5 Free Things Artists Can Do to Empower Ourselves Right Now...

This is a supplemental, emergency blog post. I am writing in response to some things I've been noticing in my community, in the wake of the election results.


My beloved community: artists are a vulnerable part of the population, because many of us are low-income, with barely enough resources get through our daily lives. For most of our lives we often make huge sacrifices in order to keep making art. Many of us NEED to make art as a therapeutic healing process, to work through dark and often traumatic origins. At times like this, when our larger world becomes terrifyingly unstable, and our vulnerability is brought into sharp focus, we are at risk of losing all hope. So great is our existential dread that we might be tempted to engage in behaviors and practices that are harmful to our wellbeing.


So I am writing to tell you: STOP! If you are self-harming through substance abuse, reckless behavior, abandoning or destroying your art projects, or any other kind of self-violence, STOP STOP STOP!!!


Please take a minute and breathe deeply now.


Understand this: throughout history, artists have survived war, plague, famine, rape, and genocide and come through making art that heals and uplifts the entire human race. 


And this: the forces of tyranny and oppression depend on vulnerable people giving up.


And also this: your voice is NEEDED! YOU ARE NEEDED!!


Let's take another breath, and another.


Now let's look at 5 things you can do, right now, to get your power back:


Meditate

  • Harness the awesome power of your mind. Learn to calm yourself, center your thoughts, improve your focus and mental clarity. A calm, strong mind is essential if we want to respond instead of reacting. Go deep within yourself and find a peace that no one and nothing can take away. Do it every morning, before you get out of bed, for 10 minutes. Once you're good at it, try 30 minutes sitting up in a chair, with your eyes closed. How long can you keep your mind calm? Try for an entire hour. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote, played, and narrated a Guided Breathing Meditation that is available for sale on my site, but email me directly and I'll send it to you for free). 

Take full advantage of your medical insurance

  • (This one might involve a co-pay, but it is absolutely worth your time!) Right now we don't know exactly what will happen to our insurance, so take this time to use it to its fullest. Make an appointment with your PCP and get a full physical. Gather data about yourself! As questions about your overall health, and find out if there are any particular aspects you should be working on as you age. Get as many immunizations as you can, including a flu shot. Fill any necessary prescriptions, renew your birth control, and get tested for STI's and cholesterol. While you're working on your health, get more sleep! 

Sign up to volunteer for local and national orgs

  • Now is the time to be the change we wish to see in the world. People in your community, and in our nation, need your help. Sign up and be generous with your time. Commit to 1 volunteer hour per week, and increase it as you can. Here are some good places to start: http://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/get-involved/ https://www.rainn.org/get-involved

Perform a daily selfless act of kindness

  • Do this every day, no matter how small. Comfort someone by listening and holding space for their emotions. Give up your seat to a stranger on the bus. Clean up some trash in your local park. Help a snail make it all the way across the garden. Be completely present in the act, and do it with no expectation of reward, or even acknowledgement. Don't perform it on social media! Do it privately, without telling anyone. Make a it a daily practice of integrity, compassion, and love. Let it be your reminder that love is the most powerful force on earth.

Completely eliminate sugar from your diet

  • It may seem implausible, even ridiculous, but those tiny white crystals are whiplashing your moods, hampering your immunity, and draining your vital energy. Encourage your most healthy, powerful self to emerge by cutting out all refined sugar, and keeping sweet things to a minimum. NOTE: alcohol gets transformed by your body into sugar, so cut back as far as you can. Look for healthier and more nourishing ways to calm your nerves (see #1). 


Lastly, re-commit to your art projects. Dig deeper, fight harder, love stronger than ever before. It's OK to feel afraid, just stay centered and open. Use your art and your heart. And never, ever give up!
 

Special Announcement....

Fellow artists and creative people, for the past 16 weeks I've ben blogging about all kinds of aspects of our lives (thanks for all your feedback letting me know that you've found my writings helpful!). I'll be blogging sporadically throughout the summer, while I work on my upcoming book about creativity, and various articles for publication. Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to book a voice lesson, CLE vocal strength workshop, consulting or coaching session, I am available by email: alicia@aliciadara.com

In the meantime, enjoy this list of blog topics, and feel free to add your comments and feedback:

5 Ways to Stand Out From the Competition (And Rule the World With Your Art)...

How to Overcome the #1 Obstacle to Your Creativity...

How to Destroy Perfectionism and Make Your Best Art Ever...

5 Skills for Successful Artists...

How to Jump From Hobbyist to Full-Time Artist...

How to Stop Procrastinating...

6 Ways to Propel Your Art Forward...

How to Overcome "Impostor Syndrome" and Rule the World With Your Art...

5 Ways to Build Your Brand Without Losing Your Soul...

The Only Thing Prince Ever Did That Truly Shocked Me...

Ten Wellness Tips for Artists...

5 Tis for Sparking Creativity...

To Master Your Art, Teach Beginners...

5 Tips for Artists About to Turn 30...

New to Creative Collaboration? Focus on Shared Discovery...

30 Movies About Artists and the Creative Process...

How to Get Your Creative Inspiration Back...

Why People Don't Learn (And How They Can)...

 

5 Ways to Stand Out From the Competition (and Rule the World With Your Art)...

Congratulations! This post marks 16 weeks of your creative and artistic growth. During this time you've overcome impostor syndrome, perfectionism, procrastination, and the #1 obstacle to your creativity. You've also learned how to collaborate with others and teach beginners how to do what you do. Your health and wellness is on track, you're working on new skills, working out your brand, and you've found new sources of creative inspiration as you move forward on your path. You may have even decided that you're ready to become a full-time artist! Next up is a full reckoning with your competition. Are you ready to rumble? 


Here are 5 ways to stand out from the competition:


1) Identify the competition

  • Not every artist dreams of climbing to the very top. Some of us prefer to operate within the confines of our community (friends, city, state or otherwise) and distinguish ourselves within that group. Some of us are only concerned with competing against ourselves, seeking to outdo our best work with every new creative project. And some of us are already wading into the shallows, getting up our nerve to swim with sharks. In any case, it's crucial that you figure out your own definition of the word "competition" (while you're at it you might also want to do the same for "ambition"), and adjust it accordingly as you travel forward. Set aside some time to meditate on what you truly want to do with your art, and write down any and all images that come to you. Create a sentence that describes your exact hopes and dreams, and write it in the first person present tense, as if it's happening right now. What feelings come up for you when you read it? Does it strike you as true, or do you feel like an impostor? Doubt your doubts, and believe in your dreams. Ground them in reality by taking daily actions that further your ambition.


2) Keep current with your competitors' work

  • Do you know what's currently going on your art form? Who are the biggest names and rising stars? What is their latest work all about? Why are they having such an impact? Get busy finding answers to these questions. Knowing exactly who and what you're up against will clarify a lot about how your own work might flourish in the marketplace. Fresh, innovative ideas often show up when we look critically at our competitors' work and fantasize about outdoing them. Don't be intimidated, get inspired! Challenge yourself to go where you've never gone before in your art, and be prepared for your current audience to be just as shaken up as you are. Tell them you have resolved to live purely by inspiration, and your new work will reflect this mandate. Now get to work!


3) Write out your origin story

  • Want to be a creativity superhero? Write out your origin story. Your beginnings play a huge role in who you are and how you make art. Understanding exactly how your past plays itself out in the present can illuminate all kinds of fascinating insights. From our current vantage point we might be able to identify recurring themes in our work, and trace them back to our childhood. Many of our greatest strengths were formed during that time, by people and events that may not have been within our control. Is there something from the past that's holding you back? Set a date for resolving it, and make this process part of your art. By examining our origins we might also get a better sense of our personal values, and consider bringing them even deeper into our work as artists (this is where that whole "be the change you want to see in the world" thing can manifest itself). You can even take this archetypal superhero process farther, and name your kryptonite, nemesis, sidekick(s), and magical accessory or costume. Remember: the way you present yourself to the world counts as much as the art you make! Knowing where you came from and how you got here translates as greater personal charisma, that essential force of attraction that can draw others to you like bears to a salmon-slick river. 

4) Challenge yourself regularly

  • Are you keeping yourself small? When is the last time you rose to a genuine challenge? Not just in your work, but in the way you market it to the world. Are you reaching everyone who might be interested in what you do? Have you approached every possible contact, and researched every possible marketing strategy? Take a good hard look at your goals, and throw them all out. Assume that lack of ambition has been holding you back, and resolve to create a brand-new paradigm, where you challenge yourself to surpass every success in both your creative and professional work. Not sure where to start? Read some biographies of famous artists and creatives that you admire, and learn about their trials and victories. Study the creative process of innovators in your field and borrow from their stable of techniques. Embrace happy accidents and coincidences, and remember to thank everyone who leads you to them. Get in the habit of meeting challenges and eventually it will feel like a natural extension of who you are. 


5) Understand the true nature of networking

  • Many of us are confused about networking, and unsure of how to make it work for us. We might feel uncomfortable with "using someone" to get ahead, but this is not how networking actually works. Effective networking is a mutually beneficial relationship between two people who respect and admire each other, and want to help the other succeed. This kind of connection has a ripple effect that can change everything. Every time you connect someone to good resources and/or contacts in your community, you are taking one step closer to your own goals, because that person will remember your kindness and return it when opportunity strikes. You'll also be known as someone who cares about others, and is not threatened by anyone else's success. Know how to recognize a fellow power-networker when you see one, and consider creating a group of like-minded networkers who meet monthly with the express goal of sharing resources, information, contacts, and goals. Having a diverse and dedicated list of people that you can count on increases your visibility and social influence, two qualities that play a vital part in helping you stand out in a crowded marketplace. 
     

How to Overcome the #1 Obstacle to Your Creativity...

Our creativity is a powerful force of nature that is constantly moving through us. This energy powers not just our creative work, but everything we do, and it informs the way we see the world. We can engage with it as much or as little as we choose, but it needs to flow freely in order for us to do our best work. Right now, in your life, there is an obstacle to your creativity. Feel it? It's just sitting there, blocking your path, sucking up air and light like a bad-ass black hole. This obstacle is unrelenting, and it will continue its nasty business until you decide you're not going to take it anymore.


The greatest obstacle to your creativity is the issue that you've been neglecting to attend to in your life, outside of your creative work. Is it a recurring health problem? An antagonistic relationship? A regret about something from the past that sabotages your present? Or is it a secret dark belief about yourself that needs to be transformed? Look around for the one thing that feels completely stuck, or out of your control. You might have a feeling of dread when you think about this issue, and your body might tense involuntarily. Or you might run toward a distraction, something to take your mind off it. Maybe you've told yourself that this issue will never be resolved, and you're locked in with it forever. You can make this choice, but understand that it will directly effect the flow of your creativity. 


How does this dynamic play out, exactly? Just think back to that image of the black hole. Consciously or unconsciously, you're using your full creative powers to manage the ongoing issue, and it feeds off that energy like crazy! Even if you've been completely ignoring the issue, the energy required to willfully ignore something so huge is intense. Don't you want to take that power back? 

To be clear, artists and creative people often face giant obstacles to our creativity that have to do with basic survival, and the issue of time vs money. Most of these are external issues that we may not have much control of. Fortunately there are some ways that we can take charge of our life and our work. As we strive to overcome what's in front of us and keep moving forward, we can learn to take better care of ourselves, collaborate with others, market our work effectively, and take time to observe significant milestones in our progress. We can teach others how to love art as much as we do, and learn from those who came before us, and let go of limiting paradigms that no longer serve us. We can also take charge of our own creative process, and seek out fresh inspiration to keep us going. These are actions we can all take form the inside out, and they will serve us well. But we're talking about your particular issue, the one that is so persistent that it may have become part of your very identity. This is the one that needs your full might to overcome. Put your back into this job, and you will reap tremendous rewards. 

