The unapologetic, raw, unedited interpretation of living life. Each of us is the artist of our own life, constantly remolding, reworking, and roughing out the details and applying what we've learned to the changing canvas. There are no do-overs, no take backs...just rough cuts that release what lies inside us.

I saw the angel in stone and I carved until I set him free. - Michelangelo

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's Life - What Did you Expect?

My family and I are planning for our upcoming photo session.  I have always wanted one of those classic large family portraits to hang on wall in our home. Everyone smiling, perfectly pressed, neat and clean, wearing white cotton shirts on the beach. Of course, as I think about my family and what makes our house home, what makes us laugh, cry, and love one another aren't completely encompassed in those things.  If you know us, you know that while clean and neat are clearly priorities in our lives, over all, life is pretty messy: children aren't always smiling and willing to comply, dinner isn't a three course meal on the table at 5 o'clock sharp, and bedtime is the dreaded hour of the day. Along with the mess are moments we treasure: the 6 AM wake up call, Butterfly Kisses, first steps, Saturday morning movies, counting clouds, and "I love you".

So why on earth would I want a photo hanging in my home that falsely represents who we are?  Some of my favorite photos are ones when the kids aren't even looking at the camera. Deep down the honest me is already rising up to protest, the anxiety builds as I plan out every one's wardrobe change and coordinate sweaters, shoes, and accessories.  Why give people who enter our home the misconception that life is "perfectly pressed" and planned out?

Life isn't about one posed image, the product of a string of acute details.  I sometimes struggle to embrace the concept of Artistic Living, my own term to describe the creation of a life which reflects flexibility, movement, change, opportunity, assembled together to produce a mosaic.  This picture of life has many small, fragmented particles and pieces, yet when they are viewed as a whole, they are seen as one complete picture. Mosaics are not made from other completed works of art.  Seen up close, you'll see the pieces are actually broken, found things. I often get caught in the pieces and how they fit together and forget the Art of it all, allowing the pieces to come together.  I realize on occasion, someone else may be the one to bring two pieces together and I simply provide the glue.  Or more frequently, I am the observer of pieces joining themselves.

I encourage you today to consider your life mosaic, are there pieces missing?  Do pieces look broken?  What role are you trying to play and what role is needed right now? 

I look forward to my walls one day being filled with not just one photo, but a collage of many tid bits and moments, which together represent a Portrait of our Family.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dreams begin with "BE"

My daughter spent the past week creating the ideas for her future restaurant.  Last Saturday, she made menus and, while donning her chef "toque" and apron, served us our orders.  From the moment she woke last Saturday, she determined she IS a chef, not just wanted to BE one.  I adore this about my daughter.  She pursues her dreams and ideas with full gusto, with no fear of failure or minute details such as culinary school or formal training. To her, those are things that will happen, those are "the givens" in the pursuit of achievement.  Her focus is on doing, performing, throwing her passion into her dream.

She did not wait for someone to TELL her she was a good cook.  She did not ask what it would take to be a world famous chef.  In her heart she already believes it.  Tomorrow, she may have a different dream, but for now she IS a chef and she has the benefit of time and childhood to figure out where her talents, her joy, her passion will take her next.

An artistic leader does not need to be TOLD they have great potential.  He does not need to have a painting hung in the Louvre or a Platinum album in his studio to prove he is an artist.  He does not need CEO of the Year or a 6 digit salary and tailor-made suits to show he is a leader.  He simply believes in his heart that he IS capable of creating and so he creates.

A bird does not need to be told it can fly, it opens its wings.  The fish is not told to swim, it just does.  A small acorn is not told to grow or sprout, it becomes a strong oak tree because that is what it was created to do.  What were you created to do?

My daughter also believes she will one day be on TV, she can already drive a car, and she will go to college in California.  The benefit of being 6 years old is that she can fully pursue these things without much resistance, meanwhile as her parents we keep her safe and teach her how to financially prepare for the chef job she will need to get her first break in Hollywood.  Regardless of where the road leads, her will is as strong as wrought iron.  There is no doubt greatness awaits those who are willing to follow the direction of their dreams.

