Glowing backlit trees twist like intermingled worms climbing toward the sky. Little white shimmers sparkle on the wet leaves. The ropes of the old tree swing are lit like neon against the dark contrast of the branches in the distance. The faded red Adirondack chairs look as though someone turned on a light switch to make them glow. The crisp cold air is still, and it’s pleasingly quiet here on the long porch of this Texas ranch house.
I’m missing the longhorn cattle that used to stick their noses up to my fence. If only the neighbor had left them when he sold his property. Though I wouldn’t want to care for them, I enjoyed watching them graze.
According to a buddy, his neighbor, a famous filmmaker, once phoned him after his cows had escaped to the neighbor’s vast property of rolling hills in the Bay Area, asking if he would leave them for a week so he could see how he liked looking at cows. My buddy obliged. Then, weeks later, dozens of carefully placed painted wooden cows appeared, made by a studio set department. Workers would move them daily. After a few weeks, the filmmaker determined he liked having cattle, so the fake cows disappeared and were replaced by real ones. I suppose that’s the result of a highly creative mind, combined with endless resources.
In our society, we reward creative minds. Where would we be without the imaginative thinking of writers, filmmakers, musicians, songwriters, and actors? Thankfully, they look at things differently and bring us new ways of interpreting our world. My life surrounded by visual artists has been enriched by their gifts.
What are your gifts?
Where does your creative brain make a difference in the lives of others?
A dialogue with an acquaintance recently had him telling me just how uncreative he was, and just how bored his job had made him. His belief was that there was nothing inside to come out. Yet, with some digging and some prodding, I was able to help him realize there was a creative genius inside, wanting to be released.
Decades ago, I took a course in finding our own gifts. By taking an inventory of our past, of everything we know how to do (even the littlest things), then asking the question “Which of those things did you really, really love?” that class became a guide to remembering the things that light us up.
What lights you up?
Our body language, the sparkle that comes into our eyes, the spring in our step, the big smile on our face — these are the clues you may not see, but others do. When I conduct job interviews, a few questions rapidly lead to the moment when someone sparkles. People will tell you many things they supposedly love, but the ones that light them up reveal their truth.
Where do you sparkle?
“I go to work in a job I’ve done for decades. It used to be fun, but it’s not fun anymore. Once I’m home, I sit and read or watch television, have a couple drinks, and then repeat that routine day after day.” So I was told by a friend when I asked what his hobbies or outside interests were. I could see the sadness in his eyes, and I could tell he craved something more in his life, yet he was simply stuck.
Where are you stuck?
Being stuck is the road to destruction and a premature ticket off the earth. Being engaged and using your creative brain is the ticket to longevity.
How do you get there?
Start with your own inventory. What have you tried in your life that you enjoyed? What lit you up? Chances are you’ll find something there, but will have pushed it aside because you’re telling yourself you can’t do it. That’s a big problem in the world of art. I encounter thousands who have tried art and convinced themselves that they had no talent or ability.
Starting with Perfection
Ask a brain surgeon. Did she or he actually believe they could pick up a scalpel within a week or two of starting medical school? Of course not. Ask a musician if they sat down and played the piano or guitar without first learning the keys and chords and doing the exercises.
The True Meaning of Talent
For some odd reason, we think certain creative endeavors are naturally part of our DNA. Perhaps if it is in your DNA, it comes out way down the road, after you’ve learned the skills so you can push them to the next level. After dealing with hundreds of artists, I’ve found most learned a system or a process, practiced like crazy, and worked really hard. That’s actually the definition of talent. People everyone thinks just had talent had, in fact, worked hard.
Overnight Success Is a Myth
Remember the story of the Hollywood director with the cows? He was an “overnight success” whose success wasn’t overnight at all. He almost dropped out of school because of his frustration. He was not a good writer. He was rejected hundreds of times. But he kept writing, kept showing up trying to get his scripts read, and then, after lots of years banging on doors, he was suddenly a creative genius. I daresay that “genius” is tenacity. Edison was a genius not because he came up with an idea and a solution on the first try, but because he never gave up after hundreds or thousands of experiments.