Here are 5 steps to help you overcome your greatest obstacle:


1) Ask yourself what you're getting out of your issue

  • Define the exact issue and the way it affects you. Now dare to be completely honest with yourself, and name the exact benefit(s) of keeping your ongoing issue around. Does it make you feel special, as if martyrdom elevates your sense of self? Are you grateful for the distraction from the powerful art you could be making? Does your issue prevent you from facing hard questions about the state of your art, and what your artistic future looks like? Is it a convenient way to avoid moving forward with your art and life? Or are you convinced that you can't make art without the tension of your issue informing your creative process? Think again! This is a dangerous myth that only serves to prevent you from doing exactly what you claim to want most: live a fully creative life. In any case, facing up to your shadow feelings will illuminate the necessary changes that need to be made. 


2) Ask yourself what it would FEEL like to be free of it

  • Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and think about your issue. What kind of emotion comes up when you think about releasing it? Does your body feel less tense, or your heart more open? You might feel shaky, tearful, or giddy. Take full stock of your feelings, both physical and emotional. Are you suddenly flooded with daydreams about new creative avenues for your art? Or do you simply see yourself getting a full night's sleep and facing each day with full clarity and purpose? Write down how your life and work will be different without this obstacle, and keep track of it you go forward through your process.

3) Tell a trusted friend or loved one about the issue

  • Who do you know and trust enough to share this process with? Chose wisely: someone who loves your work and believes in you can help keep you accountable to your goal of releasing and resolving your issue. Let this person know what's going on, and ask them to be part of your process. They will play a big part in your new post-issue paradigm and the way you will be living your life and making your work from now on. Treasure this person and let them know how valuable they are. Remember to thank them, and offer to do the same for them should they need it. 


4) Identify 10 resources to help you resolve your issue

  • You're a highly creative and resourceful person! Who and what can you turn to for help with your issue? Ask trusted friends and family for names of professionals who can guide your process (or just gather wisdom and counsel from people you know). Read as much as you can about your issue, and find examples of people who have resolved their own. Research current solutions for your issue, and find out who the leading figures are in that world. Read their works and case studies. Make a list of 10 action steps you can take to resolve your issue, and visualize yourself taking each one. This is your action plan.


5) Set a date for resolving the issue and stick to it

  • Time to put your plan into action! Pick a completion date that feels realistic, but don't wait too long (more than 6 weeks is too much time, unless there are special circumstances). Remember: your issue is not necessarily a problem that has to be solved (although with neglected health issues it is often the case that we DO need to take that approach, or risk a terrible worsening of the problem). Resolution and release are the goal, and this could mean a simple (though not easy!) paradigm shift in the way you approach your issue, and the effect it has on your life and art. You may even feel fresh creative energy start to flow right away, as you let go of your attachment to the issue and begin to move forward with your plan. Take time to note and celebrate each step, and reward yourself with something magical when you're all done. 
     

How to Destroy Perfectionism and Make Your Best Art Ever...

My fellow artists: let's permanently break up with perfectionism. Perfection, like control, is an illusion. The word implies an objective, static state that is literally impossible, because time is constantly taking its toll on everything. What appears to be perfect today has already begun to decay, and will soon look a whole lot different (maybe as soon as tomorrow!). If we decide we're going to focus on perfection we are basically saying that we do not respect the essential nature of being alive. Perfectionism, when taken to an extreme, can divorce us from the ferocious magic of our own mortality, and the myriad ways it can shape us for the better.

Especially in our creative work, perfection is (at best) a fleeting moment of recognition that sometimes things seem to line up in a way that is harmonious, and we arrive at a place that seems exactly as it should be. But the fact remains that this moment is temporary and will eventually pass (just as we will also). There is no "perfect" creative work. It simply does not exist. There is only what you have the courage to discover, shape, express, and share. To become a creative master you must let go of your idolatry of perfectionism and embrace a completely mysterious vision of your work and yourself. Dancing with this mystery IS the work, the process by which you will do great things.

So here are some ways to destroy perfectionism and make your best art ever:

Meditate on limitlessness

  • The effect of perfectionism is severely limiting. We believe that by pledging to make perfect works of art we will achieve the highest vision of what we're capable of, but like a mirage on the horizon that constantly recedes as we move forward, it is ever more elusive and distant. Driven by anxiety, consumed by the chase, we could miss valuable detours that lead to major insights and expansive growth. This is not to say that we shouldn't maintain quality standards: each of us gets to decide what level of work we refuse to fall below. But if we let perfectionism consume our creative process there is no room to breathe, let alone evolve and thrive. Resolve to give yourself a 30 day break from perfectionism. Create an image of something that symbolizes freedom and limitlessness, and hold it in your mind during meditation. Visualize it clearly and feel it helping you take back your power, as you breathe deeply and enjoy its soul-stirring effects. Understand that the intentions you have for your art have real effects on you and your audience. Trust in your creative process and know that you don't have to control how it moves through you. Allow it to work itself out and show you the way. [AUTHOR'S NOTE: I recorded a 12 minute Guided Breathing Meditation, with ambient music and narrative, that you can sign up for FREE in the box on the right of this page]

Expand your definition of beauty

  • Many perfectionists consider themselves to be connoisseurs of all things beautiful: houses, clothes, cars, and people. As mentioned above, perfectionism is limiting and can put a narrow filter on everything we see. Are you dismissive of anything and anyone that doesn't meet your beauty standards? You could be missing out on extraordinary sources of inspiration that can take you far outside the boundaries of your awareness, and force you to examine, and expand, the way you make your art. Loosen your grip on your aesthetic sensibilities and allow some fresh air and light to come into your creative vision. Breaking your own chains can feel scary at first, as you veer off into unknown and/ or unexamined territory, but what you find there could change everything. For starters, have a look at this and this and this. Notice what feelings come up as you peruse the images and read about how they were made. Release all judgement and embrace a new paradigm of awareness and understanding. Set your work free!

Examine other obsessive behaviors in your life

  • Obsessive perfectionism can be a sign that something is unbalanced in the mind. Human behavior is somewhat predictable in this way. If we are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety we may strive to micro-manage things around us, so that we can feel some sense of control. Are your perfectionistic work habits part of a larger pattern? Do you reject things and people that do not live up to your standards? If there is a larger problem that is not being addressed you could end up lonely, isolated, and joyless. Treat yourself with compassion! Your total health and wellness, which includes your physical AND mental health, is vital to your creative process, and to your continued ability to keep making art. There is no shame seeking help with maintaining your mental balance. In fact, we can all think of numerous examples of artists in all disciplines who struggled with mental illness. Ask friends for recommendations of good therapists and mental health workers. Call your insurance provider and find out what kind of mental health services are covered. Take full advantage of what you are allotted, and consider it a good investment in yourself and your art.

Reconnect with Beginner's Mind

  • I've written about the importance of staying in touch with Beginner's Mind before. For artists who have been at it for a long time and are more advanced in their work, it can be hard to remember those feelings of limitless wonder and discovery. Being in Beginner's Mind allows us to work without self-doubt or judgement, as we pick up, discard, and invent new creative ideas, and allow ourselves to dream about all the possibilities of our artistic projects. If we can no longer access Beginner's Mind through our own artistic category, we can find it by trying out other ways of making art, for example: a painter can take dance classes, a novelist can learn to blow glass, and an actor can try origami. You can even find your way back to Beginner's Mind by cooking a complicated meal or learning to bake a pie. Free of expectations or pressures, we can enjoy putting our creative talents to work on something completely new. As you work, notice the way that you are present in the moment and cherish each step forward. Take this feeling back to your current art project and let it be your guide. You might just create your best work ever!

Respect Your Own Artistic Evolution

  • Most of us can't see clearly when it comes to our personal creative process. Heads down in our work is not the ideal posture for perspective. By looking back can we can see just how far we've come, put our work in context, and better understand the kind of art we truly want to make. Write out a timeline of your artwork that shows how old you were, what tools or skills you learned, and what your major influences were for each major piece, and what (if anything) you learned from completing each one. Start with the first pieces you did in school (or wherever), the ones that sparked your passion for your art, and continue all the way up to your current piece. What do you notice about your evolution? When did you first start to feel your own artistic voice come through? If you haven't felt it yet, how can you bring it out? Are there any recurring blocks or interruptions in your journey? Is anyone interfering with your ability to do your best work, or are you holding yourself back out of fear? What is the nature of that fear and how is it tied to your perfectionism? How can you get free of it once and for all? Has anything surprised you about looking back on your work? Take some time to learn about yourself and what hinders, harms, motivates and inspires you as you work on your art. Give yourself credit for what you've accomplished! Go forward with respect and compassion for yourself, and trust that your creative process will take you exactly where you need to go.

5 Skills for Successful Artists...

The lives of artists are extraordinary, full of unexpected and unpredictable twists and turns. Being an artist is not for everyone, but if we decide we're going to go for it, it's important to make time for things like self-care and maintaining our creative inspiration. The same active attitude can be applied to everything we do. There are valuable skills we can learn that can propel us forward, like branding our art in a way that we love, teaching beginners so we can become masters, and collaborating with fellow artists on projects that can open our work to a wider audience. Here are 5 more tools to keep in your toolbox: 


1) Be as good as your word

  • Artists often encounter a cultural stigma that says we're "flaky", "spacey", "difficult" and just plain unreliable. In order to be taken seriously, and have our work taken seriously, we must be as good as our word. Never make a promise you can't keep! Before saying yes to anything, check your calendar and make the necessary calculations of time and resources. This goes for both social and work invitations. Always be on time! Being late says you do not value other people's time, not the message you want to convey to your clients and community. If, despite good planning, you are (for example) stymied by terrible traffic on your way to meet someone, text or call immediately to let them know you are running late. Once you arrive at your destination, apologize sincerely, and be extra present and accountable during your meeting. Develop a reputation for being as good as your word, and guard it with your life.

3) Keep a diverse contact list

  • Are all your friends artists? You might be living in a limiting bubble. Reach out to people in other fields and socialize with them. Many people in other professions view artists as living examples of passion and creative drive. These people often have the means to pay market value for your art. They can also give you a boost in the form of connections to people higher up in the art world, access to exclusive art events, or even just a good dinner when you're low and broke. When you receive an invitation from someone, show up on time (see #1 above) and be present, solicitous, and polite. Don't talk about yourself the whole time! Take an interest in what they do and do your best to follow along, even if it's way out of your knowledge base. Buy a box of thank you cards and send one after your meeting. Your path to success is very compelling, and some of these people may play a part in it, so check-in regularly with your contact list, and update them about your work, but don't be pushy (see #3 below). Maintain these connections and treat them with care.

3) Know how to talk about your work

  • Look, we get it: you're very compelled by your art. Your current project is obsessing you and taking up all your time. We want to hear about it, just not ALL about it. Understand that no one on earth is going to care about your art as much as you do. Regaling us with every minute detail is unnecessary, and often downright unbearable. A good rule is to assume that no one has more than 20 seconds of sincere interest to give you. This is why an elevator pitch matters so much: you can make maximum impact with minimal use of other people's time. Don't worry to much about the "pitch" part; you don't have to view each person you meet as a potential client that might want to buy your art (although experimenting with this paradigm can be instructive). Just find a concise and potent way to describe your work and your plans for it. Write down 5 different sentences that describe it, and cut and paste them into one powerful statement. Practice on a trusted friend until it feels normal to say it aloud. If you make your pitch and someone responds with, "tell me more!", or, "interesting!" then you can proceed cautiously. If you're met with a polite smile and/or change of subject, take a hint and follow along, or move on to another person who might be more amenable to your pitch. Just remember the cardinal rule of Show Biz: always leave them wanting more.