What would life look like if you pursued your dream without fear of failure, or if the details were seen as an assumed part of the process, not as obstacles keeping you from moving?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Drowning in your own Creation - Give it time to breathe

In the process of creating art, the artist has in his mind the reason why he is creating it, he has laid awake thinking about it, planned each shape, line, and structure as a culmination of hours, days, possibly months or years of fine tuning his vision.  All for one day the piece to be on display.  On that day, someone will cast their opinion of the work, masses will join in to dissect every inch of the meticulously crafted masterpiece.  As a young artist, this was my biggest fear - the judgement.  I loved it when someone appreciated my work, but always found it difficult to translate "constructive criticism" into anything other than criticism.

For me, this was not about them being wrong or that they didn't reserve the right to have an opinion.  My mind immediate absorbed their comment and made it incredibly personal.  As I desperately defend my work, my tedious laborious hours, my creative spirit, all of which I considered on the proverbial chopping block.

Do we have these moments as leaders?  We are already bought into our ideas, so motivated by our own spirit of success.  Does this cause us to miss any input along the way?

I know I am guilty.  I recently began acknowledging a stopping point in my projects and selected a few accountability partners.  We talk, I share, then we proceed if the coast is clear.  Without these sessions, I would be so bought into the final project I could not see my way back out of it with clarity.  When you get so deep into your work that you are unable to see it with fresh eyes, you need to get a second opinion.  Be sure they know your purpose, but be wary of "defending" your work.

If you're an artist, how much better is your creative potential when you take a step back and look at the entire picture?  These pauses are planned at strategic breaking points. They do not restrain the creative spirit but rather give it time to breathe and expand, giving the spirit a chance to find better solutions.

How applicable is this to a parent?  A leader?  A spouse?  A friend?
Do you get "bought in" to your own opinion so deeply no one can convince you otherwise?  Who receives those repercussions? 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ode to the Human Spirit

The human spirit is fascinating to me:

It is flexible enough to undergo enormous amounts of pressure and weight, yet it doesn't break under the stress...
It is strong enough to push forward through adversity and support the burden for others, yet sensitive enough to hear the whimper of a child's heart...

It does not cave.
It does not falter.
It grows.
It lives.
It breathes.
It laughs.
It weeps.
It feels.
It creates.
It heals itself and within those wounds, makes room for humility and faith beyond measure...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

You cannot Become what you Were

The relationship between the artist and his art is one of raw emotion, turbulent understanding, and extraordinary fusion of thought, feeling, and creation. I have encountered such a unique experience both in my writing and through various seasons of my life.  It begins with a thought, an innocent realization of something poignant enough to generate a series of mental and emotional connections.  Often it is a subtle word or picture you happen across, occasionally it is a phrase or an image that leaps off the page and grabs your soul.  No matter what moves the spirit to create, that simple beginning sets off a chain reaction from deep within.  I find myself restless, unable to concentrate until I jot my thoughts on a piece of scrap paper.  I have been known to scribble thoughts on post it notes, the back of envelopes, even on a grocery receipt.  In a furry, at stoplights I flush out the thoughts and images flooding through my mind straight to my fingertips, I often have to re-read what I have written in order to truly comprehend what seemingly bypassed the major processing areas.

This leaves me wondering if the artist creates the art or if the art shapes the artist?  If the latter is true, where does it come from?  Or perhaps, it is some fantastic oozing from the process of combining mind with matter in such a way that the line between them no longer exists...

If you like cook, this is the equivalent to deviating from a recipe: you begin with your basic ingredients, but as you become inspired by the aromas and taste of your dish, you begin to transform it into something even better.  Those moments between what it was planned to be and what it became are when it is unclear if the dish or the chef determined the final outcome. One thing is for sure, it won't be what the recipe called for.

Let's say you are a runner.  You plan your run to be healthy, for the joy of being outdoors. As your body becomes more fit, you appreciate the way your clothes fit and the way you feel, so you run even more.  You take on adventurous excursions on detours and look forward to the next time you lace up your sneakers.  Somewhere in the journey from the 5K to the marathon something changed in you, was it how you felt about running or did the running change how you felt about you?

