Category Archives: talent

The Three Qualities Found  in Successful Artists and Writers

A Story of Three Artistic Friends

I was sitting in my living room that wintry Saturday night with three old friends who were successful in the arts:  a novelist, a poet, and a Path and trees covered with snowpainter. The storm buffeting the windows and pelting them with hail and snow made impossible even the thought of digging cars out and driving home. But everyone was in a good mood, and the house was warm. We were happy being together again after being separated so long by COVID.

For a while the conversation wasn’t really a conversation–just random comments, funny memories from their careers and mine, times we had spent together, and our favorite projects. I told them that I had an idea. I had a topic that had intrigued me for a long time. The novelist, a very cheerful man, said, “What topic is that?” I said, “I’m glad you asked.” Everyone laughed, and I said, “I would like to know what  main qualities bring a person success in the arts–qualities that Da Vinci had, and Shakespeare, Monet, Brando, Faulkner, and anyone successful in the arts now, in the past, and in the future. What are the main qualities instrumental in their success?”

Everyone was agreeable, and Norman started things off.

 

Norman the Poet

Energy

Norman is an award-winning poet I have been friends with since I attended one of his riveting readings. The principal feature of his personality is gentleness which is reflected in his often-tender lyric poems. He said, “I’ve given this question some thought too.  I think a lot of Depiction of swirling energy in pink, blue, yellow and greean against a black backgroundaccomplished people in the arts have wondered what they have that makes their creative work possible. The main quality anyone must possess if they are trying to be successful in anything, not just the arts, but certainly the arts, I feel, is energy. Powerful, potent personal energy equips creatives to produce a steady flow of works. Isn’t that our goal?

“Phoebe and Paul, I know you will each have something important to say, but I think an accomplished person in the arts is inconceivable without a high level of sustainable energy. The most successful artists have the energy and reserves of energy to work very hard, sometimes in a creative frenzy, and produce their art steadily over the course of a satisfying career.

” I cannot imagine people in any field having more energy than those of us in the arts. Athletes may equal us, but don’t surpass us. Artists are the antithesis of lazy, but have a passion to roll up their sleeves and work. I think they have had this passion all their lives. Their energy breeds more energy, as though their supply of it is inexhaustible. In a creative state of mind and body they don’t seem to get tired the way other people do. They can work long hours when working long hours is needed, as when they have a deadline. Imagine writing a novel. It is a pleasant ordeal that requires the expenditure of energy every day from the first draft which may have been written a thousand days before the finished book is available to readers.

“Consider the staggering achievements of Shakespeare. He wrote more than thirty tragedies, comedies, and histories, and the sonnets, and directed plays and acted in them. He managed a theatre company and had a wife and children to take care of.  Vincent van Gogh produced three thousand works in his brief five year career. That’s two works a day`. Picasso was even more productive.

“I’ve never known a successful creative person who lacked impressive energy. Their main goals are to pay their dues mastering their craft and then to produce one work after another non-stop. A big reason for a creatives’ failure is just lack of the energy that excellence in the arts requires.”

 

Phoebe the Painter

Talent

Phoebe has long experience and has had many shows. Her work can be found on the walls of several museums. She oozes confidence–a woman giving an impression of total self-possession, independence, and fearlessness. She is remarkably attractive. A friend once described her to me by saying, “And then I saw crossing a bridge the most beautiful woman on earth.”

She said, “I believe that the most important quality in an artist is talent. People in the arts are people with a gift, and that gift is their talent.  Shakespeare, Picasso, and van Gogh had tremendous energy but if they hadn’t had more talent than other people, they wouldn’t be the artists we admire so. An artist will not succeed without substantial talent.

Talent is the most recognizable quality in the creative world. It is everywhere. The most impressive thing in the world of art is the virtuoso performance, a display of talent by an individual that is so great that you will remember it long after you have forgotten everything else. There it is in Norman’s poems and Paul’s novels, and Degas’ and Jackson Pollack’s paintings, Laurence Olivier performing Hamlet, and Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s novels. Their talent is–how should I say it–extreme.

