Tag Archives: brave

Home of the Brave

Exercising the muscle of courage.

We can influence the world even though we’re afraid. This was the case for Francis Scott Key, an American attorney, who had an important role during the War of 1812. The war had lingered on for two years. The Americans had been defeated during the Battle of Bladensburg, which led to the burning of public buildings in Washington, D.C. The British were fighting, both on land and on sea, to invade Baltimore, Maryland. Mr. Key and Colonel John Stuart Skinner were invited to board a British ship to negotiate the release of three prisoners. From the ship, Key watched The Battle of Baltimore take place. He was not allowed to leave and the war raged on for 25 hours.

At dawn, through clouds of smoke and fire, Key could see the American flag still waving at Fort McHenry and he reported this to the prisoners below deck. Eventually, he was released, and on his way back to shore, he was inspired to write a poem about the scary and amazing experience he had just endured. In due course, this poem was put to music and this popular song was then played during military occasions and celebrations. During WWII, the song was performed at the beginning of every baseball game and this practice become an American tradition. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a law adopting it as the national anthem of the United States. Although shaken up from all that he’d witnessed that day, Mr. Key found the courage to scribble down the lines of a poem, and new traditions were born.

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave . . .

Someone tells me at least every couple of weeks, “You are brave.” I don’t really feel brave, in fact, I feel afraid much of the time but it doesn’t matter; my vision and my hope is bigger than my fear. The “fear of the unknown” is the worst kind of fear. Our imaginations can run havoc inside our heads. I have found that once I learn about my fear, and examine it, the fear lessens. Ignorance often contributes to our fears, so I’m always working towards being informed on topics that I’m fearful about. Research your questions and ask for help from people that have confronted the same sorts of fears. Find a community of encouragers. If the advice you receive is coming from a place of cautionary fear, and if you’ve evaluated the situation to a point that you feel comfortable with the possibilities, jump. It is also okay to decide, after evaluating, NOT to do something. Do what feels right for you, but be honest with yourself.

C.S. Lewis said the “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.” In the same way, courage cannot be seen as the absence of fear. Fear, or the possibility of fear, will always be there. It is easy for our dreams and goals to collapse if we allow fear to rule. Certainly it is good to be cautious, but taking the path less traveled can lead to fantastic results. You can’t change the world or influence others by staying in your comfort zone. Being brave is an active decision and it takes practice. Why not start now?

I have found that instead of allowing the “what ifs” and negative chatter to take up residence inside my head, I make steps towards my courageous choice, as if it has already happened, or IS happening as I act upon the choice. You must constantly turn your imagination to visualize the future within this courageous choice.  Also, be aware and notice the consequences that line up as you act upon your courageous choice. Doors start to open, while others start to shut.

Are you ready to be brave? Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” She also said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor, you were a brave woman!

So what are you afraid of? Visualize yourself “inside” your dream and start walking toward it. Practice being brave and influence the world around you. Are you exercising the muscle of courage?

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A Global Commodity

Art and pork bellies.

One hundred thirty eight years ago, in 1874, a group of artists gathered in Paris to show their artwork to the public inside a former photographer’s studio. Many of these artists had been rejected by the Salon, the royally sanctioned French institution that determined if artwork was acceptable, satisfactory and superior. The influence of the Salon was absolutely undisputed, and for an artist to exhibit in their space meant their artwork was excellent. The artist was almost fully guaranteed to be successful. After being rejected from showing their work at the Salon, several artists set up their own exhibition and the public ridicule commenced. Not only were their paintings thought of as crudely rendered, they had disregarded the element of line and changed the color of objects and landscapes from the appearance of reality! (Can you imagine!!) According to the historical critique, The Exhibition of the Revoltes, written by Emile Cardon for La Presse, the artists’ “scribblings” both sickened and disgusted. One can imagine how horrible these paintings must have looked to have received such a disparaging description. How embarrassing, right? Didn’t these artists know how horrible their work was? Why on earth would they go to such measures to invite criticism? Often, contemporary art is described in this way. You may be surprised to learn that these rebellious, seemingly untalented artists, who refused to accept the jurors’ assessment, are none other than some of the 21st century’s most beloved artists:  Monet, Degas, Cezanne and Renoir.

