Tag Archives: artists

9 keys to achieving your artistic goals? No! Way more!

Eric Maisel’s new book Making Your Creative Mark promises nine keys to achieving your artistic goals.

That’s a lie.

The book literally chimes and jingles with keys. The last eleven pages alone has 99 of them, for example these 10:

  1. One of the best ways to help yourself create every day is to craft a starting ritual that you begin to use regularly and routinely. When your ritual becomes habitual you will find yourself moving effortlessly from not creating to creating.
  2. Reframe discipline as devotion.
  3. Creativity is your teacher. Pick a creative project whose express purpose is to teach you something about your situation or your nature.
  4. If you regularly block, what do you think are the sources of your blockage? Do you block only on certain work? Do you block at certain points in the process? Do you block at certain times of the year? Become your own expert on blockage!
  5. Learn some anxiety management techniques. Anxiety makes us undisciplined. Learn a deep-breathing technique or a relaxation technique to help you stay put. Anxiety is part of the process – learn how to manage it!
  6. Don’t shrug away the fact that you’re not completing your creative work. Get to the last sentence of the last page of the last revision. Then launch your piece into the marketplace. If you are not completing projects, do not accept that from yourself!
  7. Do you have a plan to survive the countless rejections that will come your way? Create that plan!
  8. Create everywhere. Create in the rain. Create buy the side of the road. Create wherever you find yourself!
  9. Say, “I will astonish myself.” Then you’re bound to astonish others.
  10. There may be days when the work frustrates you horribly. Maybe you’ll downright hate it. Those are the days to love your work! Remember to love your work especially on the days you hate it.

And it goes on and on. The thing is that it goes on and on in that vein – the vast majority of his ideas are just really good, and not something you’ve already heard over and over again. Take what he says on anxiety. He devotes a whole chapter to stress and anxiety as it relates to the creative process. In it is a subchapter on The Stress of Marketing Art. Isn’t every creative person familiar with that? When I worked at the Alliance for Arts and Culture, advising artists on how to make money without going crazy, that was a topic we talked about a lot (kudos here to Judi Piggott, the patron saint of Vancouver artists, who invented and ran that program for twelve years). So what are the parts of that stress?

  • Thinking about selling your art
  • Not knowing what to say
  • Dealing with people who hold the power and the purse strings
  • Feeling pressured to “sell yourself”
  • Dealing with people who dismiss you
  • Not feeling up to asking

Does any of this feel familiar? Of course. And you may not even be an artist. And over and over he says, if this creates anxiety for you, go and find a way to deal with the anxiety. Don’t give in to it. That in itself is a pretty uplifting message. Maisel doesn’t give you tons of ways to deal with the anxiety; instead he points to one of his other books, such as Mastering Creative Anxiety. Oh yes, he knows how to sell his own stuff, so he knows what he’s talking about. And he has a lot of stuff – almost 40 books, seven of them fiction. And some meditation decks. And a home study course. And he’s a coach and a therapist with a PhD.

Honestly, I think every creative person should own at least one of his books. This man knows what he’s talking about.

my father

today i didn’t work on a blog post but on the way overdue wikipedia entry for my father, the painter juergen von huendeberg.  for now it’s a draft – what do you think?  here it is, and here is one of his pieces of art – a collage.


Juergen von Huendeberg (aka Hans-Otto Maximilian von Huendeberg, HOMJ von Huendeberg, or simply “Iwan”), was born April 10, 1922 in Dresden, Germany into a family of [[Baltic Germans]].  Since early childhood, he lived in [[Munich]], Germany, where he studied architecture and philosophy at the [[Munich University]], two years at the [[Academy of Fine Arts Munich]] (1945-1947) and some time under Werner Gilles.

His very early paintings were along the lines of [[Magic Realism]], a form of [[New Objectivity]], an art movement that arose in Germany in the early 1920s as an outgrowth of, and in opposition to, [[expressionism]].  Soon, however, von Huendeberg’s work became almost exclusively abstract.  The qualifier of the “almost” is significant; there was no technique or form of expression that von Huendeberg ever excluded.

In [[1949]], he became connected with ZEN 49, a group of German artists who strove to create new forms of expression for abstract art.  The word [[Zen]] was to reflect their rejection of materiality and a focus on  meditation; 49 refers to the year they were founded, four years after [[World War II]].   Von Huendeberg was friends with and exhibited with some of their members, for example [[Rupprecht Geiger]] and Brigitte Meier-Denninghoff in the Studio for New Art (Studio fuer Neue Kunst) in Wuppertal.  Von Huendeberg never became an outright member of the group, a sign even back then of his almost renegade refusal to be anyone but himself, to be a member of any group but humanity.  Significantly, he also never became a German citizen, proud to his death of the fact that he never had any citizenship (his parents, after being displaced after [[World War I]],  held the [[Nansen passport]].  This connection to peaceful internationalism was always important to him).