Colorful photo of young girl working on artwork“Painters, writers, actors, and dancers enter the world talented. From the beginning of their lives they can draw better than other children or write more interesting compositions, act out scenes more skillfully, dance more gracefully. Just look at the lovely paintings some little children can paint and the poems they can write.  Some children are too young to have learned to paint, yet they paint wonderfully and have technique. No one has taught them. They can paint superbly before being taught.  When they are being taught they absorb information so quickly, it’s astonishing. That’s the definition of talent.

“Talent cannot be depleted. If you have it you will never lose it. There will always be more. To be very good or great you must add to your talent. Creative people have been favored since birth, but not without the gods requiring something in return, and that is the responsibility to augment their talent.  Much of the energy Norm was talking about an artist applies to getting better–studying, practicing, experimenting.

“Raw talent is a quality which grows in quantity with effort.

 

Paul the Novelist/Actor

Focus

Paul had his first literary success as a college sophomore when his short story received an O’ Henry Award. He went on to write novels, and then in his words “branched out” into theatre acting where he also found success. That snowy night he said, ”Who can argue with a creative person’s need for inexhaustible energy and for talent that is exceptional? But I think that focus that is the salient factor that brings success to anyone in any field, especially in the arts, where the creator must concentrate so hard so often on so many things.”

He continued, “People often think of broad periods of time: ‘In eight months I’ll take my vacation and in eighteen years I’ll retire.’ But the creator in the act of creation focuses, thinking only of what occurs in single moments, such as ‘this brush stroke’  and ‘this sentence,’ ‘this musical phrase,’ or ‘these lines in this play I am to deliver now.’ The best moments of a creative person are that sliver of time when your mind is sharp and focused only on your work, when your mind is alert and clear, your concentration undivided and pin-point.

Magifying glass illuminated in gold light“I think that focus is a rare quality–the famous image in Zen of lack of creative mindfulness being a drunken monkey. People in our business have to learn pretty quickly to discipline their minds, so they don’t wander, but stick to the creative job at hand and not let any extraneous thought cancel that mysterious moment when you’re hard at work, focused, and being as creative and fulfilled artistically as you will ever be.”

Paul said, ”I also think that people in the arts have to be sure that they are in the art that most suits them and where their energy, talent, and focus will bring the best results. That may seem so obvious that it’s not worth mentioning, but what has struck me is that practicing artists sometimes discover they are focusing on the wrong art or genre, or that other artistic careers are right for them too, the way I discovered I could act and write both. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it that a creator wouldn’t realize that another art or creative specialty would be more suitable. But it happens.

“There are other examples of people in the arts who were focused on the wrong specialty. Thomas Wolfe began by thinking that he was a playwright and was educated to be one in college and at graduate school at Harvard.  It was only after studying and writing plays for ten years, when his lover said, “Tom, you’re not equipped to be a playwright. You’re intended to be a novelist” that Wolfe became a novelist. Mary Cassatt spent several years painting in a conventional style before living in France and falling under the sway of Impressionism. She became an Impressionist herself. She destroyed all the paintings she had produced prior to making that change. “

“For me the key to success in the arts more than anything else is focus, both in the sense of mindfulness in the moment and in the sense of concentration on the most suitable and rewarding art.”

 

Application of Energy, Talent, and Focus

We thought our evening together had been fun–and enlightening. I said, “Other qualities are important to creators too. Self-confidence, intelligence, a rich imagination, detailed memory, drive, intensity, curiosity, experience, and careful preparation, for example, and beyond those of course is luck–is the person lucky? But energy, talent, and focus–I like that. We could look at the theatre department of a small college. Let’s say there are thirty students in the department.  They will all receive exactly the same training in acting, but the results will be different.

“Let’s estimate that after college fifteen will have no further connection with acting.  Ten will get involved in community theatres.  Five will become professional actors, two in lead roles. One will become a star. What we’re saying is that it’s likely that those who will become professionals will have more energy, talent, and focus than the others, and that the star will have more than anyone. I think we have something.”  Phoebe said, “Something good happens whenever we’re together.” Norman said, “We’re a good team.”