When an artist sits in front of a lump of clay, there may be a thought as to what the shapeless lump may be, but somewhere in the midst of pulling and kneading, rolling and shaping, the clay begins to shape the artist and together the material and the artist become more than just an artist and a lump of clay as two separate things. The process of creation has impacted them both.

Great teams function the very same way, consider a leader when he has a new idea:  he presents the proposal with every detail laid out to his team.  Once they launch into the plan, the synergy of the team generates outcomes beyond the original scope.  This doesn't mean the team got off task, the additional outcome could be the increase in group cohesion, or a team member discovering a hidden talent or skill.  The team is never the same as how it begins with a simple inspiration.

So what have you set out to accomplish?  Where are you in the process?  Looking back, how much different is the outcome than you much different are you?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Generation formed from Ashes

It was the fall of my senior year of college.  I had just completed the first cut through a 3inch cube of bulsa wood in my 3-D Studio Class.  A classmate announced that a plane had flown through one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  After a flurry of bus stops, busy signals, and worried faces, I arrived at my off campus apartment in time to see the first tower ablaze while from behind the reporter we saw a second plane hit tower two.  My roommates and I clung to all that we knew, far from our families, unable to connect with familiar voices, we grieved with one another. I am not sure anyone from our generation could explain the nauseating fear which consumed us all.  Those flames and horrific images were no stranger to us. We were, after all, the Kindergartners and gradeschoolers who gathered in our classrooms in 1985 to watch the fatal launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle, just a few years later we looked on in horror at the nighttime bombings during Desert Storm. We were the middle schoolers who witnessed reports from Columbine on our tv's at home and highschoolers whose study halls consisted of court hearings and car chases, riots, and exploitation.

A generation haunted by the ashes of fallen friends, parents, and heroes.  Now most of us in our 30's, raising families of our own and climbing career ladders, commemorate a day, a turning point in our lives on which we turn to hope. 

The project I began 10 years ago today, became an abstract replica and solemn symbol of the tragedy of 9/11.  The lives of this generation however are a much larger tribute to what we have overcome.  Each season of life is marked by its autumn, followed by its cold harsh winter.  Now our generation has reached its spring.  We are marked by our tenacity and a spirit of hope.  Our lives now marked by war, distrust and an economic downfall,we have become a movement of people driven to overcome and engage in a world to bring forth a monumental force to build tomorrow.  Our tomorrow has arrived.  We have risen from the ashes and will pave the way for new things to come because we have been to the edge and looked down into the fire and said, "Not more!"
Artist rendering of Ground Zero with new memorial pools and future building constructions.

What are you doing today?  Where are you going from here?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Aperture: Exposure to Vision

My junior year of college I made the "brilliant" decision to double major in Art and Psychology.  This meant my first two years of purely science classes were now "Elective credit" and I somehow needed to squash an entire year of language, studio classes, and some other odds and ends into my bulging schedule. I hit the ground running in the fall of my senior year with three studio classes, because they wouldn't let me take four.  One of those was a photography class.  This was before the dawn of the digital camera - yes I am that old, young grasshoppers.  I had to remove the film in a dark room, transfer it to a reel, and then begin the process of developing a roll of what I hoped would be masterful photographs.

One of the many terms I learned during those long nights of agitating stop baths and cutting photo sheets, was aperture. The term Aperture is the lens opening: The hole or opening formed by the metal leaf diaphragm inside the lens or the opening in a camera lens through which light passes to expose the film.  A large opening, combined with a slow shutter speed, allows more light to expose the film.  There are two instances when the picture risks over-exposure this happens and attention to each is vital to avoiding an overexposed picture:

During the photograph taken with a camera, this determines the amount of light exposed to the film inside the camera. Exposed portions of the film will be removed during the development process. Following the development of the film, the processed negative is then placed on an enlarger, through which light transfers the image to photographic paper.  The adjustment of the time the light is allowed to pass through the negative determines how light or dark the final image will be. A black image is the result of overexposure in one of these two steps.  A light image requires more exposure.  Underexposed negatives require more light exposure from the enlarger. It is much easier to fine tune exposure in the initial stages with the camera.