4) Cultivate a special social skill or hobby

  • You're not just the art you make! You're a highly creative person of unique vision, with a strong work ethic behind everything you do. Can you think of something in addition to your art that you can contribute to your community? Some kinds of hobbies and skills are highly desirable, and can grease social wheels and make you more likely to be included in community events [AUTHOR'S NOTE: I make pies. Mic drop.] Photographers are always welcome at art events and social gatherings, and so are musicians, but the rest of us need to dig deeper to find ways to contribute. Are you good with styling your own outfits? Help a harried hostess put her look together before a dinner party. Can you clean and de-clutter in a flash? Assist a local garage sale or block party. Do you enjoy arranging and decorating? Make yourself available to others at holidays to help with household cheer. Or just put on your work clothes and help a friend move house. You'll be the guest of honor at the housewarming party, where you can try out your elevator pitch from #3 above.

5) Visualize your success

  • What will success look like to you? What will your average day be like? How much time will you spend on work, and how much on play? Who will be your competitors? Will you travel for/with your art? Where will you go? Who will be with you? What new avenues of creativity will you explore? Visualize these things in as much detail as you can. This is not to say that you MUST manifest your success in these particular ways, just that you care enough and believe enough in yourself to dream big and work toward your goals accordingly. Let these images inform the choices that you make going forward, and prioritize the ones that matter most to you. It can also be helpful to ask yourself how you will FEEL when you are successful: for example, will you be invigorated, charging forward with new energy, or will you be relaxed at last, taking each new challenge in stride? This is something you can and should work on right now, in this moment. If you need an energy boost, work on your nutrition and sleep patterns. If you're constantly tense, look for new ways to de-stress and chillax. Grounding yourself in the here and now, and visualizing your success as an extension of it, will go a long way. Meditate on your success every day. Let yourself feel into the future, and come back to this moment refreshed and ready to work.
     

How to Jump from Hobbyist to Full-Time Artist...

From time to time, in our journey on this earth, it's good to ask ourselves some provocative questions. Whatever gets stirred up may feel uncomfortable, or even painful, but just might lead to a big forward leap. Here's a good question: who do we think we are? Some of us are artists right out of the gate, working hard on our art and carving a place for it in the world. Some of us are highly creative people, with dedicated hobbies that allow us to express ourselves and enrich our lives. And some of us are artists masquerading as hobbyists, unsure of how to become who we truly are. If you are in the latter category, you might need some help to get moving in the right direction. A creativity coach can help you sort out the particulars, and work with you to create a brand-new paradigm that reflects your identity as an artist. These 6 questions are a good place to start:

1) Are you willing to trade joy for hard work?

  • Your hobby is your refuge, your sanctuary, your place of enjoyment and expression. You are passionate about your hobby and enjoy talking about it with whoever will listen. You think about it when you're not working on it, happily dreaming and scheming about what you'd like to do next, or you forget it completely and return to it with relief and gratitude for all it gives you. In any case, your hobby is a source of joy, so much so that working on it doesn't feel like work. If you decide to turn your creative/artistic hobby into a full-time job then be prepared to fall out of love with it, at least for awhile. This is a necessary part of the process as you transition from hobbyist to working artist. During this transition you might experience a loss of joy as you slog through all the details of setting up your business, figure out where and how to sell your art, and wrestle with your schedule to accommodate family, clients, and work sessions, not to mention time to attend to your own self-care needs. The lives (and incomes) of artists are often unpredictable, and some people have a tough time staying connected to their joy in the midst of so much uncertainty. If you are willing to work harder than you've ever worked before, and if you have "spiritual stamina" and trust your process, your joy WILL return. Be careful not to tie it too tightly to external success or validation: take your joy from the work itself, as you did when you were a hobbyist. Love it more than it loves you.

2) What is your philosophy of being an artist?

  • What do you believe about being an artist? Take out a piece of paper and a pen and complete this sentence 10 times: "I believe that artists are ___________". Don't think about it too much, just write whatever comes to your mind, no matter how grand, silly, or judgmental it may be. Now step back and look at your answers. What do you see? Take an inventory of your beliefs and feelings, and understand that ultimately they will shape the life you live as an artist. If you believe that "only a starving artist is a true artist" you could end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy that is hard to undo. This is not to say that your thoughts are controlling the entire Universe, necessarily, only that the attitude that you bring to your life as an artist counts. Take the most practical and positive answers from your list of ten sentences and build those into a philosophy that informs every day of your life and work. For a good example, read the Holstee manifesto.

3) What does success look like to you?

  • This is hot button for most of my clients. It brings up all kinds of issues related to fear, anxiety, ego, and jealousy. Artists can't measure success the way most other professionals do, because our career path is so unpredictable and uncontrollable. The metric of success in our modern world is based primarily on accumulation of wealth, prestige and even fame. These things are elusive for the vast majority of artists (though not for our lack of trying!). In order to make art we must be engaged with the deepest regions of body, mind, heart, and soul, and this process is internal and private. Our job is to keep honing our skills and craft, keep producing good work, advocate for the art we make, and help the world understand its value. It's a good idea to make a list of successes that are both internal (related to the art we make and our creative goals) and external (pertaining to our finances and our art's visibility in the world). Knowing exactly how you define success, and weaving it into your larger philosophy of being an artist, will help you manifest your goals. One piece of advice I often give to my clients on the subject is THINK BIGGER!! Most of us start out with modest (safe) intentions that may not allow our full potential to develop. Miracles can happen when we move out of our comfort zone. Think bigger, artists! Now back it up with great work and the will to power.

4) Who do you know that you can consult for counsel and perspective?

  • Is there currently an artist in your life, someone whose work blows your mind? Even if you don't love their work you can still admire their drive and passion. Can you meet with this person and let them in on your plans to move from hobbyist to artist? If you are lucky enough to have someone in your circle that is already a professional artist, make sure to treat them respectfully and let them know how much you appreciate their taking the time to meet with you. Making art is often solitary, but artists that cluster together succeed together. We can inspire, excite, and promote each other, and we can share resources and help each other make new connections that can further our success. If you don't know anyone personally, you can hire a creativity coach to help you. Also, let your community know that you're looking to form an artist support group that meets monthly. Provide the meeting space and/or location, and come prepared with snacks and a piece of your work to show. Regular support as you move through your transition from hobbyist to artist will help you stay connected to your goals and ground them in reality.

5) Who are your top 5 living artists and how did they get where they are?

  • We are all in love with dead artists. Their work continues to inform and inspire us years, even centuries, after they've gone. As much as a knowledge of art history is valuable, we need to keep our eye on what is happening here and now in order to figure out how to succeed here and now. Make a list of your top 5 living artists and research how they arrived at a place of visible success. What kind of education and mentors did they have? Have they been through a crisis, and how did they handle it? Who represents their art to the world? What is their online presence like? How do they brand themselves? What do they have to say in interviews about their work? Do they have any regular collaborators? Have they partnered with corporations for any projects, or are they completely "indie"? What was their breakthrough moment, and how has their art progressed since then? Do they care about fame, celebrity and notoriety, courting the spotlight at every turn, or are they reclusive and cagey? Search all these things for clues about how you might live your life as an artist and help your own art breakthrough.

6) How will you protect and nurture your creative inspiration?

  • Burnout: it's real. Coal miners, single parents, and animal rescuers get it, and so do musicians, painters, actors, novelists, screenwriters, bloggers, fashion designers, dancers, and photographers. Hobbyists almost never burnout, because in general they spend less time on their hobby (compared to working artists), and are not subjected to the pressures of having to sell it to the outside world. When we are actively making art to pay our bills, and working toward visible/tangible success, we need to draw from our well of creative inspiration every day. Even if we are in great physical shape we might feel fatigued or even exhausted if we're not consciously filling up the well again. There are many ways to do this, including regular meditation (enter your email in the box on the top right to get my free Guided Breathing Meditation) and self-care, but more than anything we need to keep renewing our creative inspiration. Each of us is responsible for maintaining our creative spark. This particular process is as important for the success of our work as learning how to brand and sell the work itself. If you decide to make the leap from hobbyist to artist, understand that staying connected to inspiration is your superpower: an inspired artist is an invincible artist!

6 Ways to Propel Your Art Forward...

Living the life of a hard-working artist has its rewards, but it can also be a gnarly slog. We can work so hard for so long, without recognition or success, that we can feel utterly lost and unsure of how to find our way back, let alone take a huge leap forward. It's important to keep our perspective, and remember why we chose to live this life (self-expression, meaning, passion, contributing to our community, etc). But it's also crucial that we know how to get ourselves back on track and primed to meet our goals, whatever they may be. As we get closer to achieving them, we might even decide that they are way too small! A creativity coach can help you re-assess your goals and form an entirely new paradigm for yourself and your art. We begin with the interstitial aspects of your life, actions that support the larger work you do as an artist. Attending to these things can unlock new sources of energy, inspiration, and an authentic vision of yourself, which can change everything. Here are 6 ways to take a great leap forward: 

Put self-care at the top of your list

  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: artists need to prioritize self-care. We are sensitive people who draw on our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual resources in everything we do. Many of us are living in circumstances that are less than ideal, or even downright squalid. Even if we're living in comfort, our health and wellness can be severely compromised if we don't form and maintain regular good habits that nourish and sustain us. Eat nutritiously, exercise regularly, and attend to recurrent health issues if you have them. Call your insurance provider and find out exactly what is covered under your plan, then take full advantage of it: schedule a check-up, and arrive prepared with questions about your current health issues for your doctor to answer (and ask your family about your genetic inheritance and find out if you're at risk for diseases). Planned Parenthood is there to provide you with quality birth control, education, and resources for your sexual health. Know your physical limits and learn how to thrive within them. Vibrant health and wellness is magical. Take the energy and strength that returns to you, and pour it into your art.

Meditate Regularly

  • Do not neglect the ferocious power of your mind! If you're not meditating regularly you're letting a huge resource rot. Got time to check social media, read news headlines, and make coffee? You have time to meditate. Meditation is your brain's way of de-fragmenting, clearing, and re-booting. It puts us in a deep state of calm that can help us better deal with our trials and tribulations. If that's not enough, it also gives us access to the deepest regions of our creativity, and all our dreams, schemes, and visions. Start meditating and you just might free up that genius idea you've been longing for. I designed a 12 minute Guided Breathing Meditation to help you do just that, so sign up in the box at right and try it out for free.

Schedule a weekly Power Hour to organize ideas and inspiration

  • This is your time to stir the pot and get things cooking. Use Evernote to gather all the interesting articles, images, and links that you find during the week into one place. This is also where you transcribe and organize any important notes from your notebook (or enter directly into the app via your phone). Organize them by project, date, subject, or any way that makes sense to you. Set a timer for 60 minutes on Sunday nights and read through each one. What are the most valuable takeaways? What can you use on your journey forward? What do you see when you step back and look at the bigger picture? Identify any recurring themes and list them in your notes. Finish each session by making a list of questions, comments, and ideas that come to you from reviewing your collection. Taking dedicated time to perform these tasks will enrich your understanding of your creative vision, and help you go deeper into it, where the real gold is waiting to be found. 

Read biographies of famous artists

  • We lost two titans of popular music this year, David Bowie and Prince. How did they get to the top of the stratosphere? What was their family of origin, and how did it affect the choices they made in their lives? Who helped them along the way, and who tried to keep them down? How were they discovered? What personal and professional setbacks did they face? What is controversial about them and why? Choose people in your artistic discipline, and then pick a few more who make a different kind of art. What do they have in common? Any familiar themes or recurring issues? The lives of artists are endlessly compelling and inspiring. Read about them and walk in their footsteps. You could stumble on a brand-new way of making your art and/or connecting with the public. 

