Category Archives: Dancers

Extraordinary Creative Outliers

I think all creative people are extraordinary. You’re extraordinary. I’m extraordinary too. We’ve been extraordinary all our lives and one day at the age of six or eleven or twenty-one or fifty-seven something remarkable happened and we discovered we were, and then a corner was turned.

But a separate breed of outlier creator is so extraordinary and so driven and capable of such incredible creative feats and leads such an extreme existence of sacrifice that we wonder what there is about them that inspires them so. What sustains them and equips them so perfectly to produce such exceptional work? Theirs isn’t the only path to creative achievements—most creators lead more moderate lives. But it’s a path extraordinary creative outliers often choose.

Creative outliers are so absorbed in facing challenges and solving creative problems that they have almost no interest in anything else. Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow—the premier American writer of the second half of the 20th century– said, “I have always put the requirements of what I was writing first—before jobs, before children, before any material or practical interest, and if I discover that anything interferes with what I’m doing, I chuck it. Perhaps this is foolish, but it has been the case with me.” He was married five times.

Novelist Jane Smiley wrote, “Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, ‘God! This is fascinating.’” Ernest Hemingway lived in poverty early in his career and sometimes stole food and said a writer’s perceptions are sharper when he’s “belly-empty, hollow hungry,” that “hunger is good discipline and you can ballerina-534356_640_copy2learn from it.” Before taking the literary world by storm late-blooming novelist/essayist Henry Miller lived in poverty too. He once said, “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” Emily Dickinson, the greatest American woman poet, author of 1,775 poems, said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry. Ballerinas—artistes of artistes–may practice until their muscles scream and their feet bleed.

We look at these creative outliers and we marvel and are impressed or appalled or shocked, and often ask ourselves “Could I live an unusual life like sunflower-395026_640that? Am I willing to sacrifice so much for my art and suffer so much and risk so much?  Is that possible for me? How much of my normal life am I willing to give up? If I sacrificed more could I be great too?” And ordinarily decide it isn’t possible at all and we’re not willing to sacrifice in that way, nor suffer, nor risk all that. We couldn’t because a life like theirs asks too much. We draw a line and dare not cross it.

All creative people are obsessed to some extent or another, from mildly to ferociously, so much so that when we obsessed-but-less-obsessed creators hear about these outlier creators we have no problems understanding them since they’re only different from us in degree.

What humans in their craft can accomplish extraordinary outlier creators are willing to push themselves upward toward.  They have a genius.  They’re self-absorbed. They’re determined. They’re completely taken by a way that’s too demanding for the ordinary run of women and men. But for a select few like these outliers their craft becomes a way of life, a journey, a goal, an inevitable struggle of someone rare who’s capable of achieving the impossible.

Creative outliers pour themselves heart and soul and muscle and blood into their work. They work and they work and they work repetitively, and think bird-226700_640about their art or their writing, acting, or dancing continually, and have a monumental amount of confidence. Any time they’re not working they’re making plans for improvement because they know no matter how good you are and what you’ve accomplished you can always be better.

The fundamental role of all creators without exception is to create—to produce works–and they do with a vengeance. Pablo Picasso produced 50,000 works—1,885 paintings ,1,228 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and tapestries and rugs.

There wasn’t a moment of his waking day all his career that Nobel Prize dramatist Eugene O’Neill wasn’t thinking about writing.  He produced 35 full-length plays and 17 one act plays and revolutionized American theater. Writing  long hours, English novelist Charles Dickens—the most popular writer in the world at the time– would sometimes put his head into a bucket of cold water, dry his hair with a towel, and then go on writing.

Creative outliers learn—often at an early age–that they will achieve more if they concentrate their efforts in one area. They are aware only of the work before them, and let nothing divert them from it. French novelist Gustave Flaubert said that only writing mattered to him, and that he kept all his other passions locked up in a cage, visiting them now and then for diversion. He said too, “Sometimes I don’t understand why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brains don’t melt away. I am leading a stern existence, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent rage, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but which never abates.”

French novelist/poet/dramatist Victor Hugo started his day by handing his clothes to his servant with strict orders to return them only after Hugo had finished a day’s work of seven hours. Composer Igor Stravinsky and novelist Thomas Wolfe worked all their lives in a frenzy—Wolfe in a “wild ecstasy” at top speed, never hesitating for a word, as though he were taking dictation.

You can’t measure intensity and a person’s pure life force. But the energy pouring out of outliers like Vincent van Gogh would bowl you over. Van Gogh vincent-van-gogh-starry-night-1889worked  furiously at a fever pitch, gathering up the colors as though with a shovel, throwing them on canvas with rage, globs of paint covering the length of the paint brush, sticking to his fingers. Goethe called such super-charged outliers “demoniacs”–people with a super-abundance of vitality, “something that escapes analysis, reason, and comprehension.” Goethe was aware of this power in himself.

Russian Anton Chekhov wrote 10,000 pages of short stories, and also produced great plays like The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, and Uncle Vanya, and was a practicing physician too. Noted architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller was often unable to stop working until he dropped from exhaustion. Isaac Asimov, author or editor of more than 500 books, said he wrote for the same reason he breathed—because if he didn’t, he would die.

Extraordinary creative outliers are guided by an ambition, a notion so bold that it’s almost outlandish:  that you’re born with a certain aptitude and with direction, discipline, and sacrifice you can transform yourself into something magnificent. Their focus is maniacal—all day long every day. When they’re away from their work they long for it.

Nobel novelist Toni Morrison said, “But the important thing is that I don’t do anything else. I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I Toni Morrisondon’t go to cocktail parties. I don’t give or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then. And I can concentrate.” Outlier novelist Philip Roth said, “My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually, I write all day but if I want to go back to the studio in the evening, after dinner, I don’t have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don’t have to sit there and be entertaining or amusing. I go back out and I work for two or three more hours.” American William Faulkner said jokingly, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”

We live in a world where everyone is selling something. Everyone has an ulterior motive. They want to be a brand. But these outliers only want one goal: to reach the highest heights they can. That’s it. There’s nothing else.

You look at Picasso and Faulkner and say, “Oh, that’s why painting and writing were invented. As if the gods of the arts declared, ‘To show you others how it should be done we’re going to make a person to represent perfection’.”

They have bad days, difficulties, and setbacks, and still believe in themselves. Andre Gide said, “The great artist is one …for whom the obstacle is a springboard.”   They know that effort is more important than talent. And if you say to them, “You’re just so gifted” they’ll stop you and say, “No, I’m no more talented than anyone else, no more talented than you, but I work much harder” and tell you and me, “If you want to excel you’ll have to overcome the notion that it’s easy.”

They’re a psychologically phenomenal combination of purity of focus and energy-1101474_640purity of discipline and purity of energy. Their creative lives are both comfortable and disciplined.  Even when they’re miserable they’re happy. Age has little effect on their skills except to improve them. They’re never happier and more at ease than when under pressure. They have a sense of being destined for something that very few other people are fitted for. But they are and they know they are.

They have a supreme care about their craft, and they never forget their failures. Their craft is their sanctuary. They’re never better than when doing their craft.

Outlier playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “I am of the opinion that my life sparks-142486_640belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible…”

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

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Filed under Artistic Perfection, Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Dancers, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, Faulkner, George Bernard Shaw, Goals and Purposes, High Achievement, Literature, Motivation, Outliers, Picasso, Poetry, Preparation, Self-Confidence, Self-Direction, Stamina, Success, The Writer's Path, Thomas Wolfe, Vincent van Gogh, Work Production, Writers

Why Do Creative People Write Blogs?

Until I started writing a blog I’d never read one. And one thing that surprised me right away was how so many talented, creative people writing them were woman-865111_640talking so freely, so honestly, and so candidly—so confidentially–about their work in progress. And knowing that hardly anyone does anything without expecting something in return, I wondered why they were doing that. What were they gaining? And were they losing something by doing it as I had been led to believe a creator who did that would? Now I can see that they are gaining something of immeasurable benefit.

