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.


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.


  • 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. 

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!