11 11, 2018

Breaking the Chains that Bind You


Pools of water reflect the sky and the railings on the porch after last night’s massive storm, which I thought I had dreamed in the middle of the night. Cool, crisp air and a slight breeze swaying the tops of my twisted oaks signal cold mornings to come, when I may have to build a fire in the porch fireplace. This morning my thick, fuzzy old navy blue cotton robe makes me cozy, though my hands are a bit chilled. Just four weeks ago, my freezing hands were bundled in two layers of gloves as I stood in the snow painting while giant snowflakes landed on my canvas, so today is easy in comparison. And, once again, it’s good to be home on my own porch, knowing the family is here with me, all nestled in their warm beds. Like Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Yellow Brick Road lately. I wonder what the writer had in mind when he created this metaphor for life with twists, turns, and challenges along the way, hoping to get to Oz — only to find out Oz was unable to provide what had been imagined and that what we have at home isn’t so bad after all.

Have you ever set a goal, achieved it, and found out it wasn’t really what you wanted after all? I have.

Our society places a lot of emphasis on goal-setting, but sometimes we strive for goals that don’t make us happy when we get there. That’s why it’s important to understand Oz before you get there.

“Ah, The Good Life” May Not Be So Good

Frequently I hear stories of businesspeople chasing the good life that’s promoted by advertisers, products, and marketing, all trying to make us think what they offer will solve our problems and make us happy. Just a few weeks ago I met a man who worked like a dog to get massive wealth. He had the jet, several Ferraris, houses in many places, and he was traveling the world whenever he could. He told me he became arrogant, dismissive of others who did not have what he had. He said he became a complete jerk and as a result, he lost his wife and his kids. Soon he had another wife and more kids and lost them, too.

He was richer than most people could ever be, yet he became very lonely. Then he lost his Midas touch, his business fell on hard times, and he lost everything and had to rebuild from scratch. He quickly learned his friends only liked him for his money and were not there for him when he lost it.

I think sometimes we chase things because we think we’re supposed to, or because society expects certain things of us. Most of this disease is driven by comparing ourselves to others and caring too much what other people think.

Not Such a Hotshot After All

I made a lot of money early in my career. Not enough money to buy a jet or multiple houses, but enough to buy a really nice car and have a little money in the bank. I was pretty full of myself and I wanted more, and it came so easily for me, I thought I had the Midas touch. But in reality, I got lucky. And once I lost all my money, lost my fancy cars, and destroyed my marriage, I got a much-needed dose of humility pretty fast.

I kept trying, and came close to making a fortune another time with a company I started, and raised money to start, but I screwed that up too, and lost again. For years I blamed circumstances like 9/11, blamed my board of directors, but I didn’t blame myself. Yet I was the problem.

Being Stuck in My Past

It turns out I was stuck in my stories. In fact, I clinged to blaming others for my failure for almost two decades, until finally I had a revelation that I was the problem. I had to accept the blame for all those employees losing their jobs because I didn’t have my act together. That was a hard pill to swallow.

The Art of Reframing

In the process called reframing, I learned that we can take the painful moments in our lives and ask ourselves, “Though it was extremely painful, is there possibly anything good that came out of it?” Then I write that thing down and keep asking myself what other good came out of it. I’ll do this until I’ve come up with six, or 10, good things.

Suddenly, once I’ve gone through this process, I’ll realize that my pain is gone, and that I’m looking at the good that was done for me instead of the bad that was done to me. By reframing the story, I am able to let go of the pain.

How I Killed Two Decades

We all hate and want to avoid pain. Yet we try so hard to avoid it, we actually cause more pain because we let fear of it hold us back. For instance, I stopped taking risks. I was so hurt by taking a risk and losing my company that I avoided risk completely. And for 20 years my company was stagnant, not growing and not providing the kind of growth my family and my team deserved.

Waking up to my pain, reframing it by finding the good and the lessons, is what broke those chains and set me free to take risks again, and the result has really changed my life.

The Worst Horrors Relieved

Reframing takes away your chains. I’ve heard stories that are more horrific than I could imagine. People who have experienced child abuse, or rape, or terrifying fires, or other terrible events. They understandably live in fear, yet that fear has made some of them afraid to really live. I’ve watched people snap out of those situations in less than a half hour when coached by someone in reframing — and when those chains go away, life changes.

Pity Is Our Comfort Zone

We fall so in love with our own stories and our own pity, our love of blaming circumstances or other people who have hurt us, that we get stuck and don’t live our lives. We get stuck in traditions, we get stuck in religions, we get stuck in things our families require, we get stuck in the way we think we should be, and we get stuck in comparison to others.

They say the biggest cause of depression today is spending an hour or more a day on Facebook because we’re watching our friends and their wonderful lives. We get caught up in their travel, their events, their happiness, and we compare ourselves to them.

Don’t Should on Me!