I cannot imagine myself showing work in progress I’m serious about or discussing it with anyone until I think it’s finished and that I’ve done the best I can. To get that feeling about the work I’m serious about such as a book or a literary sketch, I might make major changes in it 70 or 75 times before anyone else knows about it. When I was writing what was to become my most popular book, an award-winning poet/professor of literature friend and I would get together every two or three weeks and talk  intensely for hours about writers and writing (and jazz, and the price of apples—that kind of thing–etc.).

And for two years I never once mentioned the book I was spending 18 or 20 hours a day writing. I told him about it when I gave him the date it would be typing-849807_640hitting the book stores.  He said “What the hell?” I didn’t show him. I didn’t show my wife. I didn’t show other friends. I didn’t show anyone because I didn’t want to hear anything that might affect my vision of the work, my plans for it, or my enthusiasm for it. And I believed that if you talked about your work in progress you’d dissipate the drive and energy you should be using to write it. I was very happy with my editor who didn’t give me a word of advice except to say, “An introduction would be a good idea,” and then as I turned chapters in said simply, “It’s really very good.”

But once the work in my mind is done I want to hear the frankest and most direct criticism, the kind a creator gains the most from—if it’s from someone who knows what they’re talking about.  A teacher in college said to me, “A good friend is one who’ll kick you in the teeth constructively” and that has always stayed with me. Without adequate feedback, effective learning is impossible and performance improvements only minimal, even for the most highly gifted artists or writers.

You need to have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a creator. Often the best route to that kind of self-understanding is via constructive feedback and help from other people who won’t know about you unless you tell them the way bloggers tell you, “Here I am in England, Russia, Paraguay, Australia, Oman, etc., and I’m working hard.”

Getting help, support, and feedback is a major strategy for reaching creative excellence.  Without any doubt at all, performance feedback, support, high blogging-15968_640motivation, and writing success go hand in hand despite what anyone says to the contrary. Being deprived of support and positive feedback is a big reason why so many thousands of creators give up their craft altogether and   turn to other pursuits, hoping to find fulfillment there. And maybe finding it, maybe not.

I suppose I was thinking along the lines of William Faulkner who said, “The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity.”  Or Truman Capote who said, “I never show anybody a single thing I write…I write it and finish it and this is the way it’s going to be.” Or Hans Koning, author of 40 books who wrote, “You don’t worry about what editors or reviewers may like or not like. (That comes afterward.) You don’t write…in order to get an independent judgment. Your own judgment is independent. You don’t accept any suggested changes except where you made a factual or grammatical mistake. My motto has been through all these years: Not a comma.” (And I once had an editor who told me she was so depressed because she’d argued for an hour with a writer about a comma.)

Ernest Hemingway believed talking about your work was bad luck and that writers should work in disciplined isolation, and “should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then.” Otherwise they become “like writers in New York.” He thought that giving a public reading of your work in progress was “the lowest thing a writer can do” and was “dangerous” for the writer. If people liked the writing and said, “It’s great Ernest,” he would think, “If these bastards like it what is wrong with it?” “It made me feel sick for people to talk about my writing to my face.”

When I ask myself why I’m so private about my work until in my mind it’s finished (at that point I’d like every person on earth to read it) my theory is it’s because growing up we did not talk openly about personal things that were important to us and were taught not to blow our own horn, not to be showy in any way, and that has had a lasting effect on me. Not showing off is a value I think of all born and bred bona fide American Middle Westerners. Even now when I find myself showing off in my writing I say to myself, “Cut it out.”

I’ve often thought about there being so many women artist and writer bloggers and so few men and such strong relationships between the women. It’s kind of woman-69531_640lonely for me. But I sit back and read what creative women say to each other and just as often have thought, “There’s something very special, very wonderful going on. Look how they understand each other, how they comprehend each other’s meanings, the nuances and subtleties. And how they raise each others’ confidence.”

When I look at the comments such forthright writer and artist bloggers receive about their experiences with their works in progress, what strikes me is that what they receive mainly is not technical information. There’s very little discussion of that at all, or it’s superficial—a few positive words. No, they talk about what they’re going through—their difficulties, successes, failures, setbacks, fears, and hopes, the balance they’re trying so hard to strike between their creative life and their family and work lives. And that’s exactly what readers want more than anything to hear about and what they respond to.

Before I’d thought of writing a blog and I don’t think knew what a blog was, my son Eli, a writer himself, told me I should write one.  “Me?” I said. And he said, “Yes.” He said I was writing every day for hours and producing volumes of work, and that I should share it with other people and receive feedback from them.

How I love now to wake in the morning and still drowsy-eyed go upstairs to my work room, and there on the screen see that I’d been visited overnight by viewers from the world’s capitals and desert villages, remote South Sea and map-221210_640Atlantic islands, and African mountain kingdoms accessible only by horseback–Lesotho, Sri Lanka, Somalia–and to hear from them that they like what I’m doing and look forward to it. What a joy to hear from bloggers from everywhere who’ve become my friends, whose work I admire, to hear the stories of the lives they’re leading and to care about them and about hard they’re trying and  to think about them.

What honest bloggers receive in return for their blogging is what every creative person hungers for—companionship, friendship, kindness, generosity, and words of blessed encouragement.  To “discourage” someone is to steal their courage away from them, but to “encourage” them is to give them courage. When we’re deeply discouraged –and that is so often in the arts–our courage abandons us and one way or another we must retrieve it or we will perish creatively. The main thing a writer or artist–or actor or dancer–has to overcome is getting discouraged.

Even the smallest encouragement during difficult times bolsters a person’s spirits. Someone, anyone, saying, “Just hang in there, my friend, a little longer.”

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

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Preparation and Creative Success

A young recent college graduate found out I was an experienced often-published writer and came over and asked me if we could get together to talk about writing. And so we went to a restaurant and talked for an hour and a half.

writing-828911_640She wants to be a poet. She’s started reading poetry but isn’t trained in it. She’s a fledgling poet, a poet in the making. She showed me samples of her work and I liked it and could see what she’s trying to get at. I encouraged her. As we were finishing up she mentioned magazines and poetry journals she was going to send her poems to. They included the New Yorker and Poetry and other of the most prestigious publications in the country.

I went home thinking, “I hope she doesn’t get too disappointed if her poems are rejected. They probably will be. She doesn’t yet realize how competitive publishing is. She’s thinking only of the gift she senses in herself. But there are whole armies of other gifted people everywhere in the world. There’s no premium on giftedness among creative people. They’re all gifted.”

And I thought, “There are a million poets nowadays, just as there are two million novelists and three million artists, some of them extremely well-trained in their craft and who have long experience. And every poet, novelist, and artist would like to be extraordinarily successful.” But why would I of all people discourage her? She’ll find out for herself. Then we’ll see what she’s made of. Will she still be writing and still be as enthusiastic in five years? Ten years? Fifteen?

Then I received an email from a graduate student in Texas who’d heard me speak. He wanted to know if I could refer him to an agent and publisher he could contact after he started writing. He hadn’t started writing yet.

I replied in my email, “I think the most important task for you now is to focus on writing, writing, and more writing. And reading good writers who are writing the kinds of things you want to write—write and study how to write. Learn bestsellers-67048_640and learn more. Read because people you read about are people who’ve spent their entire lives reading. Develop your abilities. Getting an agent, getting a publisher are separate activities from writing and should be kept separate. After you’ve gotten good at writing, then it’s time to start thinking about getting your work published. First get good.”

What I was saying was that success–particularly in the arts–is difficult, and that preparation is the key. And is the key to success in everything. And that if you lack the skill to reach a goal you will not reach it. You will not reach the goal pen-27043_640until you have the necessary skill. There has to be a perfect match between goals on the one hand and skills on the other.

The main reason most artists and writers fail is because they haven’t developed the skills they should have developed, but neglected to. The need is to develop an expertise not in every skill but in especially the key skills a person in that field must excel in if they are to be as successful as they could be. If you don’t have the skills, if you’re to succeed you’ll have to acquire them. If, for example, a fiction writer isn’t strong in the skill of characterization she’ll have problems because characterization is an essential skill. Many say more essential than every other writer’s skill. So a writer better focus on developing that skill.