Genius lies inside you. It’s up to you to bring it out.
Seeing That Grin
As you and I go into the holidays, and many of us return to self-isolation, you’ll have the time to think, to experiment, to play, to try new things. Try dozens of things. Take a course or five, and try to do something your judgmental self is telling you isn’t possible. And keep trying. Pay attention to how things make you feel. If it brings a smile to your face or a sparkle to your eyes — even though it may be hard or frustrating — you will have found what is trapped inside, waiting to be released for the world to see.
Your creativity may change the world, whether you’re 100 or you’re 10. There are no rules, no restrictions. It’s never too late or too early.
The World’s Richest Man Told Me…
My friend John Kluge was once the richest man in the world. Over lunch I asked him how he became a billionaire. He said he had always tried to succeed, had done lots of things, but was just an average success like many others. He said when he turned 65, all his friends were giving up and retiring, but he didn’t want to stop because he had learned so much, and he had a feeling that if he kept working, he might have more success, or at least keep having fun. “My friends retired, got bored, and died,” he said. “I just kept pitching.”
John became a billionaire and changed the world at about age 75, and he lived the rewards of his persistence for the last two decades of his life. He endowed colleges, museums, and charities with billions. He built several world-class art collections, and he was having more fun than he’d ever had in his life. His advice to me was, “Eric, keep pitching. Never stop. One idea, one pitch, might be the one that makes you a billionaire.”
Pitching does not have to be about becoming a billionaire. It’s about having a ball, living an enriched life, living fully. It’s about trying new things, giving your brain the challenges it needs to keep you mentally elastic. And it’s about overcoming boredom.
There Is No Excuse
There is a world of joy to be found by trying things. Don’t tell yourself you might not like it. Try a variety of things — I have taken courses on Masterclass in things like cooking, fashion design, making music, acting. It’s fun to learn about things I’d never have explored. There are hundreds of online platforms offering things you’ve never considered. Try something.
Finding the Energy
You may tell yourself “I don’t have the energy” after a long day, but as my artist-cardiologist friend told me the other day, “I’ll come home exhausted from a long day, and I’ll not want to go into my studio because I’m exhausted. But I’ll go in, pick up the brush just to maybe fix one little thing, and next thing you know I’ve painted till midnight, lost my stress, and I’m in my happy place.” Energy is found in enthusiasm.
I plan to try new things when I have some extra time. I love learning, reading, and now, watching courses. I intentionally pick things I don’t think I’ll like, and find some of them to be fascinating.
Remember, there is a creative genius inside beating on the door of your heart to be released. Only you can release that genius.
PS: An accidental left turn because of a cab ride led me to the world I’m in today. I never in a thousand years would have imagined myself leading an art community, producing art magazines, developing hundreds of online art courses. I did not know what was dormant inside, waiting to be released. Yet because I was curious, I found a new life, a life of fulfillment I never could have imagined. I’m happier than I ever imagined I could be. You can learn about everything we do in the art world at StreamlinePublishing.com/Everything. Maybe you’ll find a course or a video or a newsletter to try something new.
If you’re telling yourself you can’t learn art, that you lack talent and skill, start with watercolor. I’ve rounded up the best watercolor artists in the world to teach for three days, plus a fourth day for beginners. Start there. It’s in late January and would be a good Christmas gift to yourself. If you can’t make the dates, there are replays, though watching live and being part of the community and making new friends is a lot of fun. No one is too inexperienced to attend. WatercolorLive.com
I wanted to come up with something to make learning art easy. People often stop because it’s too overwhelming and complicated. I realized that if you learn a few notes on a keyboard, you can learn piano. It’s the same with art: If you learn a few notes, you can paint anything. I call my system Paint by Note, and I have free lessons online. Hundreds have taken the course, and I hear from people frequently who show me their progress, which continues to amaze me. The thing I hear most often: “I did not think I could do this, but I’m doing it.” PaintByNote.com
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