Art critic [[Franz Roh]], one of whose books features a painting by von Huendeberg on the front cover, once spoke of visual art immediately after World War II as containing “the demonic, praised by [[Goethe]] as most deep [which] hints at our existential loneliness vis-a-vis the universe – or in the face of a truly inner and productive way of life.”  Von Huendeberg’s art, which often features dark, almost ominous colours pierced by small patches of deep, shining light, was sometimes interpreted as depressing; Roh’s description as “demonic”, which hints, as well, to von Huendeberg’s mystic qualities, may be more apt.

Von Huendeberg made much use of the colour gold.  Art critic [[John Anthony Thwaites]] pointed to von Huendeberg’s Russian-Baltic background and the golden background used in Russian icons.  Art historian Ivo Kranzfelder describes how in his oil paintings, von Huendeberg created a feeling of space by juxtaposing broad planes of colour in almost perspectival arrangements.  This depth was underscored by experimenting with adding structure through the use of materials such as sackcloth and sand, thickly textured paint and even incorporating paint tube caps into the painting.  Collages were a natural extension of these techniques.  Just as his paintings often have a sculpted feeling, his collages always evoke the pictorial.  A collage consisting of chains and jewels decorating Jesus on the cross points back to the iconic.

Deeply mystic in his art, von Huendeberg was, however, staunchly rational about religion, a fierce agnostic firmly rooted in the tradition of humanism and the Enlightenment.  This combination of mysticism and commitment to the rational, paired with his unbridled irreverence, a constant drive to explore new ideas, a steadfast refusal to be categorized, as well as playful irony in close companionship with serious craftsmanship, confused and irritated more than one critic.

Von Huendeberg enjoyed success for quite some years.  1956 he received a cultural scholarship from the German Industry Association, 1957 he was invited to the Premio Lissone, 1962 he won the Seerosen-Preis (Lotus Prize).  His paintings were shown in Canada, the US and New Zealand.

From the mid 60s on, von Huendeberg lost interest in exhibitions and the visual arts scene and his public life as an artist concentrated on experimental theatre, film and music.  Nevertheless, he still worked as a painter, for example when experimenting with etchings with fellow artist Otto Mirtl.  The fumes from performing this in an unventilated chamber, combined with his liberal use of alcohol, almost killed him, leaving him in a liver coma for three weeks, which he miraculously survived.  Shortly before his hospitalization, he starred in a slide/theatre play as [[Oblomov]], a Russian nobleman full of fabulous ideas but lacking the ability to make any decisions whatsoever.  This play, adapted by one of his many proteges, the then young and unknown [[Franz Xaver Kroetz]], mirrored much of who von Huendeberg was – a brilliant artist who at  times was incapable of leaving the house for years on end, haunted by depression and addiction.  For years, von Huendeberg also worked closely with avantgarde theatre artists Alexeij Sagerer and Cornelie Mueller and had friendships with film personalities such as [[Rainer Werner Fassbinder]] and [[Klaus Kinski]].

In art circles, Juergen von Huendeberg is usually discussed in connection with the avantgarde of the 50s and 60s.  But as art historian Ivo Kranzfelder states, it would be a great mistake to see him only as a historical phenomenon.  While his charcoal drawings and oil paintings from this time are important, his erotic drawings and watercolours, experimentations with markers and spray paint and hundreds of acrylic gouaches where he doggedly pursued the exploration of spherical shapes and even his landscape sketches and portraits show a never ending variety and growth in his artistic expression.  Shortly before his death, he only seemingly returned to his roots, painting in oil once again generous geometric shapes, mostly in earth tones, always illuminating his paintings with his trademark brilliant light effects.  However, this return was an evolution, on a higher level of Goethe’s spiral of growth that von Huendeberg liked to cite frequently.

Von Huendeberg died on August 21, 1996 of pancreatic cancer, meeting his death with the same conscious, curious and nonchalant eyes that saw and depicted all of his life.  He was married to Elisabeth, nee Hennighaussen, a music librarian.  They had three children, Nikolaus (1953-1954), Isabella (born 1955) and Clarissa (born 1961).