You can take a flyer and try—nothing ventured nothing gained. And if you fail, you fail, so what? But something unfortunate often happens to artists and writers (and actors, etc.) with high hopes who, because they’re unprepared, fail and fail again, and again, and again. They may never succeed and never know why they don’t. Their beginner’s confidence, once so strong, now flies out the window. They become deeply discouraged and may quit, and that’s it. Their career, once so hopeful, is over.

Their dreams of being creative all the time and living the life of a writer, painter, or actor, or dancer dissolve. Why? Because they’d been so hungry to succeed fast they’d neglected their preparation. And preparation is what they should have been doing—slowly, patiently learning, learning more, overcoming their weaknesses, and building up their strengths.

I can’t possibly tell you how many promising writers and artists—talented, impressive people–I’ve known who failed pencil-1203980_640and gave up and never reached their peak. All professional writers and artists have encountered more than a dozen more talented writers and artists than themselves who no longer write or paint at all. Who knows what they might have accomplished? How much better it would have been for them if instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough” they’d thought, “I’m not YET good enough, but one day I will be if I commit myself to getting good, very good.”

A theme of mine is that it’s always best to face reality, however harsh and however much at times we want to hide from it. Face reality head-on and don’t lead a life of illusions. Never hide. And a reality that a creator has to face head-on and not hide from is that it takes a long time—usually many years–and a lot of patience and an almost unbelievable amount of work to become what I call a REAL painter, or REAL writer, or REAL actor, or REAL dancer who has what Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway called “seriousness.” And there are no exceptions.

According to the research on the development of expertise in any field thousands of hours of application have to be put in if your aim is to excel or even be competent. No outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without that much work on the part of the creator, however much natural ability he or she possesses. Some degree of that mysterious stuff called talent is necessary. But it’s far from everything. Talented people are a dime a dozen. The poet Hesiod who lived hundreds of years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high gods have placed sweat.” Sweat becomes part of the real creator’s everyday life.

The expert makes the performance look easy and we’re seduced: “I can do that.” But we have to look past the ease of the expert and realize creating is fun, it’s a gas, it’s fulfilling, and nothing else in your life compares with it. But succeeding at it at a high level is exceedingly tough. But many people have acquired a TV-ratings kind of mentality. It’s either quick results or cancellation.

It’s the same in the arts. A couple of tries without reaching success and it’s ratings time: “Who needs this? It’s harder to succeed than I thought. I’ll go into something else.” Then if you quit, nothing will be gained and many perfectly good years will have been wasted. But when we look at creative people who’ve “made it” we invariably find beings who have (1) persevered through setbacks (2) been devoted to developing to a high level the specific skills that made their high performance possible, and (3) had a thirst that can’t possibly be quenched to get better and better still.

So it’s wise to ask yourself as you work, “Am I really ready? Am I sufficiently prepared?” Lay your ego aside. If your answer is an honest “No, I can see I’m not,” go back, be patient, and focus harder on preparation.

Feel your expertise growing, your unique creative voice becoming clearer, your skills being refined before your eyes. For backdrop-772520_640a while don’t concern yourself at all with appearing on The New York Times best-seller list or any best-seller list. The hunger to see your name on these lists is the bane of writers. Don’t worry about having your work shown in the fanciest galleries.

When you’re prepared and your skills are strong enough that well may happen. But not until. But whatever you do, don’t quit till you’ve seen how high the skills you’ve so conscientiously developed will take you.

Sometimes I see the young poet on the street and I ask her, “Are you working?” And she smiles and says she is.

 

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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Creative People Need Optimism

I’ve mentioned before that while most of my blog readers are extremely talented and impressive artists and writers of all sorts in 135 countries, I don’t usually write about technique. That information can be gotten in a thousand places, and usually what’s said you’ve heard 200 times before. No, the turf I’ve staked out for myself concerns what I call The Inner Skills of Creative People. For there, I think, inside you, in your spirit, will be found the magical difference between run of the mill, adequate creators and great ones. Technique is important but will take you only so far. There’s more to being a creator. There is just something about great painters, writers, dancers, and actors that makes them great, and it comes from within.

So I write freely and happily about such creators’ necessities as courage, persistence, tenacity, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, and discipline.  And resilience, enthusiasm, guts, self-motivation, boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, and other spiritual dimensions of you, the creator.

And today I’ll write about the creator’s Inner Skill of optimism. 

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens

What separates winners from losers, Olympic athletes from other world class competitors? According to a group of researchers who studied America’s top wrestlers, the difference is not in physical ability, and it’s not in training methods–they’re pretty standard. Wrestlers eliminated in Olympic trials tended to be self-doubting, confused, and pessimistic before the match. The winners were optimistic, positive, and relaxed.  Those who made the team were also more poised and in control of their reactions than the losers, who were more likely to become emotionally upset. The researchers were able to predict 92% of the winners by using profiles of the wrestlers alone–without seeing a single wrestling match!

It’s not only in athletic performance that optimists fare better than pessimists, but in school and work performance too. In one experiment, students’ success on tests was more related to their optimism than to their intelligence. A positive, optimistic frame of mind increases power and effectiveness. A pessimistic frame of mind depletes them.

One major job of writers and artists is to sell their work—to magazines and publishers, and galleries, show sponsors, and clients. It stands to reason that the more optimistic writer and artist will have more selling success than their museum-184947_640pessimistic counterparts because optimists make better sales people than pessimists. A study was done of two groups of people selling over the phone. One group was comprised of trained and experienced sales people who were pessimistic. The others were women who didn’t have a single day of experience or training in sales at all, but scored high on a test for optimism. The untrained and inexperienced women optimists easily out-performed the trained and experienced pessimists. So if you’re not a natural optimist, you may wish to see the strategies below.

Anyone who’s trying to be creative should aim for an optimistic mood. Pessimism decreases creative productivity. But a mood of optimism improves problem-finding and problem-solving abilities, and if there are two abilities every creator needs it is to be able to find the main problems to solve and to be able to solve them. Creators in an optimistic mood feel safe, which fosters bolder, more relaxed and creative approaches. Optimists are more willing to take risks.

Optimism entails:

  1. Feeling free and easy as you write, paint, dance, or act.
  2. Being collected, composed, and calm; not fretting and worrying or being grumpy, resentful, or irritable.
  3. Putting unsolvable problems aside, forgiving yourself for past  mistakes and letting them go.
  4. Being decisive and taking actions that will benefit you.
  5. Thinking hopefully.
  6. Being endlessly curious about life and confident that you can handle whatever it brings.
  7. Maintaining hope and faith in the rightness of things and the future, and that things will work out for the best; trusting your luck.
  8. Ridding yourself of bad habits.
  9. Having confidence and feeling in control of things and master of your destiny.
  10. Being open, trusting, genuine, sincere, kindly, and generous with others.
  11. Being brave and totally focused and clear-minded in action.
  12. Experiencing moments of bliss knowing that at that moment you and your life are at their best.
  13. Never letting setbacks penetrate your spirit; expecting to succeed and not to fail.
  14. Holding no illusions, but  knowing exactly where you are in life, where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there.
  15. Having implicit and unshakable confidence in your goals and not budging a single inch from them, being willing to work hard for them, knowing that fear is your most powerful enemy and that there’s nothing to fear and no reason to hold anything back.

This is the route to optimism and personal power.

Pessimistic writers and artists believe they’re not in control, that creative tasks are too much for them. If you believe you’re not in control, you set lower goals and have a weak commitment to them. But the more strongly you believe that you are in control the higher the goals you set, the stronger your determination to achieve them, and the longer you persevere, even in the face of adversity. Optimistic writers and artists take adversity as a challenge and aren’t discouraged. Trouble ignites them, it fires them up; they’re confident, and they come to life. Even as a young poet Anne Sexton sent out a poem as soon as it was rejected.  Sometimes she sent out the same poem fifteen times.

rose-1130037_640Optimists are able to persist just as strongly in the face of difficulties as when everything is rosy because they have absolute confidence in themselves and hold a favorable view of their future. Persisting rather than giving up, they’re more likely to succeed. Succeeding increases their self-confidence and optimism even more, and they apply themselves again. This cycle is true of people doing any kind of work, from workers on an assembly line to their supervisors, from students to their teachers, from children to their parents, from one writer or artist to another: wherever you find optimists and pessimists.

