Create.

artist

How do you define success?

Is it in a purely monetary way or is it more nuanced and complex?

A creative life expands the heart and sharpens the senses. It opens the creator to insight and wisdom. It constantly pushes the creator to new levels. It is a fountain of youth and immortality all in one.

Pause.

jellyfish

We are caught in the steady, persistent, ruthless flow of time. And yet there are moments when we can step out of time to pause, focus, and gain perspective. The arts do that. As you admire a piece of art, whether photograph, painting, novel, poem, film, dance and so on, we are grounded in detail. We can observe intricacy. We pause in the captured emotion and can rest there awhile. We are transported.

When the cares of the world become too great, we can pause and admire the detail in a jelly fish, the sweetness in bird song, or read soothing words such as these by Wendell Barry:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Take a moment to pause on something beautiful.

Wipe the dust off your soul.

soulwash

It is so easy to get discouraged when living a creative life. Your words are criticized; your paintings don’t sell. “They” don’t believe you have any promise. Sometimes the struggle to be commercially successful in a creative field can be so daunting that you abandon the art. But then you remember that art isn’t about “them” or “success” or “critical acclaim” at all. It’s about bringing your truths into the light, being creative, pushing yourself, being you.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of Henri Rousseau, a forty year old toll collector who wanted to paint. His work was derided, and yet he continued. He found joy in the painting. Not until the end of his life did anyone take his work seriously. As summarized by Maria Popova:

Long before history came to celebrate him as one of the greatest artists of his era, long before he was honored by major retrospectives by such iconic institutions as the MoMA and the Tate Museum, long before Sylvia Plath began weaving homages to him into her poetry, he spent a lifetime being not merely dismissed but ridiculed. And yet Rousseau — who was born into poverty, began working alongside his plumber father as a young boy, still worked as a toll collector by the age of forty, and was entirely self-taught in painting — withstood the unending barrage of harsh criticism with which his art was met during his entire life, and continued to paint from a deep place of creative conviction, with an irrepressible impulse to make art anyway…. [Rousseau’s life is] an emboldening real-life story, and a stunningly illustrated one, of remarkable resilience and optimism in the face of public criticism, of cultivating a center so solid and a creative vision so unflinching that no outside attack can demolish it and obstruct its transmutation into greatness.

The message from Rousseau’s life speaks to all of us: he was a success all along. He persevered with a remarkable resilience to produce work that spoke to him and pursued a passion that made him happy. That, the pursuit of great art, rather than the financial success was what gave his journey depth and meaning and lifted up his soul.

 

 

No worries.

halfface

It turns out artists make a lot of mistakes. We only think they are wonderfully talented, with perfect products immediately dripping off their paintbrushes or keyboards, because we see the finished product and not all of the drafts and abandoned projects along the way. So when we sit down to write or draw or craft or hum out a melody, we can set aside the worry that we aren’t up for the task if our first efforts are less than perfect. Mistakes are the training ground. The more the better because each teaches us what doesn’t work or how something could work better. It is all practice making us more perfect. What’s a failure is being scared to start.