Brainstorm your finances with a trusted friend

  • Let's face it: artists are not typically gifted in this area. We need help to recognize our limitations and see the bigger picture. Many of us work crummy, menial jobs that leave us time to make art but don't allow us to do much more than pay our bills. We might think we don't have to "worry" about money, because there is so little of it to manage. But allowing a trusted friend and/or professional (ie someone who knows much more about finances than we do) to take a look at our situation, and suggest ways that we could improve it, can give us new insight into how we might turn our art into a thriving business. Also, let's make sure that we have some kind of retirement plan in place! Without the 401K that comes with a "straight job" it's not as easy to visualize what retirement should be. Don't depend on inheritance(s) or support from a spouse to see you through. While it's true that "artists never retire", it's also true that aging takes a toll on our bodies and can make it much harder to produce our art as the years go by. Schedule monthly automatic deductions from your checking account into a retirement account. Start the process and let it inform all the financial choices that you make.

Love someone deeply

  • I know what you're thinking: what the heck does this have to do with making my art? The answer is simple: everything. An artist's inner life is dramatically compelling, often much more so than the outside world. We can get so entangled with our inner lives that we completely forget to be present with our loved ones. Self absorption is not sustainable! Loving and caring for others helps re-orient our perspective, and reminds us that we are more than just the art we make. Perform regular acts of thoughtfulness and care with those closest to you, and be present in this place of selflessness. Ask about them, and talk about things other than your art. Be a good listener, and provide advice (if you have it) when asked. Our larger community is also worthy of our attention. Consider ways that you can contribute through advocacy and volunteering. Don't overthink it, just do it often and well. Your heart will fill up, you'll feel supported, and you'll have plenty of renewed energy to bring to your work when your next creative lightning strike shows up.

How to Overcome "Impostor Syndrome" and Rule the World With Your Art...

The most revealing question I ask my individual coaching clients is, "what do believe about being an artist?" Although there are myriad ways to answer, most people tell me something like, "Oh... uh... I'm not sure that I would call myself that, actually. I mean, I'm pretty creative, I guess... but I don't see myself as like, an actual artist."

News flash: no one gives it to you. You have to take it. Like, for yourself. Right now.

If you are drawn to the arts as more than just a profession, if you feel it as a calling, then you are an artist, even if you have not yet achieved what you aspire to. Beyond that you're simply in development: you're a young artist, a working artist, a mature artist of vision and wisdom, or any stage in between. Whatever; you're an artist. Own it!

Easier said than done. Impostor Syndrome is the bane of artists everywhere. It's the feeling that no matter how dedicated we are, how much work we produce, and how much success we may achieve along the way, at some point we're going to be "found out" and exposed as a hack, or even a fraud. This underlying fear can cause tremendous anxiety and make our life much more difficult than it should be. If we are afflicted by impostor syndrome, external success and validation might not cure it. In fact, our anxiety might worsen as we become more visible to the world and our work comes under greater scrutiny.

So how do we overcome Impostor Syndrome and become who we truly are? Here are 6 ways to kick its ass and rule the world with your art:

1) Become an advocate for your art

  • Artists, more than anyone, have to advocate for ourselves and our work. Advocacy is about publicly standing up for something that you believe in. It's a valuable skill that you can use in other parts of your life according to your values and beliefs, but start with your art and make it count. Help the world understand why your work matters, and be quietly relentless about it (see #2 below for help getting started). Let people know you take it seriously, and keep your community updated on your hard work and progress. One valuable way to advocate for your work is to get right back up after you've taken a hit: did you get a bad review? Did someone name-check you in a public list of has-beens? Were you left out of an important show of local artists' work? Release something magical that you've been working on. Make some noise about it on social media. Celebrate your release publicly with friends. Now get back to work!

2) Write the best elevator pitch ever

  • A creativity coach can help you with this one (actually, with all 6 of these things!). Your elevator pitch is your front line of advocacy, so make it count. Keep it short, sweet, and current. Practice it with friends and get used to the feel of it in your mouth. Make a list of action verbs and potent adjectives to describe what you're working on, and have them ready for updates on your pitch. Use it often, and be friendly and sincere when you deliver it. Be prepared to answer any questions that may result from your pitch, and understand how to gage someone's interest level. Remember to follow up with people by phone, email, on social media, or in person according to their preferred method of contact. 

3) Spend time with your greatest champions and thank them

  • Who are the people in your life who reflect your vision of yourself as an artist? Hang out with them often, and get used to the feeling of being your authentic self in public. Keep them updated about your work, and take a genuine interest in their lives and what they do. Support their dreams as much as they support yours by showing up for their successes and being fully present. Seek their counsel and listen when they talk. Share resources, alliances, connections, and opportunities with them. Be kind, loyal, and forgiving, and let them be the same way with you.

4) Find your critical voice and use it to advocate for others

  • Here's another way to use your advocacy skills: you are a real-live artist with real-live opinions, obsessions, and loves. Whose work do you love and why? What is most valuable about their work? How does it compare to its competitors? You don't have to write a term paper, just point out hidden gems and help them sparkle. Curate your choices, and understand that they reflect your larger aesthetic in the eyes of the public. You never know who might be watching... magic happens when artists support and promote each other's work!

5) Be your own ferocious editor

  • No one is more of an expert on your work than you. That's not to say that you shouldn't ask (or hire) others to help you edit and curate; feedback is essential for your growth and progress. But strive for a good level of objectivity, and be brave enough to see which parts of your work are connecting with the public, and which ones should be strengthened (or left behind). Avoid becoming a substance-less content machine. Develop a sense of how your work is being received by the public, so you don't give them more than they can digest. Provide quality over quantity, and thank those who recognize your efforts to do so.

6) Become a body language master

  • Fake it till you make it, artists! Not convinced? There is genuine science to support this maxim, and if you read Amy Cuddy's book and use her techniques you'll be amazed at how well it works. Part of overcoming the feeling of being an impostor is grounding yourself in your body, and using it to help you become who you truly are. This isn't about working out or strenuous yoga, although the book suggests a few specific postures that may feel strange at first. Give it a try and let the results speak for themselves. AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've road-tested many of these methods in my own life and career, and I still use them and recommend them regularly to clients.

 

5 Ways to Build Your Brand Without Losing Your Soul...

What a strange new world we live in, here in the 21st century! In addition to [staying on top of our work load], maintaining our inspiration, and being consistently prolific, artists and creative people are now expected to present a cohesive vision of our personal brand whenever we do business. If done correctly, branding can make clear to the world who we are and what we do, attract our ideal customer or client, and help us stand out above the competition. But there is a dark side to branding, one that can take a toll on our well being and sense of self if we're not careful. Because of its intense focus on image, and because of our culture's belief that it's the only effective way of doing business via the internet, branding can sometimes be extremely intimidating to sensitive creative people (especially at the beginning of our careers when we're not exactly sure who we are and why we make art!). The very concept of branding comes from corporate America, and has long been a potent marketing strategy employed by everyone from greedy advertisers to shady politicians. Branding something as personal as our cherished work can feel uncomfortable and even phony, as we try to condense the many elements of personality, inspiration, and aesthetic tastes that comprise our artistic Self. We might fear that something essential will get lost in the translation, and we'll end up feeling like an impostor, hiding behind an ill-fitting costume. 

Fortunately we already possess a magic power that can help us make sense of branding: our creativity. Using the same instincts that drive our artistic endeavors, we CAN take control and craft an image that reflects our authentic Self. Here are 5 ways to build your brand without losing your soul:

1) Perform regular updates of your brand's aesthetic

  • Just as our sources of inspiration (and the ways they affect us) are always changing, understand that your brand is constantly in flux. While it's true that our core creative values and fundamental objectives for our business should remain steady, the ways in which we express these things through our brand, such as images, fonts, and the text we write to describe our work, can and should keep changing. Not only will we honor our natural aesthetic evolution, but our audience will stay engaged with our journey if we keep it fresh and compelling. An occasional re-fresh of our brand's look and feel can also attract new fans who are drawn to our new look. Follow some artists and creative people whose work you love, and stay up-to-date with their brand changes. Consider a regular, twice-yearly re-fresh, and collect some fonts and images for use along the way.

2) Make activism part of your online presence

  • Are you passionate about environmental causes? Would you do anything for the ASPCA? Do you care about social justice, and the conditions of homeless people in your community? Make this clear on your website, and blog, Tweet, and email about your cause. Don't be afraid of turning off prospective clients or employers. Creative people are valued for our passion! Typically we contribute to community wellbeing through our art and creative work, so it's natural that we should take an active interest in our community. You might even consider partnering with your chosen cause and putting together a benefit event for them, featuring local artists. You'll attract new eyes to your work, and gain valuable insight into ways that art and business can work together in service of the greater good. 

3) Endorse products and services that are not produced by corporations

  • Little companies and local workers need your help, so give them a boost with occasional shout-outs. Devoted to a certain acupuncturist? In love with a magical skin care product? Collect the work of a talented glass maker? Mention their work on your blog and in your Tweets, and don't forget to include links. Consider being photographed with some of their products and post them on your blog and/or website. Let them know how much you value their work, and publicly thank them for contributing to your well being. Don't forget blogs and other sources of information and services. AUTHOR'S NOTE: one of my all-time favorite beauty blogs is BeautyLiesTruth.Com, run by two Brooklyn women who are devoted to products that won't harm us or the environment. They've done thorough research and are constantly updating their list of excellent items for all your beauty needs.

4) Promote the work of esteemed competitors and colleagues

  • It may seem counter-intuitive, but promoting work done by your competitors is actually good for your professional reputation. It's a strong statement about your knowledge of, and engagement with your corner of your industry. Whether you're an authorbloggerdesignermusicianactor, or craft maker, take time to look around at other professionals and identify people whose work moves and inspires you (if you're not quite where you want to be in your career, it's OK to chose people whose level you aspire to reach).  It's important to curate your choices, because they are an indication of your personal aesthetic. Make sure that you include a description of exactly why you enjoy someone's work, and where their work can be found online and in the world. Keep checking in with your choices, and follow their work as it progresses. You might even attract their attention and be able to collaborate with them, a great move toward growing your audience.

5) Keep a sense of humor

  • You're not an automated robot creator, you're a human being with real live feelings and a genuine sense of humor. Don't be afraid to show it once in awhile. Blog, Tweet, and talk about your favorite sources of funny stuff. This is an area where prospective clients might be turned off, so keep in mind what is NSFW and don't cross that line. 

The Only Thing Prince Ever Did That Truly Shocked Me...

Look up across the street. See that lamppost? Walk toward it a few feet... there. That's how close I was to Prince a few years back, when he and his all-female power trio 3rd Eye Girl came to Seattle to play the Showbox, a venue that seats around 1,000 people. Let me repeat: I saw Prince perform in a venue that seats around 1,000 people. It was a dream come true, is what I'm saying. But this is not a story about dreams... It is an absolute, true-life tale of something truly shocking that I saw Prince do with my own eyes.


Let's back track a bit, to junior high and high school. Prince was everywhere, all around us, all the time. His voice, his songs, his extraordinary looks and magical, scandalous, gender-bending style. He was a legend long before most of us even graduated, and we were still figuring out how to do things like drive, dance, and sex each other, all of which Prince's songs helped us enjoy. Now, I'm not saying that we ALL lost our virginity to his music (for the record: I didn't), but you could say that we, Generation X, metaphorically lost it to the tiny, mighty, purple shaman. And it was FANTASTIC!!! 


What you have to remember about Sex Prince is that during the public health scare and moral panic of the AIDS era, he was "not a woman, not a man", not repressed, and not about to apologize for his message, which was this: ladies, gentlemen, do sex to each other, do it a lot, enjoy it, and don't judge anyone else for doing it how they want to. And yeah, protect yourself, certainly, but protect your health, not your mind: be open to love and sex, and celebrate this thing we call life. It was the right vibe at the right time, is what I'm saying. And we loved him for it. But it deeply offended many people, including some puffed-up politicians who decided, via a laughably unqualified Senate committee, to give in to pressure by a small group of upset (uptight?) citizens and create the Parental Advisory warning sticker. The sticker got slapped on a bunch of records including "Purple Rain", because of the lyrical content of a certain song. Now, I'm not going to go into my contempt for this fiasco, except to say that if we censor the work of our artists we are no longer a true democracy. It's complete bull****, is what I'm saying. Enough said.