Optimism does not take the place of talent, focus, hard work, and the development of skills. But if there are two equally talented and hardworking artists or writers–an optimist and a pessimist–the optimist will go further and have more success. And pessimism can destroy creative talent.

Seven Strategies for Maintaining Your Optimism

  1. Think optimistic and hopeful thoughts–not just once in a while, but all the time, whatever the circumstances. When you find yourself thinking unpleasantly, pessimistically, change and think optimistic thoughts. The only way to drive out an undesirable thought is by substituting a powerful desirable thought. By thinking differently, you can replace writers’ and artists’ self-doubt and discouragement with self-confidence, fear with courage, boredom with interest, and pessimism with optimism. Don’t dwell on the negative, but jump over to the positive every time. Be like a fish in a stream and swish your tail and quickly change directions. Think thoughts that make you feel free and easy, composed and confident, free of worry, and brave. Just kick every other kind of thought out of your mind.
  2. Be addicted to goals and action. The path to living optimistically lies in action. Optimistic action immediately invigorates you.
  3. Always maintain high hopes no matter what. The question isn’t whether you’ll experience defeat, but how you’ll handle it when you do. Everyone without a single exception takes it on the chin sometime. When you’re beaten–by an event, a situation, a circumstance, a person–gather yourself up, be resolved, and come back again. Never let misfortune penetrate your depths. Setbacks can’t defeat an optimistic and determined person. That’s not possible. The optimism of a creative person needs to be indestructible.
  4. Don’t dwell on past failures. Why punish yourself with what didn’t work out? When you’re knocked down, get up right away. Get back on your feet. Regain your bearings. The next moment offers a reprieve, a new beginning. Seize it.
  5. Continually look to past successes. List them on a sheet of paper and you’ll see how long a list can be. Look at them when you doubt yourself and your optimism will return.
  6. Spend time with optimists as much as possible. Birds of a feather flock together, so choose your birds very carefully.
  7. Learn to play. The joke goes that a horse sits down at a bar and the bartender says, “Why the long face?” You run into long-faced people at work, the check-out stand, the post office, writers’ groups and artists’ groups–everywhere–all the time. But people with a sense of humor are happier, healthier, and more optimistic.

sun-314340_640You know very well that if your thoughts are pessimistic–if you’re “off”–your commitment to action is not 100% and your spirit and energy are weak. You don’t feel like working; you take the day off. But when you’re optimistic and know what you want and are confident you can get it, you’re able to devote yourself to it with a powerful singleness of purpose. When you’re like that there is almost no way of stopping you from any success you  dream of.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Artists Aim for Perfection

Artists develop notions of something greater than competence, greater than excellence, and become intoxicated with Laurence Olivierperfection of their craft, perfection of their technique, and perfection of their repertoire of skills culminating in what they hope will one day be the perfect story, perfect poem, perfect painting, or perfect performance. Once in his career Laurence Olivier, the greatest actor of the 20th century, gave what he knew and everyone knew who was present that night was a perfect performance of Hamlet. “My God,” he wondered, “How did I do it and how will I ever be able to do it again?”

All artists want to “get better” and to “get it right.” They devote their entire careers to getting better and getting it right. The development of expertise is the artist’s most crucial task. If there is one thing that all successful creative people have in common it’s that they all work hard developing their skills, the foundation of their success.

To strive to improve one’s performance continually and to more and more often get it right, requires qualities that are not common. One is self-confidence; another is an objectivity about one’s artistic and sometimes personal shortcomings and limitations—a capacity for stern, dispassionate self-criticism. If an artist shows  you his work and you don’t notice the flaws in it that are so apparent to him, he will doubt your critical judgment and may not ask you again. Tell a ballerina her performance was breathtaking and she will say, “I missed a beat and my right foot wasn’t arched properly. “

The most difficult task for artists is to find and put into their work the right voice, the presence of the artist in the work. E.L Doctorow said, “I wait until I find a narrative voice. Then I listen to that and start writing.” John Updike wrote, “I notice that as I write it comes out as a sort of Updike prose. I sit down in such different moods, wearing such different clothes, and out this comes—like a kind of handwriting. It’s always mine, and there’s no way I can seem to get around it. Isn’t it funny you have only one voice?”

cream-rose-272946_640Artists may have to spend many years finding what their proper subject matter and voice may be. When they do find it, everything suddenly comes out into the clear light of day: “Now I know how to say what I’ve been trying to say.” At times—sometimes in mid-career—they discover that what they have been doing has been all wrong. The work doesn’t express them. When halfway through her life painter Mary Cassatt discovered her true subject—mothers with their children—and the right style, she destroyed all but a few of her previous works, signifying a new beginning. In mid-career painter Georgia O’Keefe decided her art was too influenced by other people and set out in a new direction.

Every art is physically and mentally exhausting. When they finish a day’s work, artists feel they have lifted a thousand pounds. They have a compulsion to work. The reason artists, like experts in all other fields, most often cite for their enormous energy, commitment, and focus necessary to excel is their motivation to concentrate on the task and put out effort to improve their performance.

Non-artists cannot be motivated or even forced to work at an artistic task to the extent that a person with an intense interest does willingly. There has probably never been a great artist who didn’t have a strong sense of single-mindedness and an ability to persevere, overcome difficulties, and concentrate on reaching his goals while resisting distractions. An interesting question is, “Why do some people but not others possess those qualities, and why do virtually all creative people?”

The artist’s main goal is production. When they have not worked at their craft for 48 hours, or 24 hours, or one hour, they get uneasy. When they are away from their work without a brush in their hand or something to write with or dancing slippers on their feet they are completely out of their element.

You cannot distinguish between true artists and their work. They are exactly what they do. A composer is his music, a writer his language. Every molecule in their body is the molecule of an artist. A director is one who directs; an actor acts. That’s what they do and that’s all there is to it. Their work is on their mind almost every waking moment.

mountain-299009_640Artists grow accustomed to loneliness. Even as children they spent much of their time alone. The common notion that artists are different and have different points of view, habits, personalities, and preoccupations than the majority of humankind is correct. There is often a distance, a gap, between them and their neighbors, even other members of their family, even their lovers and spouses who are not involved themselves in art.

They must incorporate the other person in their work or find a way of coping with that distance, or those sharing their lives must find a way. That may not be possible. Nobel Prize winning author Saul Bellow said, “I have always put the requirements of what I was writing first—before jobs, before children, before any material or practical interest, and if I discover that anything interferes with what I’m doing, I chuck it. Perhaps this is foolish, but it has been the case with me.” Bellow was married five times.

The artist, realizing that she’s looking at the world from a vantage point that’s not available to everyone, can say, “I am different. I see things differently. I value different things.” Everyone else wants to be rich. The artist wants fulfillment.

If they are truly artists, they are especially equipped and seem to have been born with not only magical “creative stuff” but with tenacity, strength, powerful will, and patience. In the achievements of successful artists you always see gifts coupled with extraordinary application, the former meaningless without the latter. A man I know was curious and attended an art show to ask a famous sculptor if he had advice for his son John, a sculptor who was just beginning. The sculptor said, “Yes I do have advice. It’s very simple. You tell John to pick up his mallet and his chisel and make chips.” A poet who lived several hundred years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high Gods have placed sweat.” Artists are great believers in sweat and making chips.

georgia-okeefe-396957_640Who sets the standard for perfection that all artists measure themselves against? The work of everyone is compared with the virtuoso. Miles Davis in jazz. Arthur Rubenstein playing Chopin. A novel by Faulkner.

French philosopher-playwright Jean Paul Sartre wrote that man exists first and only afterwards defines himself. He is what “he will have planned to be; he is what he conceives himself to be.” Artists may not talk much about being artists, preferring if they are any good, working to talking about working. But they conceive themselves to be artists. They have planned to be artists. They are creative in the grandest sense of creating themselves from scratch.

Henry David Thoreau, as great a clear-thinking artist as there ever was, wrote, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” The Japanese say, “Irrigators guide water, fletchers straighten arrows, and as for wise people, they shape themselves.” Artists are shaping themselves from their first exposure to their art.