Going Home

painting of a simple house on a snowy nightThe storm still didn’t look so good, so they stayed the night. In the morning Paul insisted on making breakfast. I made coffee. We vowed to get together again soon. Then in early afternoon a bright sun came out, the winds died, and they left for home where work and many challenges were waiting.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artists, Creativity, energy, Excellence in the Arts, focus, talent

The Lives of Talented Creatives

Painting of cherry pink blossom tree Cherry Blossom Tree in Shinjuku Garden by Richard Claremont

Creatives do exceptionally well what others find difficult, and that is the definition of a talent. Talent is the distinguishing quality of creatives, usually talent in one field.  Although a creative can be very talented in more than one area, as many bloggers are, as Vincent van Gogh, a wonderfully expressive writer of letters as well as painter was, the creative’s talent in one area dominates. My seven year old grandson is a much better painter than I am because he is gifted in art, and I certainly am not. (It doesn’t take long for the buds of talent to burst into bloom in a child). My talents are linguistic, and of all the arts I, who grew up in home where music filled the house, I’ve always wished I could write beautiful music–but I can’t.

I have a composer friend whose music is performed by major orchestras. He’s received many prestigious awards. But he can’t paint as well as my grandson. I can’t touch my friend in any aspect of music. He is much too talented musically for me. But he can’t write poetry or prose as well as I can. Nature specializes creatives and points them in a direction.  Whether they will choose to follow that direction in the course of their life or will not is their choice. How serious they will become about developing their talent–whether refining it to a high level or ignoring it–is up to them.

landscape of gold fields with white clouds Golden Harvest by Richard Claremont

When you’re making use of your main talent you’re as effective as you will ever be in any area of your life because your talent is what psychologists call your “dominant faculty.” Putting it to use habitually, day after day, to be free without being interfered with in any way, is a wish, a hope, a goal, of all serious creatives.

For the creative the quality of curiosity is extraordinary because it is so intense. Also there is a fascination with how everything works, fits together, and is useful that starts of its own accord in childhood and stays with creatives to the last day of their life.  Being curious and having an aptitude for picking up knowledge here and there is important. People who have stored up a wide range of knowledge have a very good chance of being creative.  Once they are serious creatives and are deeply involved in their field, they have a hunger for extensive knowledge of it: “The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it, (and) amassed tremendous knowledge of it” (Geoff Colvin).

Then there is a desire, impossible to satisfy in a single lifetime, to create original things–poems, symphonies, paintings, performances–that are added to the culture, and in doing so to leave behind at career’s end a legacy, the traces of a vital human being who walked this earth, breathed, achieved, and had a personality, a name, and a reputation which will outlive the talented person by a year, or ten, or a hundred.

Green and blue with brown rocks, blue water and sky Rockpool and Headland by Richard Claremont

At a certain eventful time in creatives’ careers when they are no longer a novice and have matured as a craftsman, the need to paint or write, compose, act, or dance takes over, becomes powerful, and can’t be ignored. This is a turning point in the career of the creative, a new level of involvement with their craft.  The creative may well feel as novelist Henry James did, that “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.” The creative becomes willing to give up other rewards for the sole experience of practicing an art because it is both fulfilling and challenging in a way little else is.

To practice the art may be more than adequate compensation for disappointments in other areas of life. Disappointed in love or work, if novelists they may choose to stop thinking of their hurt and turn their active minds to the task of writing a story with many characters and an intricate plot. Rather than grieving a loss, a ballerina turns to the only art she’s known since childhood and begins to warm up.

glass vase with orange blossoms on light blue background Gum Blossoms by Richard Claremont

There is now something in the movements of the body and mind of creatives as they work, of muscle and thought, of experimenting with ideas, and entering the pleasant elevated mood of losing oneself in the work–some force implicit in the creative act–an urge that is more intuitive than rational, subliminal and subconscious. Those aspects of the processes of creation add up to an experience which may be so blissful that it can be as addictive as abuses of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sex. But creativity is a positive addiction, not a harmful one.

As a mature creative, your thoughts are continually on how to get better. In an interview Pablo Casals, aged ninety, was asked why he, the best cellist in the world who had been practicing the cello for eighty five years, still practiced every day, and he said, “Because I think am making progress.”