At this point I am compelled to draw your attention to the part of Prince that was always on full display, yet never seems to get praised enough: his music. There simply aren't enough words to express his virtuosity, his facility, his swash-buckling, dare-devil feats of recording and performance. You already know about his soul-shaking guitar playing, and we could live forever on Prince's singing voice alone. His mastery of the recording studio is the stuff of legend (start with his 1978 album "For You" and know this: he played all the instruments himself. He was 18 at the time). But he also performed countless live shows in which he was singer, dancer, bandleader, storyteller, and promoter of other talented musicians, including women (in fact, the degree to which he championed extraordinary female musicians, dancers, studio engineers, and artists has not often been repeated by men at the top of the music biz, and it should be). Oh, and he never slut-shamed them, going so far as to put himself in similar poses, outfits, makeup, and scenes as the women in his musical landscape, and making it all look as natural as breathing. 


Which brings us back to 3rd Eye Girl at the Showbox. Deep breath...


I need to tell you something: I had never seen a Prince show before. Oh sure, I had seen him perform on TV countless times, and I'd seen all of his movies. "Purple Rain" and "Sign of the Times" contain huge concert sequences that blew my mind and made me long to be part of his audience, but I was too young and/or broke to attend his shows during his heyday. I had to content myself with his dazzling but infrequent appearances on late night, morning shows, and Oprah. But none of this prepared me for what I saw when Prince took the stage that night. Hold on, I need a sec...


Can I just tell you how many live shows I've experienced? I started performing onstage when I was 7 years old, and I still do it regularly. Between the family concerts I've attended (my parents were professional Symphony musicians who performed 5 nights a week), the countless singing recitals (my own and those of my students), back-up singer gigs, gigs with my own bands, tours, music festivals, and national and local shows I've probably seen or been part of more than 1,000 live performances. I understand how it works, is what I'm saying. And I've watched some incredible things happen onstage, in real time flesh-and-blood glory. But this was beyond any of that.

Prince looked in our eyes. Let that sink in for a minute.


Here was a mega-uber-super-star, a titan of music, a god/human hybrid with 100,000 hours of highly-stylized live performance experience on the biggest stages of the world. Yet took the time to look around at us, smile, and take us in. I recognized a genuine human being in Prince, a person who could have easily hid behind dark glasses, or a heavy veil, or the frosty reserve of an entitled diva. But he did none of these things. He simply looked at us with his big, brown eyes and let us see him. I won't lie: I burst into tears. I turned to bae, who had bought the tickets, and I screamed out (above all the other screaming... there was so much screaming...), "HE LOVES US!!! HE REALLY LOVES US!!!" He loved us as much as we loved him. He really did. 


So thank you, sweet Prince. Thanks for being part of my life since before I can remember. Thanks for your support of female musicians, which was not lost on me. And most of all, thanks for keeping your heart open for so long, and inviting us to do the same. I won't ever forget that night. It moved me deeply, and the thought of it will always bring tears to my eyes. Tears are falling as I write this. Before you ask: they are purple.
 

Ten Wellness Tips for Artists...


Artists and creative people work hard to balance our external and internal lives. Outside we're hustling to pay our bills, fulfill our responsibilities to loved ones, and make progress on whatever creative project is obsessing us. Inside we're engaged with the many ideas, dreams, and visions that drive our creative work, and shape the way we exist in the world. There is a strange dichotomy at work in the soul of a creative person, whereby we are absolutely compelled to create by powerful forces that feel as real as the outside world we live in, yet they are completely invisible to others. This process can be so engaging that we sometimes feel like we've crossed an ocean and climbed a mountain in a single day, though in fact what we actually did was sit at our workspace, bent over a project, making small and deliberate changes to it. After this kind of dedicated devotion, the outside world can feel flat, and we might struggle to feel connected to anyone or anything in it. We have to pull ourselves out of it and move on with our day, juggling all the aspects of our existence related to our survival and community connection, while our inner life continues to spin. With so much going on, and so much at stake, we are highly prone to exhaustion and burnout. 


In a previous post I mentioned the importance of establishing and maintaining a baseline of health and wellness. This baseline can act as a protective boundary, remedy, and guide if we stay in touch with our needs and tend to them regularly. Here are 10 health and wellness tips specifically for artists, so we can re-charge, re-boot, and emerge better than ever: 


Walk around your neighborhood without music in your ears

  • Re-orient your hearing by leaving your music player and/or phone at home. Walk at a leisurely pace. Listen to the sounds of your neighborhood. Breathe deeply and look around you. Notice tiny moments of beauty and calm. Observe the weather and enjoy the season. Feel yourself present in your body, in your home, in this moment. Refresh your total awareness and get your mind and body back in the same place. Now you can day dream and let your thoughts wander as you think and dream about your creative projects.


Take a power nap

  • Stop reading this and go lie down. Set a timer for 20 minutes (not more than 25). Get comfortable, close your eyes, slow your breathing. Make sure the room is dark, cool, and quiet enough to prevent the outside world from interfering. If your mind is racing, breathe in for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts. Napping gives your entire system time to re-boot. Nap well, and wake up calm and refreshed. 


Do some dedicated emotional releasing

  • Laughter, crying, both at the same time. Yelling, sobbing, shaking or anything that promotes release of pent-up emotional forces. Artists have complex inner lives that often clash with the outside world. Our sensitivity is our strength, but it can cause problems if we don't honor it by staying on top of our emotions. The only goal is freedom from fear, so no need to turn this into a chore. Emotional clearing can be done in private, or with a therapist, lover, or trusted friend, as long as they can give you the space to let it all go. Trust that this activity is part of your wellness regime, and go for it. 

Read for pleasure

  • Reading is a kind of cranial sorcery. Our brains conjure up vivid images that appear in front of us, as real as the page they are printed on. The true magic is that these images, no matter how much detail the author uses to describe them, are unique to each of us. Reading provokes imagination and improves concentration, two elements that creative people need in abundance. Read a gripping fiction book, and not on a Kindle! Hold the book in your hands, turn the pages, and feel its magic working on your thirsty brain.  


Clean and declutter your living space

  • Out with the old and in with the new. Artists need fresh energy and inspiration to do our best work. Cleaning and straightening our living space is a potent way to honor ourselves and our place in the world. If the KonMari Method isn't your thing, just take out all the trash and recycling, clean some surfaces, and de-clutter a closet or two. Open curtains and windows, and let some fresh air circulate. Water all your plants. Light candles and put out some flowers. Arrange some beautiful things on a mantle or windowsill. Burn some sage or incense. Sit back in your space and enjoy the vibe. 


Get some acupuncture

  • An arcane and mysterious healing art from China. No one knows exactly how it works, but the results are so effective that acupuncture is now covered by most American insurance plans (although usually only for a few sessions). Community acupuncture is low-cost and just as effective. Tell your acupuncturist what part of your body is bothering you, or if your immunity is low. He or she will then apply tiny needles (you'll barely feel them!) to specific points along your hands, feet, face, and sometimes torso while you recline and relax, breathing deeply, for 30-60 minutes. Afterward, most people feel a noticeable improvement that continues for days, and will keep improving with further sessions. Still not convinced? A former junkie once told me, "the dreamy, creamy sleep you feel during an acupuncture session is the closest thing you can get to a heroin high." AUTHOR'S NOTE: Disclaimer: Do your own research about acupuncture, and consult your doctor before trying acupuncture. 


Express gratitude to everyone in your life

  • Feeling downhearted and blue? Get yourself in a state of gratitude, and put it into action. Go to every person that you love and care about. Use words, be present, and maintain eye contact. Acknowledge the awesomeness of the person sitting across from you, and specifically call out why they mean so much to you. Spend an entire day on this activity and watch how it transforms your perspective: you are blessed, lucky, and ready to take on the rest of your life.  


Snack awesome

  • Creative people can work with an intensity and focus that obliterates concern for everything except what's right in front of us. There are good and bad things about this kind of concentration. On the one hand it enables us to synthesize staggering amounts of ideas, experiments, dreams, and passions that translate as huge leaps forward in our work. On the other hand we sometimes (often) forget to take care of our physical needs when we're in this state, and end up utterly wiped out. Plan to snack before you actually need to do it, and chose whole foods like nuts, vegetables, fruit, seeds, and grains that can balance blood sugar and sustain your energy. Pack them in your bag and put them next to you while you work. Set a timer and chow down when it rings. Feed your body, feed your art.


Take a complete media break

  • Step away for an entire day. Trust that your friends, acquaintances, crushes, and media stars will be OK on their own for 24 hours, and that the news will still be happening tomorrow. If you're feeling brave, don't text, email, or call anyone during that time. Check in with yourself every time you have the urge to check social media: what do you need, want, think, dream in this moment? Perform each task in your day mindfully, and breathe deeply. Enjoy the gentle calm (and laser-focus!) that returns to your daily routine, and sleep deeply at night.


Meditate

  • The science is conclusive: meditation is magic. Take 10-30 minutes in your morning and sit still, eyes closed, breathing deeply and calming your mind (or you can do a guided meditation). Don't judge your thoughts no matter how anxious, fidgety, bored, or spaced-out they might be. Just keep returning to deep breathing and stillness. The ability meditate is a kind of super-power. Many regular meditators report that its effects spread through every area of their lives, rendering them much more calm under stressful circumstances, and enabling them to be fully present and enjoy life in a deeper and more meaningful way. Best of all: it's completely free.

To Master Your Art, Teach Beginners...

Many of us are competent creative people. Some of us are highly skilled, maybe even gifted. But there are very few Masters of the creative arts. Why? Because it takes a dedicated commitment over many years, with plenty of missteps and mistakes along the way, to achieve that distinction. A Master creative has typically undergone several major existential crises related to their life purpose, and what the ultimate legacy of their art will be. When they come out the other side they have usually made a great leap forward in their work and are able to articulate it to others, so that the world may learn from their experiences. Consistent excellence is the most identifiable characteristic of a Master artist's work, but most Masters also bring a visionary quality to their efforts that is harder to define. The visionary work of Master creatives is the highest artistic level that the human race has to offer. 


There is no shortcut to becoming a Master. It is not a title bestowed upon us by others, nor one that we can buy, or even try on. It is a state of being that we choose to create for ourselves over time, by virtue of our hard work and ceaseless passion. It is not an easy road, and it can be dangerous to your health and wellness if you're not constantly working to keep these things in balance. Achieving Mastery does not even guarantee that your work will be recognized in your lifetime! Yet despite these trials, the rewards can be great. If we endeavor to take up this challenge we will be utterly transformed by the process, as our most essential Self is continuously revealed. We will be guided by an inner voice that grows in us and speaks to us, until its presence becomes as solid and trustworthy as the ground we walk on. Our Mastery will extend itself across everything we do, and we will be able to serve our loved ones and community at a much higher level. Best of all, our contribution will be secure, as we pass on our secrets to those coming up behind us, and encourage them to express their own Mastery.


So what can we do to embrace the challenge of becoming a Master creative? Start by teaching your craft to complete beginners. Sound counter-intuitive? It's not. A beginner is raw, untested and rife with potential, but the learning-curve of any art or craft is steep. It's true that beginner's mind contains its own joys, yet many promising novices will lose steam and give up without a living, breathing example of Mastery to guide them. You may be able to explain and demonstrate the basics of your art to a beginner, but if you can ignite a lasting passion for it in their heart you are truly on your way to becoming a Master. 

