest quality the artist is capable of at this time.

High-achieving creatives exert more energy from the start of a project and work steadily without long interruptions for a much longer period than the majority of creatives, often producing staggering amounts of their best work.

How do you break a habit like avoiding writing or painting or quitting before you should? There is only one way, as pointed out by the foremost American psychologist Willian James, and that is to Woman working at an easelstart another contrary, more fruitful habit. To break the habit of consistently not writing, you develop the habit of writing regularly. To combat the habit of quitting too soon, you make yourself not quit.

No one is saying it will be easy and that you will not encounter resistance. But you are not helpless. You’re an adult, and what is needed is a mature, adult, rational approach to production. Production is a necessity not only to increase artists’ volume of work, but to enhance their talent. The more work artists generate the better their skills become.

Here are 15 strategies to help you break the habit of avoiding work or quitting too soon:

  1. Keep your production goal in mind. If your goal is to work for an hour or to produce X number of words before you quit for the day, make yourself accountable. Don’t be satisfied with less. As you become accustomed to reaching your performance goals, your motivation will climb. It’s exciting to set a goal of writing 200 words a day and to write 250. And more exciting to write 275 or 300.
  2. Take regular breaks. Relax. Get up and stretch. Walk around. Artistic performance improves after rest periods. Even if you’re tempted to work straight through without a break, take one anyway. Even if you’re working for a long, sustained stretch of time (say four or more hours) work in short, intense, concentrated half-hour spurts, with short rest periods between spurts. That is the most efficient, healthiest, and most productive way to work.
  3. Set reasonable goals–moderately difficult–not too high or too low. And no goal you set should be beyond your current capabilities to achieve it.
  4. Get in the habit of saying, “Work is my friend. Idleness, lethargy, and avoiding work are not my friends. Work is my friend.”
  5. Ignore your past reactions. In the past you may have let yourself off the hook if you weren’t in the exact mood to stay with your work session’s goal. And maybe you were in the habit of not setting work goals at all. Don’t be a slave driver, but don’t let yourself off the hook so easily.

computer keyboardYou’re not a child or hedonist, a worshipper of permissiveness and pleasure who doesn’t have any will power. There are many writers who write not the traditional four or fewer hours daily, but put in eight hours a day, much longer than the majority, considering themselves no different than their parents who worked eight hours a day and the majority of the work force who work eight hours daily.

  1. Seize the first opportunity to break the old habit of avoiding/quitting and start the new. When you feel that first urge to lose your focus, that first, “I’ll put this off till tomorrow,” DON’T DO IT. Continue working. Be strong.
  2. Set aside time to be alone. For high quality uninterrupted work to happen, most creatives need isolation and solitude.

Texting, emails, and phone calls are subversive and can destroy creatives’ best work intentions. Whether you let yourself be delayed by interruptions or not is a reflection of your motivation and drive. Interruptions are one of the biggest enemies of creative thinking. Creatives with strong drive are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated creatives will interrupt their work more often and avoid working on it for long periods.

distorted clock facesIt takes longer to completely absorb yourself in an ambitious project than in an easier, less complicated one. And during that period, distractions seem to come up out of the ground. Any intrusion on the delicate world of a creative mind can make that world disappear. Every intrusion not only robs you of time, but also of the time it takes you to recover. If you set a goal of working a three-hour session and have three interruptions you may be busy for three hours but only do fifteen minutes of actual work. If you try to do four things simultaneously, you’ll probably only finish one, at most two.

One study showed that following an interruption for an email or phone call, people were so distracted that 40% of the time they didn’t get back to work, but moved on to something else. If you quit 40% of the time, how long will it take you to finish your novel?