A cat becomes all the cat it will ever be without having to think about it. All that’s necessary is to be born a cat. But people who aspire to be artists have considerably more work to do than cats. The highest development of an artist’s capabilities to aim for and reach perfection is worth giving up almost everything for.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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The Inner Skills of Creative People

I’ve been writing blog posts for writers and artists for sixteen months and over that time have published about 120,000 words. And though I’ve been a professional writer for many years, have written national and international best-sellers, startup-594126_640 (1)been contributing editor to popular magazines, have had published non-fiction, poetry, and prose, have advanced degrees, have taught in graduate schools, and have been studying, reading, and researching about the arts all my adult life, very rarely will you find me writing anything about how to write or paint better because that is not my main interest.

I will not tell a painter how to paint because I don’t know enough about that. But even if I did I probably wouldn’t talk about good technique or good use of color except to say I recognize them when I see them. I will talk about what made great artists tick and why they’re so special. And I will say that people who do great things are great in themselves.

I know enough about writing to have taught serious writers and found great pleasure in that and discovered I have a lot to say. I’ve written about extraordinary writers—the most extraordinary ever to write. But you won’t hear from me these days anything about developing characters, scenes, conflicts, and episodes, or how to write dialogue, or generate a mood, or structure a plot, or that kind of thing. There’re plenty of books, magazines, web sites, classes, and blogs for that. People have been writing about those things for 2,000 years.

My interest—the territory I have staked out for myself—are The Inner Skills of Creative People, for there, I think, inside, in your spirit, will be found the magical difference between adequate creators and great ones.

ballerina-534356_640_copy2I write freely, unabashedly, happily of human qualities that distinguish one creative person from another such as strength (suggesting that every day it’s worth a creator asking, “Am I strong today? Will I be strong?”) And I write about courage, persistence, tenacity, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good writing moods and bad writing mood, and ideal writing moods. And self-resilience, enthusiasm, guts, self-motivation, energy and your capacity for work, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, resilience, maintaining at all times a high hope of succeeding, and other spiritual dimensions of you. I teach Buddhist and Hindu non-attachment so that the writer or artist might become selfless and dispassionate, and free himself from debilitating envy and worry that so recklessly destroy talented people.

I write about self-doubt, the creator’s curse, and I write about creator’s confidence because confidence may be the most important factor of all. Creative people fail because: (a) they lack the necessary skill, or (b) they have the skill but don’t have the confidence to use that skill well. More fail because they lack the confidence and not because they lack the skill. If you have confidence and faith in yourself you’ll reach higher levels of success than other creators of equal ability who lack them. So much of realizing your long-held hopes—possibly you’ve had them since childhood–is a result of knowing exactly what they are, wanting badly to achieve them, and believing that you can. Confidence precedes success. All great creators are confident.

A poet who lived several hundred years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high Gods have placed sweat.” No outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without a lot of effort on the part of the creator, however much natural ability or how many technical skills he/she possesses. So I write about sweat.

I write about creative patience because patience makes artists and writers more successful.

martial-arts-291051_640I write about warrior artists and writers—and warrior actors and ballet dancers—because warriors know things and possess skills that enable them to go through life 18 inches off the ground and to move faster and live more intensely, with stronger commitments and greater seriousness, than everyone else.

I write about production because to produce a work—a painting a sculpture, a poem, a stage performance—is the reason for being of a creator. Everything—all the creator’s training and education, habits and routines, dreams and hopes—are aimed at that central goal: no matter what is happening around you, to get the work out. Some writers and some artists are 25 times more productive than others.

Out of the mass of experiences of a life, you (1) must somehow or other settle on the creator’s way of life, which is a distinct way of being; (2) must have the personal makeup necessary to excel as a creator; must possess the (3) knowledge, (4) persistence, (5) confidence, and (6) complement of skills necessary to excel, and must (7) minimize your weaknesses and develop your strengths.

The creator who has technical skills, but lacks these spiritual inner skills will not go as far as he could, or may not go far at all. What you are—what you are made of, what constitutes you, what you stand for—is so important.

Your technique and your spirit must be united. Creators grow from within.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

 

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Luck: How Artists, Writers, and Other Creative People Can Get It

In the arts here in America and everywhere else, the causes of success are ability, confidence, persistence, resilience—and good luck. A guarantee: with high ability, high confidence, high persistence, high resilience, and enough good luck, you will achieve your artistic goals, whatever they may be. Let’s have a look at luck, the most difficult cause to account for.

painting-284546_640An artist’s and writer’s career may take shape over a long period of time—ten years, fifty years–and incidence of good or bad luck occurs many, many times. In 1921, in New York, a good friend introduced William Faulkner, 24, to Elizabeth Prall, manager of the Doubleday book store, and she hired Faulkner as a clerk—a stroke of good luck for Faulkner because Prall married Sherwood Anderson, one of the most popular authors in the country. Elizabeth invited Faulkner to dinner (good luck) and he and Anderson liked each other (good luck) from the start and spent many hours together, talking and drinking, and Anderson became Faulkner’s mentor (good luck). Mrs. Anderson asked her husband if he would recommend Faulkner’s book to his publisher, and Anderson said he would (good luck) as long as he didn’t have to read it. He did, and his publisher did put out the book (good luck), and Faulkner’s career was on its way, a Nobel Prize in store for him twenty-eight years later.

Chance shapes your life throughout your life, affecting the career you settle into, who your friends are, who your life partner is, where you live, the school you attend and education your receive, your genes and personality–the very fabric and quality of your existence. Some episodes in your career were extremely lucky, but other episodes couldn’t have been unluckier. The Academy award winning actor, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, went into theatre in high school because the girls happened to be so good looking. What if they hadn’t been? Would he have become an accountant?

alexander-the-great-35767_640Gamblers speak of people who are lucky and those who aren’t, and consider luck to be in the person: “She’s lucky but he isn’t.” And so do military people. Even the most scholarly and erudite studies of warfare usually discuss luck. The Macedonian Alexander the Great referred to his good luck as a “star” that guided him to great victories. I suppose it did. He conquered most of the known world before the age of thirty.

The book Creativity by psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi describes how much good luck figured in the career of a successful (and fortunate) artist “whose work sells well and hangs in the best museums and who can afford a large estate with horses and a swimming pool.” The artist “once admitted ruefully that there could be at least a thousand artists as good as he—yet they are unknown and their work is unappreciated. The one difference between him and the rest, he said, was that years back he met at a party a man with whom he had a few drinks. They hit it off and became friends. The man eventually became a successful art dealer who did his best to push his friend’s work. One thing led to another. A rich collector began to buy the artist’s work, critics started paying attention, a large museum added one of his works to its permanent collection.” His career was made.

When I wrote Fighting to Win about how people today could achieve fulfillment by applying the wisdom of ancient Japanese warriors, my timing could not have been luckier. At the precise time it came out Americans were infatuated with and trying hard to learn more about the Japanese culture, and the book took off.

In college I read Englisman Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur,” and was impressed with its beautiful language. For some reason years later (before Amazon.com and before the internet) I suddenly had the urge to read a book studying Hopkins’ imagery so that it might affect my imagery. Wherever I traveled across the world—and I did extensively–I visited new and used bookstores, and in every bookstore I browsed for such a book, but never found it. Once I was to give a speech in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a small city in the western part of the state that I had never visited before. I discovered that the hotel I was to stay in had just been built and had opened its doors only a few days before. It had hosted a conference for fire fighters–its first guests. They had left just the day before. I arrived very late at night and was given the only available room. I entered the room, laid my bags on the bed, and then noticed something in the trash basket. Apparently it had been left by one of the firefighters and the maid had overlooked it when she cleaned the room. There it was: fifteen years after I’d read him: a full-length book on the imagery of Gerard Manley Hopkins—a lucky break, a book that helped me.

books-683901_640Another time, I’d been writing and researching fifteen or sixteen hours a day on fifteen or twenty cups of black coffee for many months to meet a book deadline, neglecting my wife, neglecting my children, concerned only with putting enough words on a page every day to satisfy me—words, words, words, words–an abstract existence. That night I’d had it; I couldn’t work another minute; couldn’t drag from my agonized brain another word. I quietly left my home at about 3:00 a.m. and walked the streets trying to decide if I wanted to continue leading a grueling, neglectful life like that or follow a more conventional life, committing myself to “a regular nine-to-five job.”