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when teaching beginners:


Honor each student as an individual

  • Meet them where they are, every day. Whether they're inspired and focused or exhausted and blurry, acknowledge their state of being and don't try to alter it too much. There is one exception, however: in service of your student's learning process, you must learn to disarm frustration and procrastination quickly. Remind them that the work is its own reward, and learning to do it in the face of discouragement is part of the process. Remember to taylor your language to theirs: use their own metaphors when giving instructions and praise. Make sure to ask open-ended questions, and listen carefully to the answers. Listen more than you speak!

 

Understand that each student has the potential to become a Master

  • Treat each student equally, and watch for unconscious biases in yourself. If you believe that only "the quiet ones" will turn into Masters, you will neglect all the others, and you may miss out on a miracle. Remember that your job is to reflect a vision of every student's Mastery, every time you teach them. Take a genuine interest in their creative process, and let them know that you believe in them. Be generous with praise when working with beginners, and make note of each step forward in their progress, no matter how small. 


Your presence says as much as your instruction

  • Dress and groom yourself neatly: nothing sloppy or unkempt. But for goodness sake, wear it lightly! Be at ease with yourself, never formal or formidable, always approachable. As you establish a rapport with students and they start to trust you, you might become the recipient of some very personal sharing. Breathe deeply and remain calm under any circumstances. Never judge a student, but be compassionate and kind. This is the reason that you must always maintain good boundaries with students. NEVER act inappropriately with a student! Never flirt, tease, or act suggestively toward them. Treat them respectfully, always.


Share your greatest sources of inspiration

  • Be generous with resources: reading and movie lists, online courses related to your art or craft. Be quick with suggestions when their inspiration is flagging, and draw from the lives of famous artists before the internet who forged inspiration from whatever was right in front of them. Describe significant breakthroughs that came from great inspiration on your own journey. Stress the importance of constantly feeding one's own inspiration, and the value of curiosity, exploration and discovery along the way. Point out community events that they can attend and be inspired by works in different kinds of art and creativity, and encourage them to play around in genres different from their own.


Provide personal examples of moving past fear

  • Use select stories from your life and creative process to show how you got through times of low energy and existential depression. Remind them that the lives of artists contain many ups and downs as we learn to navigate the vast, uncharted waters of our talents and passions. Suggest meditation as a means of calming anxiety. Stress the importance of community over isolation, and encourage your students to collaborate with others. It's fine to provide a sympathetic ear for a student's angst, but know when a situation is beyond your ability, and be ready to suggest further help, like a therapist or other mental health professional. 
     

5 Tips for Artists About To Turn 30...


First of all, congratulations! You have beaten a certain notorious statistic and are about to make a huge leap forward in your life and your art. Turning 30 changes you, permanently, if you're lucky. It's the decade when we get serious about work and right livelihood, two terms that sound similar but are not necessarily the same thing. It's also the time when we start to figure out what love means to us, and how much we can learn from it. What you do and how you live in your 30's will set you up for the rest of your life. Set aside some time to consider the following as you cross over to the next realm:


Establish A Baseline of Health and Wellness

  • Your physical health is one thing. Your overall wellness is another. There is certainly some overlap between them, but you can be in perfect physical health while still being "unwell". Your art will suffer greatly if your health and wellness are not in balance. Do you feel connected to your loved ones and community? Are you certain of your value to them, and to yourself? Do you have enough emotional energy in reserve to handle a crisis, or are you giving all your power away to others, or to a terrible job? Do you have some kind of spiritual and/or moral compass that you can rely on when things get rough? Do you love someone who actually loves you back? All of these things contribute to your wellness. Tend to them carefully, and you could experience a radical improvement in your quality of life. Find out exactly what is covered by your health insurance, and take full advantage of it. Get a complete physical and keep track of the results. Take care of any outstanding health issues, and start tracking any ongoing ones. Recognize any ongoing mental health issues, seek help from the right professionals, and get support from reliable sources. Understand your digestive and menstrual cycles, and observe the effects of what you eat on how you feel. Boost your immunity. Learn your family's health history, and manage all risk factors that are within your control. Get vaccinated. Establish a regular exercise routine, and know your physical limits so you can push them once in awhile. Breathe deeply every day and sleep restfully every night. Meditate, even if it's just for 10 minutes a day!


Start Thinking About Your Legacy

  • In our 20's we are immortal. We don't acknowledge the shortness of life because we don't have to. Our bodies bounce back to factory-model condition, our whims change like weather systems, and our sense of time is unlimited. We make art with abandon, exploring, discovering, blundering, and making occasional breakthroughs. We might forget to eat, sleep, bathe, or pay our bills, so certain are we of the unceasing river of time in front of us. Once we turn 30 we start to become aware that there are only 24 hours in a day. What are we focused on? Can we identify recurring themes in our work, and let them point us toward a new understanding of ourselves and our art? What role does ambition play in our journey? What, if any, past creative successes can we use as a starting point for what we want to do next? What do we want people to feel when they interact with our art? More specifically, what do we want our artistic legacy to be? If we don't ask and answer these questions, and find a way to articulate them clearly, we might find ourselves at the mercy of others who decide that they know who we are and what we're about. There is nothing worse than feeling that your art is misunderstood! Your legacy is your responsibility. Pick up this paradigm and sign it with your blood, sweat, and love.


Develop Critical Awareness

  • If you want to find your place in the world, learn how to deconstruct it. Can you see behind the curtain of our media circus? Do you understand our political system and the ways it affects us, and the ways in which we as artists can affect it? Do you recognize how much corporate interests shape not just our political system, but our entire culture? Do you know how to read between the lines, see beyond the edges, and hear beyond the noise? Don't be easily swayed by passion and rhetoric. Understand the difference between "facts" and "truth" as they are presented in our media, and seek reliable sources of both. In addition to looking at the world around us, developing a strong critical awareness is about knowing and understanding ourselves, so that we can make informed choices in our personal lives rather than blind ones. Can you tell the difference between someone you like and someone that truly compels you? Do you know why you're drawn to some people, but not others? People that compel us may not be good for us, and we can save ourselves a lot of grief if we avoid entangling with them. On the other hand, sometimes they can inspire a huge burst of passion and energy that changes the shape of our lives for the better. Only when we truly know ourselves can we know how to love someone else. There is a certain amount of psychology involved here, and some of it can be painful, as you sort through your past and move through your process of self-inquiry. You might want to enlist a professional for help. Be gentle with yourself, and be quiet in your mind so you can listen to your instincts (regular meditation will help!). Learn to identify trustworthy people and keep them close in your life and heart.


Draw Effective Boundaries Around Your Time and Energy

  • You understand that there are only 24 hours in a day. Some of those are reserved for sleeping. Some are for working. Some for making your art. Some of those hours should be for your loved ones and community. This is a valuable investment of your time and energy that can restore and renew you. The trick is knowing when you've given too much. If you find yourself dreading the things you need to do and the people you need to do them with, it's time to re-examine your boundaries. Do you know how to say 'no thank you' to someone or something? Can you clearly articulate your reasons for opting out, and do you know when to keep them to yourself and just stick to "no thanks"? Are you able to distinguish between duty, friendship, family and favors? If time away from your art feels like a sacrifice, can you find a way to re-boot your entire schedule and let your loved ones know that things are going to be different for a bit, while you work on your craft? Banish guilt and replace it with genuine responsibility to your loved ones. Once good boundaries are in place, take extra care of your relationships by living up to your social commitments and being fully present when you're there. 

 

Practice Engaged Compassion and Generosity

  • The world doesn't owe us a thing, but we owe each other the world. The future of our planet isn't looking so good, and many of us are unsure of what we can do about it. Artists are especially vulnerable to a certain kind of existential crisis, one that leads us to question whether we'e having any impact at all. Art can start to feel like a superfluous frivolity, something non-essential and even ridiculous, in the face of so much fear and uncertainty. But the fact is that artists have survived war, plague, famine, and genocide and come out the other side making art that uplifts and inspires the entire human race! This is a powerful gift that we can give, and we should be generous with it. Can you contribute your talents to a worthy cause? Look around in your community: who are the most vulnerable people, and what do they need? Which organizations are taking on their plight, and can you partner with them to put on a benefit event featuring local artists? Maybe you've found a cause that doesn't have a voice. Can you use yours to bring attention where it's needed? What kind of local environmental causes could use your help with mobilizing community actions? Can you donate some pro-bono art skills to help a struggling charity get its message out? Let compassion bloom in your heart, and put it into action with your art! 

New to Creative Collaboration? Focus on Shared Discovery...

We can all benefit greatly from studying and practicing the art of collaboration, but it's especially important for creative people to learn to play well with others. How long can you work alone, head down, tunnel-visioning your way through your days? Creativity can't expand in a vacuum, and neither can your creative process. More to the point, are you missing out on work opportunities because you prefer to "travel solo"? If you've never collaborated on a project before, it can be a daunting task. The good news is that getting out of your shell and mixing it up with others can bring fresh inspiration, new ideas and techniques, and help you form bonds that can lead to greater kinship and more work. Sound good? Open your mind and open your door, and let's do this.

 

  • First, do your research. Who, exactly, is your collaborator? You might already be friends with a solid rapport, or you might be total strangers, thrown together by circumstances beyond your control. In any case, you'll want to do some research about your partner(s) before you work together, and understand a bit about their history. Can you pinpoint an element in their past work that you truly love? Articulate it at the beginning of the collaborative process, to put them at ease and let them know that you're psyched about working together. This element could also serve as a reference point if you lose perspective or get stuck along the way. 

 

  • Next, do your own pre-production. Gather together a few ideas and/or themes that are currently compelling you, and make a short list of them. Make another list of people whose work is currently compelling you in any genre, and all the idols who directly and indirectly influence your work. Bring a few tools and/ or techniques that you use regularly, and be prepared to share your experiences of them with your partner. Have you had a breakthrough using any of these things? You can describe the event and its subsequent effect on your work. 

 

  • Once you're in the same room with your collaborator, ready to work, play around and keep it loose! Remember the first time you made something you loved? How free you felt, and how fun it was, almost like a happy accident? This is the kind of energy you can bring to your collaborations. Get out your list of ideas and themes, look at your partner's list, and shake them up: turn them inside out and upside down. Throw them up in the air and see how they land. Frankenstein a bunch of concepts together, then step back to see what you've made. Does anything stand out as particularly compelling? Isolate that one thing and use it as a starting point for the next round of experiments. Ask open-ended questions about your partner's ideas, and remember to listen more than you speak. Be on the lookout for moments of synergy, when you both seem to arrive at the same discovery simultaneously. If you feel like things are going in the wrong direction, start with something positive to frame your criticism such as, "I really dig this middle section! How can we get the rest of it up to that same standard?". Remember to give sincere compliments and encouragement to your partner if you like what they're doing. Call out specifics that move you, and articulate exactly why. 

 

  • Lastly, be conscientious. Understand that everyone's creative process is highly personal and subjective. You might be dedicated to a playlist of 1960's surf-core that revs you up like sonic caffeine when you work, but your collaborator may prefer soothing Satie piano pieces. Be generous and let them choose the music, lighting, and room temperature for awhile. If you have certain snacks that you're devoted to, bring enough for both of you. Above all, stay positive, and be sensitive to your collaborator's energy level. If you sense that a break would be helpful, suggest it. Go for a short walk outdoors together, or step away and be with yourself for a bit. Breathe deeply and release any tension in your body and mind. Believe in your shared work and see it through!

30 Movies About Artists and The Creative Process....

Need fresh inspiration? Here are 30 movies that might help! Not just visual artists, but dancers, actors, photographers, musicians, novelists, screenwriters and more. I synopsized each one so you can get a sense of which ones you might like (but view them all if you can!):

What Happened, Miss Simone?- I can't say enough about this incredible documentary, which expertly jigsaws the many lives of the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. Straddling multiple musical worlds, including the classical education she got at Julliard and the budding American art forms of Jazz and Soul (not to mention some killer blues!), Simone puzzled audiences with her ferocious demands for their attention, even as she held them in her hand. Her radical politics drove a further wedge between herself and the larger music establishment, who refused to give her the respect she was due. Abusive relationships and exploitive friends burdened her progress. Stymied, but not stifled, by chronic mental illness, she moved herself to Africa, then eventually to Europe, where she settled for the rest of her life. Vivid, raw, tender, and unforgettable. Watch for the scenes where she talks about her music and the price of constant touring.