  1. Commit yourself totally. Artists will exert themselves and overcome impediments when they are on fire with the incomparable excitement of creating. It’s excitement or necessity or both, excitement over the production of a work or the necessity of overcoming obstacles to produce it—and the habit you’ve developed of working through impediments such as tiredness. Either you’re committed to writing or painting regularly or you’re not.
  2. woman sitting at the edge of waterDon’t let a lousy mood prevent you from working. When I’ve written about the effects of moods on your writing, I’ve shown that no matter how you feel before you start writing, once you get started your mood almost always improves and you feel good. You may begin with depression or sadness and end feeling elated.
  3. Start with success. Failure the first time you attempt to break an old habit of avoiding work or quitting too soon makes your commitment weaker. But success on the first attempt makes it more likely that you’ll try again. Be sure that the first day and first week you’re starting the new habits of working and not quitting you stay with it. If your goal is to work forty-five minutes do not work fewer than forty-five.
  4. Be consistent. Bad habits are incorrigible and don’t disappear without a fight. They have strength. They may have been a part of you for years. If you don’t win the battle with avoiding work or quitting too soon, your ability to replace the bad habit will soon disappear. You must not flinch from making the consistent effort.  But when you make no exceptions, the new habit settles into your personality and you become a highly efficient creative person.
  5. Motivate yourself to finish a project by having something better and very appealing to go on to after you finish this project. Don’t let yourself do B unless you finish A.
  6. Use positive affirmations and helpful self-talk: “I’m doing well. It’s taking shape. It’s becoming easier for me to begin difficult projects and to stick with them.”
  7. Make the act of not only starting work (which is easy) but finishing it (which is harder), become second nature. Pick the unfinished project or activity you find the most important to finish. Then when you finish that one project, pick the next one and finish it, paying no attention to anything else.
  8. Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit. The majority of writers and artists eventually quit completely, but the artists you remember and talk about did not quit.

Over the course of your life you’ve learned to manage yourself and to do what is in your best self-interests. And if you are an artist, what is in your best self-interest is to choose work over idleness, Sculptor at work in studiowork that leads to the fulfillment of your gifts over the avoidance of work.

You can be strong. Our commitments falter when we are weak and self-indulgent. You are aiming to create art. If you’re working, you’re doing the right thing.  Most artists love to work.

© 2020 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Pursuit of Perfection in the Arts

Masks representing theater (blue and redActor Lord Laurence Olivier aimed at perfect performances, as did Peter O’Toole, Olivier’s successor as the world’s greatest actor–the perfect performances in the perfect tragedies as the perfect characters–as Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, or Iago. One night Olivier felt that he had achieved perfection in a performance. Others in the cast also told him he had.  He said, “What I’m thinking is I’ve done it, but will I be able to do it again?” Perfection is difficult and rare. It is hard to repeat. It is a concept that grows in importance to artists as their skills and accomplishments ascend to high levels.

In her essay “Dancers and the Dance” Susan Sontag states that dance differs from the other performing arts. The standards which dancers measure their performance against is not that of the highest excellence as it Is with actors, singers, and musicians. Sontag believes that the dancer’s standard is perfection. She says, “Every serious dancer is driven by notions of perfection–perfect expression, perfect technique.”

Sontag says that dance demands more of the dancer than any other art or any sport demands.  She writes, “While the daily life of every dancer is a full-time struggle against fatigue, strain, natural physical limitations and those due to injuries (Which are inevitable) dance itself is an enactment of an energy which must seem, in all respects, untrammeled, effortless, at every moment fully mastered.” When performing, dancers must hide their pain behind a performing smile. Injuries must be hidden. The dancer’s performance smile is “a categorical denial of what he or she is actually experiencing.” Behind the grace of the dancers is much discomfort and pain they endure while training themselves for such performances and while performing.

A male and a female ballet dancersIt is true that serious dancers currently and throughout history have aimed at perfection, but other artists–usually the best in the art, those that are aware that they have a significant talent–also aim for perfection in their work, I believe. Those who do aim for perfection in their novels, musical composition, and paintings and other art works let it be known through their obsessions with their work that they are extremely serious about their art, and are willing to face its challenges with drive and commitment.

The urge for perfection begins, I think, with a niggling, Then the artists become increasingly aware after a number of works have been produced and (usually  but not always) thousands of hours have been put in,  that perfection is within their reach and not merely a remote fantasy–that THEY–Faulkner, Picasso, Stravinsky, Cassatt, Proust, Cezanne, and Virginia Woolf–have  what it takes.