It was a cool pleasant night—very dark—with a filmy mist in the air. Should I continue a writer’s life, or shouldn’t I? Should I just finish this book and then give it all up? Then I noticed ahead of me something lying on the sidewalk precisely in the middle of a pool of bright white light cast by a street lamp as though that object lying there had been placed there very carefully for me and me alone to see. I went to it and bent down and picked it up. It was a book—of all things a book. You see: I could not get away from the written word. I took this as a sign that, like it or not, a writer’s life—imperfect, isolated, much too demanding–was my destiny and that it was futile for me to think it would ever not be at the center of my existence. That I could ever get away from it. That was another lucky break because writing and reading has brought me so much fulfillment.

lantern-451233_640I have what I call my “Research Angel” which I rely on. I am writing and researching for hours every day and have been for many years, but my research is totally unsystematic. I begin with no notion whatever of where I am going but go ahead anyway as though quite content to wander on and on in a deep forest without worrying about how—or if ever– I’ll get back home. I’m trusting my Research Angel—based completely on a confidence in good luck—to steer me to the information I’ll need. The Research Angel has never failed me, and has taken me to unexpected discoveries and new directions in my life, just as it led me to the Hopkin’s book and the book lying in that pool of white light at four that early misty morning.

In Chases, Chance and Creativity medical researcher James Austin identifies four kinds of chance that affect creative activity:

  • Blind luck that doesn’t depend on any personal characteristics of the creator
  • The good luck that follows “persistence, willingness to experiment and explore”
  • Chance that allows the creator because of his training to grasp the significance of something overlooked by everyone else.
  • Serendipity

Lucky people—lucky artists and writers, lucky actors and dancers—-follow certain principles. They:

  • Are good at creating and noticing chance opportunities. They are relaxed, not anxious, people who are aware of their surroundings. Anxiety makes you blind to opportunities. Lucky people’s perceptions are sharper than unlucky people’s. They see opportunities the unlucky person doesn’t notice.
  • Are intuitive and respect hunches. Artists are on intimate terms with intuition. Half the decisions artists and writers make are intuitive—to use that color rather than this; that word rather than another.
  • Are open-minded and flexible in their thinking. Another characteristic of creative people.
  • Have optimistic expectations. They don’t just hope to be lucky; they expect to be. They are confident they’ll be lucky again. Positive expectations create lucky events. Good things happen to people with optimistic expectations. People with optimistic expectations are happier and healthier.
  • Are extremely resilient and able to quickly recover from bad luck. They see the positive side of bad fortune: “I fell down the stairs and broke my foot. It could have been my neck.” “I failed that time and it was very painful for me, but I learned so much that helped me succeed the next time.”

Be ready to take advantage of good luck, and when your luck is bad don’t let it get the better of you, but be aware that bad luck can change to good luck, and may in the blink of an eye. Be alert, strong, and opportunistic whatever may happen. Think strategically. Be ready. Be able to say, “This now that is happening to me is good luck and it may change my life.”

fish-582695_640Create the conditions for good luck to occur—set the stage. Be like a swimming fish waving its tail and stirring up the sand at the bottom of the tank. Get out, be spontaneous, meet new people, make contacts and seek people out. Form friendships. Do things you’ve never done before. Break away from your routines. Take chances you wouldn’t usually take. Don’t resist, don’t be afraid. Be bold, not timid. Experiment, explore. Be intuitive and pro-active and look for opportunities. Let good luck happen to you. Then chase the opportunities where they lead.

On a scale of 1 to 100, how lucky a writer or artist would you say you are?

Not Lucky                                                 Pretty Lucky                                       Very Lucky

1                                                               50                                                      100

Ask yourself, “In what areas of my creative life would I like to be luckier?”

What will you do now to make yourself lucky?

I will:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Napoleon was looking for a subordinate to add to his staff. One after another his high-ranking officers described a particular candidate whom they talked glowingly about at length. Impatiently, Napoleon said, “Yes, yes, I know he is brilliant, but is he lucky?”

Yes, yes, I know you’re brilliant too, and prodigiously talented, but are you lucky? Do you behave like a lucky person? Do you foster good luck? Do you have the mind and expectations of a lucky person?

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Self-Confidence of Artists and Writers

I went with my wife to a poetry reading to read poems I’d written, and before starting, talked with other people who were there to read theirs. I’d never spent much time with poets, but before beginning the readings there was wine and cheese and I talked with some of the others. As my wife and I found seats, I asked her, “Do you think all poets are as meek as these poets?” I had the same impression during the readings. So many seemed to lack confidence. The lack of confidence is very hard to hide

I wondered if they also lacked confidence when they were writing and how that affected the quality of their work. Then I thought of all the many talented writers, painters, dancers, and actors I’ve known, some of them very close to me, who also lacked confidence or who once had confidence and lost it, and because of that ended their artistic careers prematurely. So I thought this blog post might encourage an artist or two to have confidence and persevere.

This post says, “Take heart”:

ballerina-534356_640_copy2You must never lose the faith that you have the ability to produce quality art successfully and consistently. The desire to succeed and the confidence that you can, along with skill and the ability to overcome obstacles are the most important indicators of eventual success in art.

Artists fail because (a) they lack the necessary skill or (b) they have the skill but don’t have the confidence to use that skill well. If you have confidence and faith in yourself, you’ll reach higher levels of success than other writers, painters, dancers, actors, and performers of equal ability who lack them.

Artists who are sure of their abilities, sure of themselves, intensify their efforts when they fail to achieve their goal, and persist until they achieve it. Self-confidence is the ultimate source of an artist’s motivation.

All great artists of the past were confident.

The will of a successful artist must be indestructible.

 Learned Helplessness

“Learned helplessness” has destroyed the careers of many artists who had all the potential they needed to excel. They met failure and they never recovered. Failure is a necessary part of an artist’s life, bringing with it growth and new learnings, and sometimes sudden leaps in performance. No one met more failures and took more wrong turns and was more average than Walt Whitman until suddenly, seemingly without any preparation, he wrote Leaves of Grass and established himself as America’s greatest poet—ever. If you’re not failing some of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.

Helpless artists believe that no matter what they do, their actions will not lead to success. Consequently, they give up. Learned helplessness was first observed among young animals which had been placed in a situation in which they received inescapable electric shocks. When placed in a different situation, they made no attempt to escape or avoid the shock—they had learned to be helpless. Like those animals, when people believe that their actions will have no effect on what happens to them, they also become passive.

Helpless-oriented artists attribute their failures to personal inadequacies—they’re think they’re not smart enough, or not talented. Their thinking is self-defeating. Their expectations are negative—“I won’t succeed. This problem is too much for me.” The act of painting/dancing/ writing becomes unpleasant, even painful, an activity to be avoided. Helpless artists lose focus and can’t concentrate. They worry, continually question their worth as artists, and begin to put out less and less effort. Good work habits disappear. They avoid challenges and risks. Their performance declines.

 Disappointment Needn’t Lead to Discouragement

You’re an artist; you know what it is to be discouraged. When you’re deeply discouraged you’re weak and vulnerable. You’ve been deprived of confidence, hope, and spirit. Your courage and strength abandon you. If you’re to succeed you must get them back right away, taking immediate action with strong determination. Lay the discouragement aside as though putting it in a drawer. Get back to your work. The will of a successful artist needs to be indestructible.

Rather than conceiving of yourself as a beaten person, hold a completely different view: you are a person who has been set back—as happens–but yet a person with important accomplishments ahead and a rich life of creativity to lead, a decisive, courageous, fearless person.

sisters-74069_640Self-doubt and self-confidence are affected by the comments of other people. Someone saying, “You can do it; don’t give up” can save a career. Seek out encouraging, supportive people. When Impressionism was beginning in Paris in the nineteenth century, and the Impressionists were being attacked on all sides by critics, other artists, and the public, they banded together and met frequently in their homes and cafes. Their mutual support strengthened them all. Today artists and writers living great distances apart, strangers to each other, support and encourage one another via networks of blogs.