Fur- Mid-century modern has never looked so good, or so stifling. A phantasmagorical imagining of the early creative years of Diane Arbus, the restless photographer with an attraction to marginalized (and sometimes disturbing) human subjects. Her journey toward artistic liberation is aided by friendship with a strange neighbor whose physical appearance gives the film its title. Simultaneously dreamy and solemn, this rigourously stylish and provocative film will make you wonder if you're hiding anything vital from yourself. Watch for the scene with the razor.

 

The Pillow Book- A lost relic from the 90's that deserves to be re-discovered. The daughter of a Japanese calligrapher father and Chinese mother keeps a detailed diary, inspired by her namesake, while seeking revenge for her father's treatment at the hands of a cruel publisher. Her boldness and determination lead her on a series of erotic encounters that involve ink, blood, water and fire, as she slowly transforms herself from muse to artist. Unusually paced and endlessly compelling, with an strange formality for so carnal a subject. A film that plays with form as well as content, watch for 4-panel segments that dare you to keep up with each frame.

 

Pollock- He's the reason they called it "action painting". Pollock's journey from struggling painter on his knees to macho art-star with the world at his feet is depicted as part of the longer continuum of his genius and madness. This film also takes time to give voice to his long-time partner Lee Krasner, herself a skilled and original painter, and the role she played in arranging his success by literally bringing the world to their door. Muscular, colorful, celebratory, and inspiring. Watch for the scene where he accidentally spills the paint, and witness the birth of an artistic lightning strike. 


A Little Chaos- From chaos, beauty. The artist depicted in this film is a visionary landscaper, negotiating with the chaos of nature to make space for her earthy garden scenes. An unexpected job offer from the court of King Louis XIV leads to a topiary triumph at Versailles. Though reserved and unassuming, the artist is haunted by ghosts from her past which threaten to overwhelm her at every turn. Her literal and metaphorical digging through her fears is noticed by her boss, a brusque fellow gardner whose true nature is eventually revealed as they work alongside each other. Elegant, graceful, passionate, and pure. Watch for the mistaken identity scene in the pear orchard. 


Stranger Than Fiction- One of my favorite movies of all time. A stodgy IRS man is sent to investigate alleged tax fraud committed by a comely baker. Somewhere a famous author is agonizing over the fate of the protagonist in her latest novel. A young boy gets on his bike and begins to ride around the city. How are these three stories connected? A busy literature professor and a wise writing coach get roped in to help solve the mystery. Though it employs the ridiculously tired trope of the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl", this extraordinary film turns expectations upside down with a twist that keeps on twisting. Vibrant, lively, and inspiring, it's a celebration of the awesome intersection of life and art. It also contains one of the most clever, unique and tender gifts of love ever shown on film. Watch for the scene when he runs up to her outside the bakery at night.


Frida- Love this movie and get something new out of it every time I watch it. Surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was as visionary as they come. A traumatic teenage injury intensifies the course of her life as she works fervently to capture her imagination on canvas while her body wrestles with agonizing pain. Her relationship with fellow painter Diego Rivera creates plenty of heartbreak, but ultimately helps bring her work to the larger world just as her body is weakening. Alcoholism and affairs with men, women, and Leon Trotsky are portrayed as the natural actions of a passionate person. This movie celebrates the power of appetites, and encourages us not to mindlessly consume but to actively relish, without apology. A true cinematic achievement that is magical, fiery, colorful and moving. Watch for the early scene on the bus.


Trumbo- Artists are workers! An enigmatic figure whose great wealth sat side-by-side with his ardent communist politics, Dalton Trumbo's Oscar-winning screenplays are the stuff of legend. Stalked by the ridiculously named (and seriously barbed) House Un-American Activities Committee during the "Red scare" of the 40's and 50's, Trumbo got around the Hollywood Blacklist's black mark on his reputation by producing a prolific output under assumed names. Crackling with clever witticisms and a (mostly) genuine moral imperative, this film invites you to wonder at Trumbo's extraordinary work ethic as he cranks out script after script to keep feeding his family and stoking his passion. Watch for the scenes where he addresses his fellow communist writers. 


The Piano- No list of this kind would be complete without it. The heroine of this film utters not a single word, yet her voice echoes through every frame. A gifted Scottish pianist, beset by muteness, moves halfway across the world (to New Zealand) to marry a stranger. With her young daughter in tow, she waits on the beach for her piano to follow. What happens when it finally arrives forces her new community (and her husband) to recognize her power and understand who she truly is: clever, sexy, romantic, and fiercely passionate, much like this film. Will she finally find her voice? Watch for the scene with the ax.


What's Love Got To Do With It?- The woman, the myth, the legend. Tina Turner fell under Ike Turner's evil spell early on, when she was a teenager. Her explosive stage presence came partly from her desire to escape his long shadow and make a name for herself, then take back the one he gave her. A ceaseless work ethic and a powerful faith in her right to be herself kept her going. A spiritual awakening late in life enabled her to phoenix up from the ashes of her old life, and become the icon that we all know. Robust, sexy, and triumphant. Watch for the scene in the recording studio. 


Perfume: The Story of A Murderer- Brace yourself for a dark tale. Has there ever been a more passionate advocate of scent than this psychopathic perfumer's apprentice? All kinds of horrible deaths take place wherever he goes, yet he shows little fear of recrimination as he gathers the elements of his strange brew. Though rendered from gruesome origins, his art is exquisite, and what he achieves is truly remarkable. Watch for the measuring scene in his Master's apothecary, and the extraordinary scene in front of the executioner's stage. 


The Moderns- [The trailer is impossible to find, so I linked to the films gorgeous closing song, which gives a sense of the movie's aesthetic and pace]. I love this movie beyond all reason. This tiny but mighty creation transports you to the Paris of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein's imagination but gives their characters, and fellow compatriots, room to express themselves in all their wily, sensual, radiant glory. A tough-talking, ex-patriot American artist is hired by a shady femme fatal to forge some famous paintings. His estranged wife comes to town with her dangerous new husband and forces a confrontation that could have dire consequences for all. Dreamy, creamy, swoony and cool, art imitates life imitates art again as the characters reveal their true nature to each other. Watch for the scene when Nick addresses Hemingway, standing with two women, through his open window. 


Love Is The Devil- How far will you go for your muse? Francis Bacon, the enfant terrible (and macabre) of mid-century post-modern English painters had one of the most extraordinary love stories of all time. You won't believe how he met his long-time lover, or how their relationship affected his work. Carnal, brutal, nasty, and yet somehow elegant and reverent, this movie doesn't judge Bacon for his choices, but allows him to rampage at will, while pulling no punches (so to speak) about the consequences of his actions. Watch for the scene at the boxing match; the artist's face tells all.  


Kama Sutra- (NSFW TRAILER) An intense feast for the senses. This movie engages from the first frame and casts a magic dreamy spell that grows into a powerful statement of self-actualization. The larger subject is the creation of the Self, partly by transcending the dangerous limitations of being an artist's muse, and ridding oneself of illusions. Two girls raised as sisters in 16th-century India are forced to part ways due to class differences, but circumstances pull them back and forth through each other's lives. Powerful, passionate, wondrous and wise. Watch for the scene with the Kama Sutra lessons. 


Atonement- One of my all-time favorite movies about the redemptive powers of art, and the ferocious determination of artists to heal ourselves and the world around us. A 12-year-old girl sees something strange from the window of her childhood bedroom in a 1930's English manor house, and tells a tale that sets in motion a chain of devastating events. Ravishingly beautiful, romantic, and brutal, you won't forget this film or its message. Watch for the scene in the library, and the one on the beach during the evacuation of Dunkirk. 


Finding Vivian Maier- What does a secret life cost, and how much is it worth? This documentary outlines the creative processes of both it's subject, the enigmatic and prolific street photographer, and her champion, the young man who discovered her thousands of negatives after her death, and attempted to bring her into her rightful place in American art history. Both celebratory and somber, a sober rumination on the personal legacy of artists, and how much their passion costs those around them. Watch for the scene where Mary Ellen Mark views Maier's work for the first time and makes an insightful judgement about its creator.


Seraphine- Still waters run deep. This film is a slow-moving river that explodes in a riot of color and life. Settle in for the ride and enjoy the calming, meditative pace punctuated by furious activity from its passionate protagonist, a so-called "simple" woman whose "naive" paintings became an international sensation in the 1920's after decades of her secret hard work. Raised without an artistic education or access to museums of any kind, this real-life master artist worked in secrecy for decades to bring her inner world to the canvas, with extraordinary results. An endorsement of self-taught geniuses, and an inspiring call to follow your own muse. Watch Seraphine's face any time she sits with the trees.


The Runaways- I dare you to watch the opening 10 seconds of this film and hang on for the ride! The rise and fall of one of the all-time greatest rock bands. They started out as kids, under the predatory tutelage of a notorious manager who exploited them at every turn (and may have even raped one of them, though this is not pictured in the film). The magical alchemy of rock and roll is on full display here, as the 4 young women persevere through rampant sexism and exploitation and turn themselves into legends. Watch for the scene where Joan Jett takes a guitar lesson. 


White Oleander- Can art heal us from trauma? This stunning film believes it can, though not without a cost. The daughter of a murderous artist is taken from her mother at a young age and placed in foster care, enduring multiple horrors before emerging as a powerful artist in her own right. This film is brightly lit in contrast to its protagonist's dark journey, but brittle and harsh as her mother's eyes when they visit in prison. Softness comes in the form of occasional kindness bestowed by random strangers who become touchstones in her life, and encourage her to grow her artistic talents. Watch for the scene with the suitcases. 


Concussion- (NSFW TRAILER) Not just a blow to the head. This film's dedicated artist is a married home renovator whose entire perspective on her well-heeled domestic life gets shaken up after she suffers the titular injury. Hired to work on a tony Manhattan apartment, she decides to get her groove back by hiring a sex worker (or two) to romp with in the vacant space. When one of them suggests that she give the oldest profession a try herself, she goes for it, returning faithfully every night to care for her wife and 2 children. Her clients don't much notice the shifting elements of the space where they meet, though one of them makes a particular comment about tiles that sends her on a literal and figurative tear. Spare, stylish, sexy and clever. Watch for the scene with the tiles.


Mo' Better Blues- Do you love anything as much as he loves jazz? The trumpeter/ composer in this movie gives it everything he's got, which doesn't leave much for the two women in his life. Though the film relies heavily on sexist attitudes and tired "mother/whore" tropes for its female characters, it carries a ton of authentic angst as Bleek struggles to stay on top of his personal life while pushing his musical talent, and his band, to greater heights. Loyalty to his friends and devotion to his art collide in predictable but still engaging ways. Sexy, jazzy, tender and true. Watch for the band rehearsal scene. 


Frances Ha- Oh, those crazy Millennials and their over-privileged art school dramas. Frances is too old to be young and too young too be grown-up, so she drags her battered dream of being a dancer all over New York City in pursuit of her best friend, whose fiance has become an interference in their friendship. Stumbling, bumbling, yet light and airy as its unpredictable heroine, this film gives a glimpse into the pieced-together existence of so many artists, and the ways in which they learn to compromise at least some of their ideals. Watch for the sequence when Frances "runs" through the streets of NYC.