I find the concept of Aperture to be true when I think about people and how they respond to following a leader with vision (or lack of).  A leader understands the amount and time needed to expose his followers to his vision.  Too much too soon and he washes out the potential to lead convincingly.  Too little, too slowly and it is a dark, lonely road ahead.  People who have to wait for the vision will find their own light to follow.  Those who receive everything all at once get burnt out.

Have you dialed in your aperture?  If you pointed a lens at your team, your family, the people who look to you for leadership, would they need sun glasses or would you stare blankly into a black hole where humans once stood?

Dial in!  Get focused on what you are about and then take the time to build your masterpiece!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unpacking the Tool Box - 3


The artist must always carry with him the tools he needs to create at a moment's notice.  The most important ones being himself and a limitless imagination, without the mind and the creativity to pull from it, the artist has no use of extravagant colors, brushes, or canvas.  The artist, and all of us pursuant of a dream, are simply limited by our ability to first imagine it.  Your ability to dream, to create a lofty idea is unique to you, the rest: the implementation, the tasks, the day to day can be shared with others, but the dream, the essence of a soul manifested into something tangible, that place is where the impossible becomes reality.
My words by no means encompass the magnificence of the imagination, so I turn it over to the words of those who have trudged this road before me and carved new paths toward the unthinkable...and changed a world!

I am in no sense of the word a great artist, not even a great animator; I have always had men working for me whose skills were greater than my own. I am an idea man. —Walt Disney
Our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future.
Charles Kettering 
I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment. I am never satisfied with my work. I resent the limitations of my own imagination.  —Walt Disney
Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.  - C.S. Lewis
There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.  -Ronald Reagan

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. - Henry David Thoreau

Imagination rules the world. - Napoleon Bonaparte 
I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.  - Albert Einstein

What people keep you motivated, what inspires you to pursue the impossible?  Leave one of your favorite quotes!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Get Stapled to Something!

I could not pass up the opportunity to explore the Artistic Leadership of Anne Sweeney, as shared in an article by Forbes magazine today. There is one line in this article that sparked this post. Anne is asked to describe her Leadership Style.  After changing the way in which her teams were organized, she is quoted as telling them: 
“I want you to wake up every morning feeling that you are stapled to the other person. Understand that one of you is not successful without the other being successful. And when one of you fails, the other fails as well.” 
It made me consider the true essence of a staple - to hold things together.  Not the way glue fastens things permanently to one another, a staple has its own unique way of twisting itself to keep things organized, so what better tool to use figuratively in our organizations:

A Staple provides Alignment - one of the first things and last things I do before stapling a packet is to hold the sheets together and give them a gentle tap on my desk.  Why do I do this?  To keep the edges neatly arranged, to keep sheets from poking out and distracting the reader.  A staple within a team keeps the members aligned, whether to vision, to cooperation, or to a particular process or task.  There are no outliers doing their own thing. There is accountability in being aligned with one another.

A Staple provides Security - A staple holds like it looks: tough and edgy.  It holds firmly, but with enough poise that pages can function independently as they are turned, preserving their individuality as a single sheet; by the same movement, the staple functions to maintain the page as a part of a larger document.  A sense of security stems from knowing you belong to something greater, your significant role in a greater plan or purpose.

A Staple leaves a Mark - Should a piece of a stapled project need to be removed from its position, the staple can easily be taken out.  What happens next is probably my favorite property unique to a staple and it's twofold:  the larger project is reassembled fully able to function, in some cases more effectively and the removed piece has the potential to be further developed, tweaked, used as is, or thrown aside.  But what is truly remarkable about the fact that it was STAPLED - neither the full project or the removed piece can deny its former existence as a unit.  Both will forever retain the evidence of their union.  A staple leaves behind two small holes. 

True impact whether from a person to a team or team to a person will always be felt.  What are you stapled to?  Will your holes be battle scars or badges of honor?  Will the holes you leave be scorned or admired by the people, things, ideas to which you fasten yourself?