We get stuck in “shoulding” on others. You should be like me. You should vote the way I vote. You should believe what I believe. You should … fill in the blank. This shoulding causes anger, resentment, and depression. If we can stop trying to put others in our box, stop shoulding on them, we can live freely, and care less about what they think.

Certainly, though I offer my ideas here on Sunday mornings, I don’t intend to “should” on you. I share what works for me, but I want you to find what works for you.

The Yellow Brick Road is filled with challenges. Life is never easy, but it does not have to be awful. There are those who frame everything with a positive outlook in spite of going through some terrible stuff, and others who frame it badly. You get to pick.

Know Why You’re Going

I do think it’s worth considering what Oz looks like for you so you can design your life to fit what you really want. I think it’s worth considering that what we think we want may not really be what we want. It might be a good idea to find someone who has what you want and find out from them if it’s truly worth it. Look at Anthony Bourdain, who seemed to have a cool life of fame, travel, and money, yet he pulled the plug for some reason. Maybe once he got what he worked for, it wasn’t what he expected. Why not find people who are living the same dream you want to live and study them, talk to them, get them to level with you about the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Don’t Wait for Others to Fix You

You may also ask yourself about the biggest pain in your life and see if you can reframe that pain to break your own chains. If it can work for me, it can work for you. I keep finding things that are holding me back because I’m clinging to something old. I had to learn that no one else can change things for you, only you can change them. If you’re expecting someone to be a certain way to free you up, it won’t happen. I learned from many years of therapy that all the things I complain about start with me, my perception, my story, and my chains.

I truly want you to live fully. Chains are no way to live, and most people don’t realize they are living in chains until they reframe their pain, and suddenly one little breakthrough opens their life and gives them rich experiences they were missing.

Have you defined Oz and made sure it’s something you really want?
Have you defined the steps to get there and exactly what it will look like when you arrive?
Have you found your pain points and reframed them?
Are you comparing yourself to others?

In the ‘60s they used to say, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Make today count.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Last week we held our FACE event (Figurative Art Convention & Expo). I thought it was a great experience and one that enriched the lives of those who attended. I want to thank everyone who attended. You enriched my life.

This week, another adventure. My same time, next year time with an old friend while I do my Radio Forecast conference in New York. I always love seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

Last, Thanksgiving is coming. I have friends who avoid reconnecting with family because of the pain. Sometimes distance is healthy, but sometimes just a little reframing will make you want to go again.

Breaking the Chains that Bind You 2018-11-07T09:09:17+00:00
4 11, 2018

Art From the Ashes


“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.” 
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

If you live in Austin, Texas, where I am this morning, the past few weeks have been made up of those howling winds and driving rain, flooding, and a water-boil order. This morning, November’s first Sunday, is chilly, but not cold as frozen iron.

Fortunately, the rain and two weeks of boiling water occurred while Laurie and I were on the Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine Italian Art Trip, hosting about 42 guests who accompanied us to see the art treasures of Italy. I’m jet-lagged and a little groggy still, but so invigorated from miles of the best art in the world.

It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and I have to admit the highlight, among many, was one private hour inside the Sistine Chapel just for our group, which is simply unheard of. I may be the only person who’s ever held a Facebook Live broadcast from inside the Sistine Chapel (you can find it on my Facebook page), until I was scolded and shut down by the guard. It was such a wonderful experience to be there with just our small group, without sharing the room with a noisy 5,000 others, shoulder-to-shoulder and unable to see anything.

Tears welled up in my eyes at the overwhelming experience, not only because I was pleased I could make that happen for my guests — a privilege typically offered only to presidents and ambassadors — but because of what the room represented to me. 

Here I was in a giant room, where one of the great artists of all time spent several years creating one of the world’s great masterpieces. To know that one man, and a couple of assistants, could accomplish such a feat in just nine years. I am in awe of Michelangelo’s ability as an artist, and the nearly impossible task of filling the ceiling and one end wall of a 12,000-square-foot room, and with such perfection. Keeping in mind that he was a sculptor, not a painter, when the Pope appointed him for the task. And it was not just painting, it required a fresh second layer of plaster and the ability to do fresco painting, a very special and difficult technique. He essentially learned as he did it, which shows what a genius he was. Though legend has him working while lying on his back, Michelangelo did the entire painting standing on scaffolding. Most of the great artists I know today, some of whom are tremendous at figure painting, could not complete a fraction of that room in a lifetime.

Michelangelo’s influence was felt in every city we visited throughout Italy — not only his sculpture, but his exterior and interior designs, such as one of the most amazing staircases I’ve ever seen, still in use today. It was humbling to walk on it, knowing he designed it and walked on the same steps hundreds of years before. 

Of course we also had a private time scheduled for Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and we had a private dinner inside an amazing palace filled with the works of history’s best painters to entertain our gazes as we dined. 

And we visited the massive home of a prince, who greeted us and told us about his family’s amazing collection of art. We had numerous experiences like this, too many to mention here; it’s something we will cover in an upcoming article.

