Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day Weekend Special : Labor with love

I wanted to put up something special for Labor Day Weekend and author and creativity coach Eric Maisel agrees. This essay by Eric Maisel sums up the perfect motivation to achieve the excellent results of our labor.


We tend to associate the word “grandeur” with events like royal weddings and sights like the Grand Canyon. Hotels are grand, canals are grand, and cruise ships are grand. But something about that way of thinking prevents us from demanding grandeur from the other stuff of existence, like an image that we craft, a jam that we jar, or a kiss that we give. For more reasons that we can count, grandeur isn’t very present in our daily lives.

In all the meetings I’ve ever attended—faculty meetings, business meetings, meetings of therapists, and, yes, meetings of artists—I’ve never herd anyone say, “What’s wanted is a little more grandeur.” Have you? On the long list of things discussed when people gather, grandeur never appears. There are no parties honoring it, no organizations devoted to it, no lobbyists buttonholing members of Congress and whispering, “Support the grandeur bill and we’ll make it worth your while!”

I remember sitting in a sterile coffee-break room in a suite of offices, writing by hand before the class I taught began. In a corner of the room were some boxes of computer parts. There was a soda machine, a microwave, a copy machine, a fire extinguisher, a sink, a wastepaper basket, and a metal cabinet for office supplies. The walls were a dull blue-gray, the round table at which I sat was the same dull blue-gray, and so were the chairs and the floor.

But on the wall across from me was a poster of a Manuel Neri oil-on-paper called Alberica No. 1. It portrayed a woman with a blue face, a yellow torso, and burgundy legs. The top half of the background was a brilliant yellow and the bottom half was a striking blue. If I hadn’t had it or something like it on the wall to look at, I would surely have died of grandeur deprivation in a room like that.

Think about your own life. What last stirred feelings of grandeur in you? Was it something you saw on the commute to your day job, some reality show episode, or something you experienced at a meeting? Probably not. My hunch is that you were last stirred by music, a film, a passage in a book or a piece of art. You stopped, listened to the music, and said to yourself “How beautiful!” or “How powerful!” or “This is good stuff!” You were transported. In the back of your mind you whispered “I should be doing work this strong.” You said to yourself, but maybe not in a way that you could hear the message clearly, “Without this beauty I would die.”
Without a Neri on the wall or Mozart in the air or Tolstoy in our hands we would wither away, no matter how good the benefits and stock options at our day job. We need grandeur to survive. As everyday creative people and as artists, it is up to us to supply it for ourselves and for others. But we tend to forget our possibilities and our responsibilities. We forget that we are grand creatures who have it in us to create. We forget that grandeur is available and that we can create it ourselves.

One way to prove the exception as an artist is to remember the reality and the importance of grandeur. Demand grandeur from your own work. I’m certainly not talking about subject matter choices: we are centuries beyond presuming that an image of a royal gala or a religious scene is grander than an image of a potato or an abstraction. I am talking about things that arise from our heart, our head, and our hands with the power to move our fellow human beings. I am talking about the intention we hold, to create—choose a word that you like—something powerful, beautiful, admirable, meaningful, resonant, or grand. Maybe there is no right word: but you know what I mean.

The painter Max Beckmann said, “All important things in art have always originated from the deepest feeling about the mystery of Being.” I think that this sentiment comes close to capturing the origins of our sense of grandeur. We are built to appreciate mystery, to harbor deep feelings, to contemplate this universe with its marvelous quirks and distinguishing features. To bring less than all of this to the art-making experience is to bring only a shadow of our inheritance. Many artists are approaching the canvas with smaller agendas: to render a likeness, to repeat themselves, to produce something comfortable, to shock, to offer up a copy of something they once saw in a museum. If you come to the canvas with a different, grander intention, you will find yourself proving the exception.

The result may not look “grand” in any traditional sense. I would be surprised if we saw marble staircases and velvet drapes. Rather, we might see the color fields of a Rothko, the whimsy of a Klee or a Miro, the earthiness of an Alice Neel. We might see anything: muted colors, saturated colors, political satire, homey scenes, anything. What we would feel, however, would be that special feeling that we crave but only occasionally experience, that feeling of grandeur that is part mystery, part awe, and part receptivity to the facts of existence.

How should you approach the canvas in order to achieve these results? You should approach it with your sense of wonder enlisted, with your faculties activated, with a sense of genuine interest and concern, with something more than a desire to make another image or another product to market. In one sense you are simply making a thing; and it is honorable to number yourself among the people who work with their hands and produce artifacts. In another sense you are engaged in existential oratory, commenting in your fashion on the intricacies of existence. When you comment with some feeling, we experience that thing called grandeur.

The rule is that most of the images we see do not really move us. They lack that power. Maybe it is a lack of execution; maybe it is a lack of vision; maybe it is a lack of existential feeling; maybe it is many lacks rolled up into one unsatisfying result. Then there are the exceptions, the artworks with the power to move us. Aim there. Decide that you will prove the exception by demanding of yourself that you manifest your fine existential feeling and your astounding human power in the service of art-making. - Eric Maisel


Here are links to events and more interesting reading by this successful author.

For more information on Eric Maisel's books and services:

You can listen to the free Writers Telesummit preview call with Eric Maisel and see if you are interested in attending the Writers Telesummit next week (no travel—stay right at home—24 great presenters) by going here.

And if you’re interested in creativity or creativity coaching, the conference sponsored by the Creativity Coaching Association that takes place in October. For more information: Creativity Coaching Association Conference

To listen to The Joy of Living Creatively: HERE

To listen to Your Purpose-Centered Life: HERE

To read the Eric Maisel Creativity Central blog: HERE

To read The Atheist's Way blog: HERE

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