Accepting setbacks as an unavoidable part of the artist’s life is essential for maintaining an unshakeable motivation and the high spirits needed to do good work. Look for what caused the discouragement and make decisions as to how to move forward now. Maintain a sense of proportion—“It’s bad, but it’s not that bad.”

James Joyce’s Dubliners was one of literature’s landmark collections of short stories. It was rejected by twenty-two publishers, but Joyce never lost confidence in himself or faith that it would be published. Jack London’s stories were rejected 600 times before the first one was published, but within two years after that first success he was one of the most popular novelists in the world. Publisher after publisher rejected e.e. cummings’ first book of poetry, but he wasn’t deterred and continued writing. When it was finally published, he included a dedication which read, “With no thanks to…” followed by the long list of publishers who had turned it down.

ludwig-van-beethoven-62844_640(1)Resilient artists adapt. What could be more discouraging for a composer than losing his hearing and being unable to hear the music he was creating? At 51 Beethoven was deaf. As a substitute for hearing the actual sounds, he removed the legs of his piano and placed it on the floor so he could feel the vibrations of the music.

Discouragement is so much a part of the creative person’s existence that if you don’t develop the resiliency and energy to recover from it, you will have difficulty surviving.

 Confidence and Faith

Maintain an optimistic frame of mind: “I’m in a funk, nothing clicking, the ideas not coming. Discouraged. But I’ve come out of this kind of thing before and I will again. I am (your name), the same person who… (wrote, painted, won, achieved…) and I can again.” Persist.

Look to your past successes. Past success is the most powerful and direct basis for confidence. If you have proof that you have the ability to achieve what you want to achieve—the skills, motivation, and know-how– because you’ve succeeded in the past, you will try to achieve it again. If you feel that way, you’ll be confident and will not likely be stopped by self-doubt, an artist’s main psychological obstacle. You’ll have high expectations of success. You won’t dwell on past failures; you’ll think about them not as true failures, but as temporary conditions and useful lessons, bumps in the road, not the end of the road. You’ll dwell on past successes. Even the most self-doubting artist has had past successes to reflect on. There is always something positive to fasten onto during periods of doubt.

Develop your skills. As your skills improve, your self-doubt fades and is replaced by confidence.

Don’t be intimidated by difficulty; don’t hide from challenges. Rather, seek them out, welcome them. You progress by tackling increasingly difficult challenges. Two artists may be equally competent. The one who has an effort-will-win-out-and-my-skills-can-improve orientation will not be discouraged by initial difficulty. But the “helpless” artist will immediately lose confidence and may not recover.

Recover quickly. Temporary self-doubt after a setback is a natural reaction. What matters most is how quickly you take action and regain your confidence.

Bearing this post in mind and practicing these prescriptions should increase your confidence, and that should be reflected in your perseverance and the success of your work.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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A Vision Of What At Last You Could Be

frosty-472871_640Creative people in the arts and every other field are in the habit of reflecting a great deal on their goals, their success in reaching them, and the lessons they’ve learned from efforts that didn’t work out. They continually analyze what they do well and what they do not do well, and then exploit their strengths as far as they can and work to develop themselves in areas where they’re not as gifted.

And they have a particular way of dealing with apparent failures or defeats: they treat them as prods to even greater achievements and opportunities to learn lessons that are of value to their careers. People who have achieved a high level of excellence have not done so by accident and are not satisfied to reach merely an acceptable level of performance, but have much higher ambitions.

Possible Selves/Visions of the Future.

When you say “I’m a good person;” “I’m an ideal parent;” “I’m a poor public speaker;” “I’m very lazy” your self-concept is speaking. Your self-concept is the view you hold of yourself, your opinion of the kind of person you are and are not at the present time. The current self is the one we’re most familiar with. But we have other selves too, such as the selves we could be in the future. Those are our Possible Selves. One type of possible self is the ideal you’d very much like to become—a famous athlete or painter or writer, for example. There are also other selves you could become, as well as those you’re afraid of or dread becoming.

The possible selves you may hope for may include the happy self, the creative self, the wealthy self, the physically fit self, and the successful self. The dreaded possible selves could be the lonely self, the incompetent self, the drug addict self, the unhappily married self, the bag lady self. There is your good self that you’re proud of, and the bad or the guilty one that you’re ashamed of and prefer never to think or talk to anyone about.

A vision of the future and a possible self guided your decisions to choose to go to college and to take one job rather than another. A young girl sees a painting in a museum that moves her and decides on the spot on a possible self and a vision of the future: she will become a painter. She will go to art school and study.

When we think of possible selves and visions of the future that are positive and appealing we’re strong with hope. We’re liberated and set free because we realize that the present is not unchangeable. We never have to be a self we don’t wish to be, but can create a different self, a different future.

You’re free at every moment to create any variety of possible selves and visions of the future. Your life may not be going well—may be going all wrong in every way–but your positive possible future holds the promise of better days. But negative visions of the future make us unhappy and afraid. They can imprison us because they may cause hopelessness—the would-be dancer who thinks, “Day after day I don’t make progress. Nothing clicks. It’s probably foolish of me to think I could be a ballerina.”

The Impact of Possible Selves On Our Lives

ballet-542170_640Possible selves form the basis for personal growth and change. It becomes clearer to you every passing day that the main cause of personal success isn’t something that comes like a generous gift from the outside, but is your own conception of yourself and the development of your capabilities, that all real growth comes from within.

A clear view of what we could become sets our motivation in motion. No two ways about it: we must have a vision of the future to be committed to the goals we’ll need to reach the future we hope for. Day-dream, because it’s often in daydreams that our visions of the future are born.

When I was in the third grade the teacher read to the class a theme I’d written in which I wrote that playing football I was tackled and “fell to the ground like a blob of jelly coming out of a jar” and the teacher said “That is poetic language. That is a simile. David has made a simile.” Walking home after school, I decided that if I became a writer I’d get to write similes the rest of my life. Everything after that was aimed in that direction. That was my possible self that became my actual self.

In my freshman year of high school I made the track team as a middle-distance runner. One day I was getting dressed in the locker room. A senior middle distance runner—the reigning Chicago city champ –sat down beside me on the bench. That surprised me because we’d never spoken before. He said, “I’ve been watching you. You’re very good. You have more potential than you probably realize, but you’re very shy and I can see you don’t have confidence. You don’t have a conception of what you could be. Pick up your head, be strong, and say to yourself over and over, ‘I could be the best. I could be the fastest runner in the city.’ Work hard.” It meant so much to me that he cared and had taken the time to share that with me, and I took it to heart. So now I had a new ambition, a new vision of the future that right then I vowed to devote myself to, and a new possible self, a new identity that I would become. I began to study innovative training methods and to apply myself and worked very hard.

The First Step

berries-302341_640A vision of the future of yourself as a highly successful artist or athlete or effective business person self is the first step in achieving that future. It will not only guide your decisions, but will immediately set planning in motion. It will help you focus on goals, and keep you from needless distractions.

What if right now you were to forget about the past, wipe the slate clean of failures and false starts, and start fresh, setting the goal of becoming as successful an artist, writer, sales woman or whatever as you could possibly be—to buckle down? Is that goal appealing, or don’t you much care? How would you go about achieving that goal? What would you do? Where would you start? Where would the goal take you? What would your life be like were you to achieve that goal? What would be the link between the actions you would engage in now at the present time—and in the next six months, and the next year and years beyond that– and the attainment of the future you envision?

Set short-term and long-term goals and reach them, one after another, overcoming impediments as they appear. You must have positive images of the person you’re aiming to become and negative images of the person you want to avoid becoming. Other people can serve as models—pro and con–and so can your past.

Think of your prior successes and of what steps were needed for you to succeed then and repeat the same again. Past success is the most powerful and direct basis for judging if you will succeed in achieving a new goal. If you believe you have the ability—the skills, motivation, and know-how–to achieve what you want to achieve and have done so in the past, you will try to achieve it. If you feel that way, you’ll be confident and will not likely to be haunted by self-doubt, possibly a person’s main internal obstacle. You’ll have high expectations of future success. You’ll think about past failures as useful lessons.