To be an artist seeking perfection you have to possess art-relevant traits that will equip you for a creative life. If your ambition is perfection, and you are not self-critical and self-demanding, you will have problems. The artist aiming to produce perfect works has to be self-critical, always looking for faults in the works and in themselves that will have to be corrected. When Sontag had praised a dancer for a superb performance she heard “a disconsolate litany of mistakes that were made–a beat missed, a foot not pointed in the right way.” Sontag adds: “In no other art can one find a comparable gap between what the world thinks of a star and what the star thinks about himself or herself, between the adulation that pours in from the outside and the relentless dissatisfaction that goads one from within….Part of being a dancer is this cruelly self-punishing objectivity about one’s shortcomings, as viewed from the perspective of an ideal observer, one more exacting than any real spectator could ever be.”

Intense concentration is necessary too if you hope to produce a perfect artistic performance; this is true of every art. All you need do is look at the intensity of the eyes of an artist painting, or a writer at the keyboard to realize that. Everything in the artist’s mind that is not needed for the artistic performance is ignored, and only what the performance requires is brought into attention.  Anyone who produces great works that are the result of the mind in action such as archers, mathematicians, and artists of unrivaled talent like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov project a state of extreme (yet also relaxed) focus. Sontag says that state is not just something that is necessary for a great performance, but, “It is the performance, the very center of it.”

Painting of Frank SinatraWhen they are watching the performance of a play what the audience hopes to see more than anything else is a virtuoso performance they will not be able to forget however long they live and how many plays they see. The virtuoso performance is the single most exciting and popular feature not only of drama but of any art, and the most thrilling feature of a virtuoso performance is not the possibility that the artist may fail. Rather, it is the spectacle of succeeding in an extraordinary way–a performance that is perfect because it has no errors. All the time I am listening to music as I do all day long or reading a narrative I think is great such as James Joyce’s short story “Araby,” and Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” I am thinking, “Keep it up James and Frank. Don’t fail. Continue being great until the story or the song is finished and perfect from the beginning to the end”

Playwright Eugene O’Neill, America’s greatest and most innovative dramatist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936.  Long Day’s Journey into Night was his masterpiece. One of his experiments was revealing the characters’ interior  monologue. Another was making the speech of poor, uneducated characters a part of the drama. Another Nobel Prize winner–Saul Bellow–who said that writing was more important than his wife and children–aimed to write perfectly. A third Nobel Prize winner–Ernest Hemingway–made no secret that his aim was to produce perfect works and be the greatest writer in the world. Many critics believe he accomplished that goal. Writer Joan Didion thought his every sentence was written with such craftsmanship that it was perfect.  Many critics, teachers, and writers consider the short stories and plays of Anton Chekhov, the founding father of modern theatre, and the leading prose writer of his era, perfect. It is hard to tell what a Chekhov story or play “means” because he does not judge or clarify meanings; meanings are left to the reader or audience.

Perfection in the arts is always attributable to the personality of the artists that filters through their talent. The artist aiming to produce perfect works must keep the audience clearly in mind. Critic Gilbert Murray said that writers who have the powers of revelation are the ones who have experienced–seen or felt–more than the average run of intelligent beings. Behind every work, whether poor or great, are the tastes and the disposition of the person who created it, as well as a sensitivity to the audience. In the theatre the actor’s aim is through the performance to jolt the members of the audience–to please in a powerful way, to be accepted as though a friend, to lodge securely and permanently in their memory, displacing less important things.

The days and nights of everyday living of the artist seeking perfection must be filled to the brim with their art. More than likely, the artist has grown up with it, seen it mature, and watched it take over a good part of his or her being. Short story master Raymond Carver reflecting on his career put it this way: “conversation was fine, camaraderie was fine, making love was fine, raising a family was okay, but interfered with writing.”

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Actors and Directors, Artistic Perfection, Artists, Composers, concentration, Creativity Self-Improvement, Dancers, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Drive, Laurence Olivier, Susan Sontag, Writers