The biggest surprise for me was a visit in our post-trip to Pompeii, the ruins preserved by volcanic ash at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Having seen photos in National Geographic as a child, I assumed we would see just a room or two, but what we saw was a city, acres and acres of homes, and there are more acres still under ash to be explored for generations to come.

The art found in Pompeii was exquisite, not at all primitive but highly sophisticated, with form, perspective, and shadow, and all of it made possibly 500-600 years before the time of Christ. Yet this was unknown because the city was buried and its art unseen — and “early” art that came hundreds of years later was primitive, flat, and lifeless. It was not until the Renaissance that the techniques of perspective, form, and shadow were reinvented. The Romans were doing it hundreds of years before, but no one was aware because that artwork was underground and undiscovered until 1549, and the art objects were not revealed till 1748.

An estimated 11,000 people in Pompeii died in less than three minutes from the heat of the volcanic eruption five miles away, and then the city was pounded with pumice stones and ash. Just a few short years before, the same city had been destroyed by a major earthquake and then partially rebuilt. Being there was sobering yet enlightening, and seeing the art, now housed in the Naples Museum, was an unexpected pleasure. 

We know of life in Pompeii because of the art left behind — the mosaics, the architecture, the sculpture, the glass, the jewelry, and the writings by a witness to the volcano from across the bay. It was art that was archaeological evidence of life. From it, we know how the Pompeiians lived, we know what they worshiped, we know their myths and legends, and we see the faces of their people. 

Art left behind not only told the story of Pompeii, it told the story of Rome, of Florence, and of life throughout Italy. For me, this reinforces the importance of what we do for those of us who create art in various forms.

Though I’ve traveled the world, this trip had a profound impact on me. In a way, it put me in my place, taking away my smugness about how good we are at things today as it was so clearly demonstrated that life was rich with experiences, art, and quality of life thousands of years ago. It truly is ashes to ashes, but the art remains to tell future generations about the world.

The stories of life, of wars, of famine, of successes and riches, of political rulers and failures, demonstrate that life is an endless cycle that will go on well past each of us. A reminder that life needs to be lived, and experienced richly, and not a moment wasted. And a reminder that we need to embrace those things that will tell the future world what our world was like. Our writings, our art, our architecture, and our stories — a contribution each of us can offer.

Looking over thousands of years of history, we see the evidence that we are each a brief blip, yet what we choose to do with that blip can have an impact for thousands of years, just as many of the things we saw were carried forward for us all to enjoy today. Those who produced the best stood head and shoulders above others, making a statement that striving to be the best holds great value. Whether it is the works of Bernini, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, or those who created the treasures of Pompeii, art lives on.

One of the guests on the trip said that part of the key to life is “to finish well.” Those who devoted their lives to their craft, striving to be better, finished well, as evidenced by millions of tourists who come to see their works in person.

A trip like this offers a fresh perspective on the world, in a land out of our comfort zone, looking at life today and life in the past. It’s made me rethink my own purpose, my own art, and what each of us might do to leave something behind that could be recovered from the ashes to astonish others.

Comfort may be cozy, but our minds can do more when they encounter discomfort, and examples of brilliance made by mere mortals of the past. Having the world may not be possible, but seeking discomfort in our own world will make us all stronger, better, and maybe a tad bit more interesting. 

How can you get out of your comfort zone? It may be as simple as a visit to a gallery or an art exhibition or a museum you’ve not visited before, or learning a language, or finding a book outside what you’d normally read. While most seek comfort and security, it’s the discomfort that fosters growth and an invigorating life.


PS: Thank you for a much-needed break. I asked my team to deliver some past writings during my absence so I could take time away, disconnected from the news, from social media, and from e-mail and work. Disconnecting was a gift. No election news, no Facebook rants, no stress of work, just a week of living in a fantasy world of art, history, and amazing beauty.

The week before Italy I left my comfort zone and painted in the snow in the Banff and Lake Louise area of Canada, and hosted 74 painters who did the same. We had a blast. Most of us had never painted in the snow — we hadn’t planned to, but we ran into a 100-year early storm. It made it better, made it more fun, brought us all closer, and took us out of our comfort zone. I feared snow, and now I am a snow painter, as are all who came with me. You can see the story here.

Tomorrow I venture out to Miami to host our Figurative Art Convention & Expo. We have a few hundred people coming, and it’s going to be amazing to see the world’s top figurative and portrait artists teaching in one place. Perhaps you’ll attend, to get out of your comfort zone. Then the following week, we have our big annual Radio Forecast conference at the Harvard Club in New York. 

Let me leave you with this. I cannot remember when our world has ever been more polarized. I’ve never seen friends have such division over political discourse. 

I never talk politics. My views are my own and not ever shared with anyone. I keep more friends that way. And I’m careful not to judge others because they have a different view than mine.

You have the privilege of voting, and it’s something we should all honor with our presence. I’d like to believe that every vote matters, and I’d like to encourage you to vote. 

Art From the Ashes 2018-11-03T11:17:01+00:00