Throughout history, it is not uncommon for the public to disregard the cutting edge artwork being produced and exhibited in the current culture. We’ve all known incidences in which people say, when walking through a gallery or museum, “My kindergartner could have done that.”

But the fact is . . . they didn’t.

In The History of Impressionism, author, John Rewald says, “It requires tremendous courage and limitless faith to overcome such adversities…” He goes on to say, “How hard it must be for the timid, and even for the self-confident and ambitious, for the poor, and even for the rich, to stand up under constant derision without being paralyzed in their creative efforts!”

Over the past month, I’ve attended three contemporary art fairs. The first one was the Dallas Art Fair, where I live, and the other two were in New York: Pulse and Frieze, which are both international in scope. Granted, some of what I saw bewildered even me, a professional, contemporary artist who has been making and exhibiting art for 30 years. Yet, I was truly inspired by most pieces I saw. As a working artist, I know the dedication and courage it takes to both produce the work and then to put it on public display. My skin has become thick enough that negative commentary about my work bounces off, for the most part.

The courage that is necessary to produce and exhibit a piece of artwork is not dissimilar to the courage needed to break out of the routine life many of us find ourselves in. When people become brave enough to mold their lives in an unconventional way, whether through travel or career, many people are quick to condemn. Life is short. Do what your heart is leading you to do. Be brave. Do it. There may be many who condemn, but surprisingly, you are sure to find a community that will support you. And once you become brave enough to start forming words to verbally express what you are considering, you will begin to hear the applause from your fans and well-wishers.

Build it and they will come.

In this excellent episode on 60 Minutes, Morley Safer describes the current, contemporary art scene, as it relates to international art fairs and the global economy.  It is well worth your time to watch.

It is encouraging to hear that when our world economy suffers, contemporary art is thriving. Please watch and tell me how you’ve been brave!

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Getting the job done

Don’t give up.

Last week I attended an Arts and Letters Live presentation given by Jonah Lehrer at the Dallas Museum of Art. In his lecture, and in his new book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” he addresses some strikingly interesting ideas about creativity. Although his stature is diminutive, his ideas are not. He has degrees in neuroscience, literature and philosophy. One of the main themes he expanded on was the psychological trait called Grit. Lehrer said, “Great artists are great workers. They revise and re-do. They spend hours of merciless refinement on their projects. They are stubborn and single minded. They are persistent. They refuse to quit. They practice and practice, over and over. They are in it for the long haul.”

If you’ve ever read the book or seen either of the film adaptations of True Grit you’ll remember that young Mattie Ross selects Marshal Rooster Cogburn to help her track down the killer of her father. She chooses Cogburn even though he’s one-eyed, overweight and aging because she is convinced of his “grit” or fortitude. As the story unfolds, the audience witnesses Mattie’s tenacity as well, as she is bound and determined to accompany Cogburn to the bitter end.

It’s undetermined if Grit can be taught but by exposing yourself to a variety of different activities and notions you can assess if you have an interest in that thing or not. Be curious. Be brave and try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you find something you love doing, then you won’t see doing it as work.  Lehrer says, “Choose easy. Work hard.” What do you naturally like to do? What are you curious about?

Lehrer explained that there is new software being developed that can sift through your resume and determine levels of Grit. A big part of success is persistence but organization and plain, ‘ol simple table manners can go a long way too. My successful career in graphic design wasn’t, necessarily, because I was so terribly talented in design and typography. I believe the reason I was asked to work on big projects was ultimately because I was dependable and would not give up until I got it right. I set high goals for myself and found ways to problem solve. I had good manners. I respected my authority figures. I was punctual. Yeah, my design wasn’t bad, but the jobs kept coming my way mostly because I only promised what I knew I could deliver. My clients could trust me.

Becoming successful in any creative activity involves criticism and debate about what you’re thinking or what you’ve made. It is very important in the creative process to realize that the product you make is not you. You and the object are separate. Be grateful for any negative comments you receive so that you can make it better! Be thankful for critique! Seek honest critique and then be prepared to take it. In fact, ask for it. Lehrer reminded the audience, “If you’re at the cutting edge, you’re going to bleed.” It is best to fail as soon as possible so the problems can be fixed and you can be on your way to success sooner! Be willing to fail and even more importantly, like a former pastor of mine used to say, “Be willing to be willing.”

Where has your determination and Grit taken you? I look forward to your comments!

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