You’re already excellent at your craft–you are far above average–but are not satisfied and talk about getting better. You study, you read, you learn, you discuss. You seek feedback and help because no one in the arts or sciences–no one in life–succeeds in a noteworthy way without someone advising and helping them–a teacher, a mentor, a friend, etc. You work exceptionally hard because if you are an artist you can’t help yourself and there is no other way to work, not always knowing why you do, but feeling strongly you must.

dark grey road receding into cloudy sky with pinks and lavenders The Road Home by Richard Claremont

You know, and experience of the creatives who have preceded you bears out, that the more hours you work, the better you get. And your skills improve–you can see that–and your work does get recognizably better–either slowly, or moderately fast, or by leaps that may astound you. Your satisfactions, ambitions, optimism, and hopes rise as your work improves.

Creative people are models of focused human effort.  Few people seem to recognize that. In my many speeches to businessmen and women I had an unusual point of view. I referred to my life-long love–artists–as the best examples of highly motivated people. I’d say, “Strive to have the soul of an artist. Learn what it’s like to create something and the value of persistence from artists. Study artists. Read biographies of artists. Let their habits filter into your behavior.”

The commitment to write (or sculpt, perform on stage, etc.) can be extreme and may surpass other of your commitments. Nobel laureate writer Saul Bellow said writing had always been more important to him than his wife and children. There are other creatives such as painter Paul Gauguin and short story master Sherwood Anderson who felt the same and abandoned their wives and children for art.

The overriding aim of creatives is very practical. It is production: to produce polished works that must be completely finished because “It is only as the work is done that the meaning of the creative act” can be understood (Brewster Ghiselin). “The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about … but simply written” (Janet Frame). Psychologist Howard Gardner writes about high-excelling creative people. He says, “Individuals whose stock in trade is to do things which are novel, are people who’ve got to have a pretty good command of how they work.”

night scene with curved road in Montmartre Midnight at Montmartre by Richard Claremont

The creative sets out to answer the production question, “How can I produce the quality and quantity of work I want?” A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. Simply by being at your work place ready to work repetitively the same time day after day, the power of good habits goes into effect.

If creatives are unable to work or the work doesn’t go well, they suffer. A creative must always have goals and begin every day’s work with those goals in mind: “Today I will buckle down and…” Many tremendously talented creatives aren’t nearly as successful as they have the talent to be. They are frustrated because they haven’t figured out for themselves the best work/production program that will achieve a desired level of high-quality output.

If you are a creative, if you could you would create night and day because for you there is never enough time and your talent finds resting very hard. Long before you finish one work, you’re contemplating the next. When artists work, they are seeking freedom of expression through perfect technique. Many of them are willing to sacrifice material rewards just to be able to exercise their talents and do their work without being interfered with or restrained–to make creative things free of conflicts. Many creatives choose lower paying jobs that will allow them time to do their creative work over higher paying jobs that don’t allow them to.

You may be working on 3, 5, or more projects simultaneously, moving from one to another as the mood strikes, putting one aside and picking up another.  A creative’s lively, but unsettled production-oriented mind is a cornucopia spilling over with  concepts, words, techniques, methods, facts, recollections, hopes, fears, needs, problems, solutions, texts, authors, disappointments, successes, plans, possibilities, family, projects, and if a professional, finances. It rests only at bedtime. And often, not even then.

White flowers iin vase on table with teapot and cup Still Life at 4pm by Richard Claremont

The logical end of the Creatives’ Way is to have the identity of a capital C  Creative, a Real Creative–to become known by your family, friends, teachers, editors, agents, other creatives and lovers of the arts, and to define yourself as “someone who is very serious about producing creative work, and is very good at it.”

The trappings of your chosen discipline appeal to you. Great writers “loved the range of materials they used. The works’ possibilities excited them; the field’s complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and they loved them….They produced complex bodies of work that endured” (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life).

When you’re away from your art you miss it. If you’re away too long you become edgy. Away from it longer, you become irritable and hard to live with. If you don’t do your art for 48 hours, your skills begin to decline. The only relief is to get back to your work as quickly as possible. You try to work at least one hour every twenty-four.  If you work for four hours you are more satisfied with yourself than if you work for two hours.