Velvet Goldmine- Strap yourself in for a rocking, rampaging, restless romp. Loosely based in the lives of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Brian Ferry, T-Rex and other titans of 70's English glam rock, this fantastical film drops in a touch of magic realism just when you least expect it. A throbbing meditation on the power of outsiders to shape culture, the limitations of legends, and a terrific endorsement of the hedonistic lifestyle. Yet it's central figure is a shy, quiet, and reserved journalist, shifting through the past to solve a strange mystery that only he can believe in. Watch for punchy concert scenes and the fans that populate them. 


Synecdoche- Get ready to go down in flames along with this film's painfully self-aware, yet atrociously self-centered protagonist. An ardent-but-aging stage director, he toils away at his life's masterpiece, a giant replica of "real life", full of characters living out their mundane lives, with no audience and no guiding force except his occasional commands. His personal life is a total wreck, but that won't stop him from writing it all into his piece and attempting to live it differently. Sound confusing? Stay where you are for the final revelation. Heavy, plodding, more than a little pretentious, and also very funny, with some sober truths about the theatrical arts. Watch for the scenes where he directs his actors. 


Black Swan- Perfectionists, take note: this dark dancer's fairy tale might change you forever. A young ballerina competes for the role of a lifetime as her quest for artistic "perfection" drives her into madness. Is she seeing double, or is that her own reflection in a dirty mirror? A rival dancer jumps in to ramp up the stakes and confuse her even more. Bold, spooky, sensual, and more than a little melodramatic, this film's icy-hot power will leave you scorched. Watch for the ballet rehearsal scenes. 


Henry and June- (NSFW TRAILER) Recline yourself, resign yourself, you're through. Like a heavy narcotic, this film swims into your veins and highjacks all your senses. The electric connection between writers Anais Nin and Henry Miller in the 1930's, and its life-long effect on both their writing, is depicted as revolutionary in its carnality, with plenty of ravenous appetites on full display. The arrival of Henry's sultry femme-fatal wife June throws an irresistible wrench into the works as Anais' husband works overtime to hold her attention. The characters indulge in each other like wild cats gorging on their prey, but emotional stakes prove terribly high. Slinky, sultry, and sublime. Watch for the scene at the art students' ball. 


Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle- What lies beneath the surface of genius? The matchless wit and marshmallow heart of the great Dorothy Parker are put to the test as she mixes with fellow writers, actors, painters, and sycophants at the infamous 1920's Algonquin Round Table. An all-star cast of famous characters comes to life as Mrs. Parker struggles with her demons and wrings poetry from her pain, all while engaging in a long-running mutual flirtation with the one true (married) love of her life. Stylish and a bit stagey, but with a beating human heart. Watch for any scene at the Round Table. 


Laurel Canyon- To my knowledge, the only example of a female rock music producer ever depicted on film. Though she is not the direct protagonist, her vibrant presence and robust talent permeate every frame of this ensemble drama about a son's desire to reconcile his past while training for his future. Set in the post-hippie enclave of Laurel Canyon (in suburban LA) in the early aughts, the privileged, over-indulged characters literally and metaphorically collide with each other as they struggle to come to terms with their buried needs, and wrestle some kind of beauty from the chaos. Sparkling, sexy, dizzy and tender. Watch for the party scene with famous musicians (how many can you spot?), and the scenes in the recording studio. 


The Lives of Others- I thought I would hate this movie, but it won me over completely. In mid-80's East Germany a frosty and dedicated Stasi officer requests the duty of spying on a famous free-thinking playwright, whose international reputation largely protects him from harm at the hands of the brutally repressive government regime. The playwright's apartment is bugged, the guard begins his stakeout, and a powerful drama begins to play out inside his headphones. What he hears will change him utterly, and also alter the playwright forever. Eerie and unsettling, but ultimately powerfully redemptive. Watch for the final scene. 


The Tango Lesson- Sure, you can lead... but can you follow? Master film director Sally Potter brings her real-life collaboration with tango titan Pablo Veron to the screen in a powerful endorsement of art imitating life. In exchange for tango lessons, she offers Pablito a role in her film with one caution: for the first time in his life, he will have to follow instead of leading. The resulting emotional push-and-pull mirrors their dancing, and teaches them both unexpected lessons. Lit with a smoky chiaroscuro, and crackling with electricity. Watch for any of the tango lessons.







 

How To Get Your Creative Inspiration Back...

Where does inspiration come from? Humans have been asking this question for centuries, but ultimately each of us is responsible for sourcing and maintaining inspiration for use in our creative work. This is sometimes easier said than done. We can employ a combination of curiosity, courage, and skill to find it, but despite our best efforts it can be elusive when we need it most. The very nature of inspiration is that it ebbs and flows, shifting like tide patterns, as we wade deeper and allow it to guide us (hopefully) where we need to go. We might not be conscious of it while it's flowing, but we sure know when it stops.

So how do we get inspiration back? Here are 5 ways to promote its return:

1) Treat its absence like a temporary weather system

  • Understand that like good weather, inspiration will return when conditions are favorable. Don't get hung-up on whether or not you are "blocked" or "stuck". Focus on the larger continuum of your creative life. Take a minute to remember previous inspiration droughts, and the eventual relief that came with new creative ideas and angles. Summon some gratitude for the presence of inspiration in all your previous work, and think of specific examples where it showed you the way. Prepare for its arrival by clearing and cleaning your workspace, and doing a full inventory of your health and wellness. Treat yourself like a worthy vessel to be filled, and trust that it will happen soon.

2) Get out of your head and into your hands

  • Our hands, the part of our bodies with which we do most of our creative work, contain 2500 sensory receptors per centimeter in the fingertips alone. In fact, our bodies are equipped with powerful sensors that are active all the time. Everything we touch, taste, smell, see, and hear has the potential to bring us waves of compelling sensory information that we can integrate into our work. Landscape painters gaze intently at light moving across a snowy valley. Dancers feel the heat of each others' bodies and move closer as they spin. Novelists overhear snappy dialogue at the brunch table next to them. Musicians steal rhythm from the noises of the city. We are constantly responding to external stimuli with creative actions. Spend some time getting your hands dirty, or doughy, or blistered. Run your fingers through your hair, pet your dog, bake a big juicy pie (and make the crust from scratch!), or just let your fingers float in the open air that rushes past your car window. Be completely present and feel the entire experience.

3) Play around in a different discipline or genre than your own

  • Are you a graphic designer? Take a dance class. Screenwriter? Walk around the park with a camera (a real one, not your phone!). Blogger? Bake a big juicy pie (make the crust from scratch!). Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and remember what it's like to be in Beginner's Mind. Re-discover that sense of curiosity and wonder that first drew you down the path of creating. You'll get the added benefit of doing creative work without pressure or expectations that come with your usual job. You might feel a bit of frustration at having to start all over again, but this feeling can trigger some perspective about how far you've come in your own work. Celebrate your smallest triumphs as you dream, discover, and play.

4) Change your brain state

  • Inspiration is a state of mind as much as anything else. If you've been sitting in front of a screen or lying prone on the couch for hours (or even days!), your brain needs to be refreshed before you can ask it to produce anything new. Use proven methods of brain stimulation. Stand up, stretch, walk around the block. Do a quick meditation, sniff some aromatherapeutic scents (ex: peppermint to wake up, lavender to relax, chocolate to bring you to your happy place). Listen to some pop songs from your youth and dance around. Reboot your brain!

5) Visualize how you'll feel at the completion of your next big creative triumph

  • Use the awesome power of visualization. See yourself putting the finishing touches on your next masterpiece. How will it FEEL to be finished, in your body, your mind, and your heart? Will you feel hot or cold, shaky or calm, relieved or revived? Who will you call first? What will say to them about your work? How will you celebrate? See and feel every detail, and breathe deeply as you take in the entire experience. Your inspiration wants to show up again, so let it know that you believe it will.

Why People Don't Learn (And How They Can)

I've been a self-employed Professional Creative Person and teaching artist for 20 years. I've mostly taught individual singing lessons (kids ages 10-18 and adults). I've also done songwriting workshops in public and private schools, taught executives to improve their public speaking, and coached many people through their creative works. This year I started ADMC Creative, my consulting and coaching company, for people who want to make meaningful personal works and huge public triumphs with their creativity (email me for rates and information). 

You could say that I've devoted my entire life to helping people with their creative endeavors. This is a sacred privilege that I take seriously, and it's informed the way I see the world. Most people learn at a rapid rate when passion and enthusiasm are driving them. A good teacher mirrors this energy and helps the student direct it toward their goal. While it is inevitable that obstacles will occur on the road, there is only one true impediment to learning (and here I'm talking about adult students). Unless and until a person can work through this issue, no viable progress can be made. The obstacle is this: the inability to enter, and remain comfortable in, Beginner's Mind.

As children we embody every single growth metaphor, all at the same time: we are like sunflowers stretching toward the sun, like sponges soaking up the ocean, like birds struggling to fly, and like foals learning to walk. In fact, we're learning so much so fast that it can feel exhausting. Yet we rise every day with a ferocious hunger for the world and all the things in it. We are ravenous, wonder-filled beginners. We're surrounded by "experts", adults who seem to have the answer for every question, and we don't hesitate to ask them again and again for help when we need it. In our learning process we experiment; we listen to instruction, attempt, fail, try again, take suggestions, fail again, shake it off and try something new. We repeat this process over and over, with our eyes and ears open, until we have enough confidence to go forward on our own. 

When we become adults we're suddenly faced with the prospect of Failure (with a capitol F!). The fear of it shadows everything we do. We work hard to outrun this fear, yet it clings with diabolical tenacity. Success is the goal, eternally shape-shifting in front of us on the road, distorting our field of vision. Failure is the rabid dog on our trail. Fear of failure can motivate us to do our best work, but the price we pay is steep. In allowing fear to drive us we lose our ability to be vulnerable, to falter, to feel uncertain and lost, and to find our way forward one careful step at a time. We forget how to be beginners because we're so afraid of not appearing like experts. We take this fear with us every time we start something new, and that's part of the reason that we abandon so many efforts at the early stage (think back... how many hobbies, relationships, jobs, and creative works have you started and quit before you got good at them?). In order to experience our full creative potential, we have to be willing to think like beginners. 

In my years of teaching I have observed that the learning process can trigger an avalanche of struggle. Symptoms of resistance to Beginner's Mind include being easily distracted, deflecting answers to direct questions, boasting about unrelated accomplishments, crying, sweating, and not showing up. Quite often, when we are fighting against Beginner's Mind, prickling embarrassment torments us and makes us stammer, blush, and stutter. Our vulnerability scares us. We become intensely frustrated, and ashamed of our frustration. We mutter that we don't know what's wrong with us, then make an excuse that is not truthful. In short, we do everything possible to regain our composure and feel safe and strong again. But that strength, rather than supporting and encouraging us to relax our fears and trust the process of learning, actually puts a giant wall between us and the creative success that we so long for. In fact, that wall can keep us from having any creative satisfaction at all.

So how do we break on through to the other side? With simple curiosity. Rather than struggling to cover up when we feel vulnerable, we can step away from our ego, look at the task in front of us, and ask, "what's cool about this? how does it work? what can I try that I haven't tried before?". We may have undertaken a creative effort because we want more enjoyment and fulfillment in our lives, and that's a good choice. But here's the thing: If you want to learn (and improve) you're going to have to get comfortable with being a beginner. No one gets to skip this step

When you are in Beginner's Mind, be infinitely curious. Find a good teacher and ask a thousand questions.  Practice your art diligently. Examine the fine details of what you're doing, and compare them with the larger picture. Work with a steady hand and a light touch. Step back from time to time, observe your progress, and make note of improvements. Read about others who have tread the path before you. Take comfort and inspiration from their journey, and know that you are part of a much larger community of dedicated artists who were once, every last one of them, beginners.

Finding your way back to Beginner's Mind, and staying there through your learning process, is a heroic act. If you attempt it, expect to feel your own resistance rising up like a mountain in front of you. Don't despair. Melt yourself down like fresh glacier water, and flow around it. Ask yourself what's on the other side, and go find out!