Share your vision with other people: talk about it; be confident. But stating an ideal possible self isn’t enough to produce sustained effort and changes in behavior. For that to occur, your goal needs to be linked with specific strategies, concrete behaviors such as an artist working with an excellent and more experienced artist, increasing your knowledge of your field, sticking firmly to a regular work schedule, and developing the skills essential to your work. Strategies help to focus on goals while also anticipating and planning how you’ll handle setbacks by developing plans of action and contingency plans. Most successful people in every field point to strategies as the main cause of their success.

Some of your goals—the important ones—won’t be easy. You’ll have to acquire new capabilities. A defeat, setback, or loss or lapse of commitment can have a devastating effect on a possible self, so be prepared. An agent’s cruel reply to an inexperienced writer’s submission can destroy the writer’s possible author self—she may quit– or a businessman’s blunder resulting in the loss of a major contract, or a field goal kicker missing the kick that would have won the game.

When you’re discouraged the hoped-for self is replaced by a weakened, vulnerable one. But even the smallest encouragement has the effect of bolstering your spirits. Being resilient and accepting setbacks as an unavoidable part of work life that even the greatest in any field can’t avoid is essential for maintaining a firm, unshakeable motivation.

It may seem illogical to think of anything negative and seem better to block all negatives out and think only of positive possibilities. But a balanced view—thinking of both positive and negative possibilities–has been shown to improve focus and to lead to important self-improvements and good results. The fear of not succeeding drives many people to unexpected success.

Having both positive and negative images in mind serves as a carrot and a stick both, reminding you of what glorious things may happen if you stay on track, as well as what may happen if you lose your commitment and fail to follow-through effective strategies: if you don’t develop your skills to a high level you will not improve.

Figuring out how you’ll become your desired self and avoid becoming your undesired self can lead to tremendous, life-changing results. Action is a necessity.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

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Do You Dance For Me Or Yourself?

Artists’ Intensity, Obsessions, and Will

yoga-366093_640To say that artistic work is often difficult and artists must be highly motivated if they are to produce it is to say the surface of the sun is quite hot. The artist must not only have that motivation, but must also sustain it, often over a long period of many years. Among the personal qualities that cause motivation that is strong are not luxuries but virtual necessities for any artist: passion, restlessness, intensity, obsessiveness, will, and persistence. It’s not hard at all to look at an artist and say, “That man (or woman) is driven.”

French author Gustave Flaubert called his motivation rage: “Sometimes I don’t understand why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brains don’t melt away. I am leading a stern existence, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent rage, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but which never abates.”

“While the daily life of every [ballet] 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.” The dancer’s performance smile is “a categorical denial of what he or she is actually experiencing–for there is some discomfort, and often pain, in every major stint of performing [–and we might add, practicing]. (Susan Sontag. American writer, teacher, and film-maker)

But artists seem to develop tremendous recuperative powers and verge on the inexhaustible. Flaubert went back for more every day and dancers continue to smile while in pain. Picasso, who worked incessantly from childhood and produced a quarter million works, claimed never to have felt tired, never to have felt the slightest fatigue. He said, “When I work I leave my body outside the door.”

 If There Is One Thing Famous Artists Will Tell You

Freud thought that artists are actually seeking wealth and power, but being unable to secure them directly find satisfaction in creative activities. Whether that is true or it isn’t, if there is one thing famous artists will tell you it is that you work best and are most powerfully motivated to create and will work long, often tedious, hours and endure a great deal and surmount even major obstacles when you’re not thinking of anyone’s liking but your own.

It may take years to come to that conclusion, but come to it many do. “I alone here, on my inch of earth, paint this thing for my own sole joy, and according to my own sole mind. So I should paint it, if no other human being existed but myself. Let who will get good or ill from this–I am not concerned therewith. Thus I must do it, for thus I see it, and thus I like it, woe be to me if I paint as other people see or like.”(Art Critic John Ruskin)

At the time American novelist William Faulkner’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine he couldn’t afford to pay his electric bill. As soon as he resigned himself to the fact that his unique vision and natural complex and rhetorical style and particular subject matter were not those of a commercially-popular author, he immediately entered a period of sustained creative energy that produced in quick succession one masterpiece after another. Making the decisions not to seek fame or wealth, he embarked on a path that would lead ironically to eventual world fame, financial security, and celebrity, culminating in the Nobel Prize.

He turned inward and decided to write for himself: “One day I seemed to shut a door between me and all publishers. I said to myself, ‘Now I can write.’“ He started working on what would be the innovative The Sound and the Fury–“thinking of books, publication, only in the sense in saying to myself, I wont [sic] have to worry about publishers liking or not liking this at all.”

The Awareness of Being Judged

When an artist is hard at work, work is center stage and doing it as skillfully as possible and enjoying it for its own sake are the strongest driving forces. The standard against which artists measure themselves is making use of their capabilities to the fullest each time they set to work—a notion of personal perfection, as in ballet, perfect expression and perfect technique.

But from time to time the thought that the work is going to be judged by someone else enters the artist’s mind. When thinking that a critic, an editor, an agent, a reviewer, a potential buyer, an audience will soon be evaluating the work, for most artists, even the best and most highly regarded, the self-conscious nervousness begins. Prolific nineteenth century English novelist Anthony Trollope said that an author should let criticism fall on him as “dew or hail from heaven,” and accept it as fate. But even the most renowned artists worry about the reception their work will receive and cannot help but to bear that in mind during the creative process.

Psychologist Teresa M. Amabile staked her whole reputation on proving that creative solutions to problems occur more frequently when people engage in the activity for the sheer pleasure it offers, and less frequently when their creativity is being judged. When we are not being evaluated, our creativity is liberated and free, but is inhibited when we are.  Amabile tested a wide range of subjects. No matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for external remuneration, they became less creative. But when they were playing, they were creative. A playful approach to the task increases the likelihood of producing creative results.

Another experiment showed that even the hint that an external reward was riding on performance was sufficient to make the subject lose interest. The same happens to chimps. Given paint and canvas chimpanzees become so absorbed in painting that they show little interest in sex or food. But if the chimps are extrinsically rewarded for their painting, the quantity and quality of their painting declines. They do only well enough to get the reward. Chimps, like many humans, are more likely to be creative when no expectations of external reward are contingent on their performance.  Then it’s fun. But even  thinking about external rewards reduces creativity among many people.

The Thought of Failing

With every performance an actor, violinist, singer, or dancer gives, and every work a painter, writer, or composer begins, the slate is wiped clean. Past successes mean nothing, and there is a new opportunity to please other people, true, but also the possibility of disappointing them and having to suffer the devastating thought, “I failed,” and possibly the loss of reputation and income. More than one performer has vomited before going on, fearing the unfavorable opinion of the people filling the theater and critics out there jotting notes on their pads.

All artists go through fallow periods when success seems unattainable. Hemingway’s career consisted of alternating decades of critical success and failure. I have a friend who won a prestigious national literary award, but couldn’t find a single publisher who would publish his next book.

 Artists Deprived of Success

Deprived of favorable outward success and validation, some artists experience hopelessness and simply give up. But others continue to work at their craft without external feedback on the strong basis of their self-confidence or unflagging hope or sheer love of their art. (Creativity is addictive.) Jack London received 600 rejection letters before selling his first story. But within two years of that he was one of the most famous writers in the world. 85% of Equity (union) actors are unemployed at any one time, but survive as best they can, and refuse to give up their art.

An ideal world for artists would be one in which the work sold itself. Van Gogh wrote, “My opinion is that the best thing would be to work on till art lovers feel drawn toward it (his work) of their own accord, instead of having to praise or explain it.” I can hardly think of anyone who doesn’t believe their art would be better quality if they didn’t have to worry about making it saleable—possibly producing a more extreme, more original, more daring, and more outrageous art out of the commercial mainstream that is less compromised and truer to the artist’s individuality.

Artists would prefer not to be dependent on the opinion of others at all, and must decide, as you must, whose liking their art is for; if they dance for me or themselves.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

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