Creatives are subject to the heights and depths of moods. The act of working makes you happy, makes you confident, and empowers you. However badly you might feel when you begin a day’s work, you feel better when you are working and when you finish you almost always feel good–but you need to work at least a little. Gertrude Stein said that even though she had never been able to write more than a half hour a day, all day and every day she had been waiting for that half hour.

Pink Hydrangeas in vase on white tablecloth with white cup and blue bowl Still Life With Pink Hydrangeas by Richard Claremont

When you’re producing your art, you’re searching for something: authenticity. You’re trying to cut through the fakery, the tricks, the games, the insincerity, the deceit and phoniness, and the lack of conviction so that you might tell the whole truth as you see it–accurately–withholding nothing.  You are modest and try to do nothing merely to make a splash because you believe that it’s only through producing work that is sincere and deeply felt that the truths you’ve discovered and now believe in and feel strongly about will be expressed.

For many serious artists, the art’s process itself is more rewarding than the product that ends the process.  In this world there are many competent writers who have almost no interest in having their work published. That doesn’t excite them, but the process does.  There are pianists who prefer practice to performing in public.

Patience is a necessity for creatives. Eventually after a long period of impatience you learn patience. “It’s so hard for people to be patient. It took me a very long time to get better, and a very, very long time to begin to publish. I wasn’t very patient. It’s painful….Young people are pushed so hard right out of school to get the first novel done. It takes time to write well. You have to sit with it. You have to be patient with it. You have to trust your intuition and your own material and stay with it as long as it takes” (Andrea Barrett). It’s been said that genius is nothing but an aptitude for patience.

Pink sand dunes with cloudy sky Sand Dunes by Richard Claremont

Creatives must have a stomach for loneliness and must be able to adjust to it when it strikes. They have no choice. Pleasure increases the more you work on your art, partially because you work alone, independent, isolated, on your own, self-sufficient, and that is how most creatives enjoy working. Since creative achievers typically engaged in solitary activities as children, they are no stranger to working alone. “Aloneness…is not merely the effect of the circumstances in the life of creators: it is often also part of their personality–for the creator is frequently apart and withdrawn even in the presence of others, and makes a deliberate attempt to seek solitude” (R. Ochse). Creatives solve many problems every day. Creatives are problem-solvers. Research on problem-solving shows that people are likely to come up with better solutions when they work alone.  Poet Lord Byron said, “Society is harmful to any achievement of the heart.”

Two white gardenias and leaves in rectangular glass vase The Last Gardenias

At times you live in uncertainties, doubts, tension, anxiety, and fear. But over the years you develop the strength to resist them. You acquire confidence and faith in your abilities and judgment. You fear fewer things. You grow less anxious and have a much fuller and more accurate understanding of yourself. The hardships, worries, disappointments, and stresses you encounter play a necessary part in making you stronger. Your strong faith in yourself helps you persist through obstacles, psychological blocks, and setbacks. Poet Stephen Spender said, “It is evident that faith in their work, mystical in intensity, sustains poets.”

Through your art you’re drawing out of yourself the end result of the entirety of your being–100 percent of yourself from your toes to the top of your head. That includes all the knowledge you’ve acquired, all the experiences you’ve lived through, good and bad, happy or painful, what your emotions are and the breadth and depths of feeling they are capable of because art depends so heavily on feelings,  how courageous you are, what skills you bring, and what you aspire to become. Then, self-aware, you have a clearer understanding of who you truly are, and how high the talent you possess that is growing stronger and more apparent might take you, and what new pleasures your talent may open for you.

Path in Central Park with lampost and trees

The beautiful paintings featured on this post are by Australian artist Richard Claremont. He says, “A successful artist knows that we do art because we have to. We would do it even if no one ever got to see it. What really matters is our commitment to our own vision, painting from our heart, creating work that matters.”

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

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

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity, Creativity Self-Improvement, Creators' Work Life, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, High Achievement, Life of Creators, talent, The Creative Process, The Nature of Artists, Work Production, Writers