Tag Archives: patience

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 Claremnt

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

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Patience: A Path to Creative Success

This is a post about the importance of CREATIVE WAITING and shows a specific scientifically-tested method for improving the quality of your artistic work and at the same time reaching a higher level of lasting success.

“Darby”

woman-716592_640For five or six years I’ve been thinking about a story I’m sure I’ll write eventually. It’ll be called “Darby” after the main character, a lonely woman who doesn’t love her husband and probably never has and is looking for a man to be in love with. When I write “Darby” I’ll be influenced by four particular stories: Chekov’s “About Love,” “Three Years,” and “The Lady and the Dog,” and James Joyce’s “Eveline.” And of course coming into the mix is, “Does this fit the real Darby, the actual woman I’m thinking about?” I’m not one to range very far from the truth of what really happened.

Chekov and Joyce often wrote about people who want to escape but can’t. In “Darby” there will be images of being in a box, being trapped, like a woman I’ve written about before. It will end with an ironic twist. I have a file called “Darby” to which I add notes that come to mind from time to time—just a word or phrase here and there. The last sentence of “Darby” will be, “A very good looking older man.” I’m confident it will be a very good story, but it’s not ready to be written, and so although I’m dying to write it, I’ll have to be patient and wait till I get a fix on it that I’m convinced will lead me in the most fruitful direction.

Thirty-One Artists and Twenty-Seven Objects

Thirty-one graduate students in a prestigious art school in the United States were asked to participate in an experiment to look in a systematic way at how a work of art is produced. Twenty-seven objects of the sort artists use to construct a still-life were placed on one table, among them a small manikin, a bunch of grapes, a steel gearshift, a woman’s velvet hat, a brass horn, an antique book, and a glass prism. A second table was empty except for art materials the students would use to draw. The students were told to choose objects from the table they would use to stimulate their imagination and arrange them in any way that pleased them on the second table. They could choose as many objects as they wanted and spend as much time as they wanted selecting the objects and making a drawing from them. They were told, “The important thing is that the drawing should be pleasing to you. You may take five minutes or five hours, as long as the result is pleasing to you.” (In Jacob W. Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Creative Vision: A Longitudinal Study of Problem-Finding in Art.)

butterfly-744115_640When the students were ready, an observer began to keep a record of their behavior such as the number, kind, and sequence of objects handled or manipulated (e.g. feeling the texture and weight of the of the objects, moving their parts, changing their shape, etc.); the number and kinds of objects finally selected; procedures used in organizing the selected objects; behavior during drawing (e.g. changes in the type of media, rearrangement of objects, etc.); and the amount of time everything took. In addition, photos were taken three, six, and nine minutes after drawing was begun and at six minute intervals thereafter until the drawing was completed. The photos would reveal how the drawing was progressing.

The Skill You Need of Finding the Right Problems to Solve

The stage most important in this study was formulating a problem to work on, which they called PROBLEM-FINDING, a stage that precedes problem-solving. They wanted to find if there was a correlation between what happened during the first stage of problem-finding and the quality of the finished drawings. From the time artists begin to draw, paint, sculpt, etc., or writers begin to write the text, they are involved in the solution to the problem they have posed for themselves. When you’re a writer who is problem-solving, you have an idea how to get going and are assembling words, reviewing and evaluating how you’re progressing, and deciding what you will say next and how you’ll say it. With “Darby” I’m not there yet. I am still problem-finding—trying to define exactly what I’ll be trying to say and what I’m trying to create.

laser-737434_640Every writer, artist, and composer has to first problem-find, and what happens at that stage makes a tremendous difference because what you do before starting to paint or write determines to a large extent what will happen after you start. The painting or story may be changed later and its form altered beyond recognition, but the starting point is the selection of the material and arrangement of it made during the stage when you’re formulating the problem. I have Darby and she is trapped—that I’m certain won’t change. The problem is what I will do with those central facts.

Einstein believed and many other knowledgeable people also believe that problem-finding is a more crucial skill than problem-solving, because focusing on trying to solve the wrong problem, the inessential problem, doesn’t solve the real problem.

The problems you as an artist or writer must find and solve are unstructured, and the special difficulty with unstructured problems—as you’ve already found many times–is that the more unstructured they are the more directions you can take, and most will be the wrong direction creatively. It’s not unusual for even the greatest writers and artists to work on something for a long time only to realize that it was the wrong thing to work on. Authors have been known to complete a book only to throw it away because they had selected the wrong problem to solve. Under many painting masterpieces are other paintings the artist wasn’t satisfied with and simply painted over. I’m being careful not to have my story go off in a wrong direction.

Problem-finding is anything but restful. When you’re doing it, your mind, sorting things out, is as active, or more active, than it is when you’re executing the work.

rose-140446_640The right problem and right solutions to it often appear on their own, unfolding effortlessly, and agitate the creator until in a sudden recognition she understands them and uses her skills to shape them into expression, possibly never knowing where the problem or solution came from, and not knowing quite where she’s going and what the final work will look like until she gets there. Yet she is confident all the way through that in fact she will get there: “Undoubtedly, if I knew exactly what I was doing, things would go faster, but if I saw the whole unwritten novel stretching out before me, chapter by chapter, like a landscape, I know I would put it aside in favor of something more uncertain—material that had a natural form that it was up to me to discover.” (William Maxwell)

 The Length of Time Spent Problem-Finding Is a Key

The length of time the problem was kept open for alteration varied from artist to artist in the study. For some all the structures and elements were present after as few as six minutes. But one worked 49 minutes and it wasn’t until the 36th minute (74% of the total working time), that the final drawing was in evidence. With that artist, the problem remained open almost to the end.

Six years later there was a follow-up to see how successful the students had become in the art world. The main findings were striking and contain lessons for practicing writers and artists:

(1)Those in the study who approached their work by keeping the problem-finding stage wide open for a long time before ending it went on in their careers to produce higher quality work. Those who went on to become less successful were the same people who during the study were anxious to begin and started drawing more quickly. Apparently they never got out of that let’s-get-started habit and their work suffered. And one reason why that happens is because while effective problem-finders can live with ambiguity, poor problem-finders are uncomfortable with it and wish to put an end to it as quickly as possible.

IF YOU WANT TO IMRPOVE THE QUALITY OF YOUR WORK, SPEND A LOT OF TIME PATIENTLY PROBLEM-FINDING.

Serious writers and artists may spend many hours or months or longer thinking, mulling over, guessing, sketching, trying this, trying that. The better artists in the study dawdled and played with the objects they were going to draw, touching them, turning them, trying this angle and that for considerable time before getting down to the final drawing, just as better writers fiddle around with their material till something clicks. Poet Denise Levertov said, “If…somewhere in the vicinity there is a poem then, no, I don’t do anything about it, I wait.” Author Anne Dillard said, “I usually get my ideas in November and I start writing in February. I’m waiting.”

(2)The best problem-finders in the study, not coincidentally, went on years later to become the most materially successful artists of the thirty-one. Some became known in the art world while many poorer problem-finders disappeared completely from it.

IF YOU WANT TO REACH LASTING CAREER SUCCESS AND APPEAL TO AN AUDIENCE, BE SURE TO DEVELOP THE SKILL OF EFFECTIVE PROBLEM-FINDING.

surfer-13415_640

The skill of waiting and holding in check the urge to rush prematurely to solutions is almost always overlooked, yet it is crucial. Training yourself to acquire this skill will take you far and take your artistic work to higher excellence. Be like a surfer: wait for the perfect wave to take you in.

I’ve been thinking more about Darby. I have a hunch she might never escape, but maybe she will. I’ll have to wait and see.

 

© 2015 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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