Ivo Kranzfelder (http://www.kunstgeschichte.uni-muenchen.de/personen/lehrbeauftragte/kranzfelder/index.html): Juergen von Huendeberg.  Ein zu wenig bekannter Muenchner Maler (Juergen von Huendeberg.  A Munich Painter, Too Little Known.)  Weltkunst (http://www.weltkunst.de/) No. 13, November 2004

Werner Gilles http://www.kettererkunst.com/bio/WernerGilles-1894-1961.shtml

ZEN 49 http://www.kettererkunst.com/dict/gruppe-zen-49.shtml

Premio Lissone http://www.comune.lissone.mb.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/173

Cornelie Mueller http://www.angelegenheiten.de/auskunft.htm

Alexeij Sagerer http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexeij_Sagerer

suicide and … what? do words make sense here?

i’m sitting here checking my email after a lovely weekend away. my daughter is doing the dishes to hedley’s “for the nights i can’t remember”. my husband is exercising on the Wii.

and i just opened an email from an artists’ email list i belong to. norm tucker, a fellow vancouver artist and writer, committed suicide some time this month, it says.

how do these two coexist? the contentment of a happy family and the tragic end of a life, full of suffering for everyone.

i don’t get it. i guess there is nothing to get.

but there are things i can do. i can send good thoughts to norm’s loved ones. i can extend my hand to others who are deeply unhappy. i can talk about it.

every single person i’ve talked to who had seriously contemplated or attempted suicide has talked of the importance of bringing it out in the open, one way or another. each one of them saw suicide as the only way to end pain.

there is never, never, ever just one way to do anything. but that’s easy to say for me right now, sitting here in my happy living room, not tucked in the corner with depression, not bouncing off the walls with mania. still, i can gently hold this (temporary) sanity for others, hold it for them while they plumb the depths of despair, hold this sanity like a rope. i can listen to whatever words they manage to throw my way.

do these words make any sense? i don’t know. i just wanted to bring something, however small and nonsensical, to this life that was norm tucker.

here is an excerpt from his last blog post. it is called the last dream and more questions

but do we give up?
do we abandon our dreams and hopes?
do we embrace ego and desire?
or does the infinite solace
of what might be, what could be, or should be
motivate us to trudge beyond everyday oblivion?

buried within the big picture is the little picture,
us – you and me – persons, people, humans,
do we count?
can we count?
what can we do in our own small way
to move us into the dream – the living dream?

a buddhist carnival – 7th edition, part 1

buddhist artwelcome to the may 2008 edition of a buddhist carnival.

this time around, we got another really good selection of articles. i don’t want to throw too much information at you – that wouldn’t be very buddhist, would it? – so i’ll present the carnival in two parts again. part 2 will arrive some time before may 22.

just like last month, let’s start with a poem – actually, an excerpt of a poem – about … lunch with the dalai lama.

he reaches inside his robe and brings out
an old radio which he places on the table
as if it were the cafeteria’s main selection of the day.
as he shows me how to work the dials,
i feel like a child just beginning to walk
or a bird about to sing its first song.
as he works the dials, he looks toward me
to be sure i’m paying attention.

and more on art and buddhism. in an interview at fuzz, eden maxwell talks about the similarity between zen and art.

in zen, there are no lessons, tests, or lengthy discourses; the source of truth is grasped through intuition. art is the same. the source of all great art is intuition. you experience this when you suddenly, without planning, hear a magic lyric or melody inside your head.

on his own blog, eden reminds us of the difference between reality and talking about it.

as the japanese zen priest, shunryu suzuki-roshi, said: “when i raise the hand thus, there is zen. but when i assert that i have raised the hand, zen is no more there.”

this difference is an important concept in buddhism. another such concept is buddha-mind living in everything. nikhil gangoli muses about this here

one of the buddhism beliefs that i have found most useful is this saying attributed to the zen master bodhidharma:

“this very mind the buddha”

if we accept this as true then what are the implications of these buddhism beliefs to the way we live our lives?
simply this: be as polite respectful and reverent to the antics of the mind – the jumble of thoughts, emotions, feelings and complexes – as you would to the buddha himself.

this is something i often think about. it’s easy to look at a child playing and to say, “oh, look, buddha nature!” but what about more difficult people? what about george bush’s buddha nature?

moving on … yet more important buddhist concepts are compassion and equality (in fact, buddha-nature and equality are closely related)

focus on our equality. this is a practice i learned from the dalai lama. judgement and hatred stem primarily from “othering” individuals. we see them as so different from ourselves, so unequal, and so removed from us that it’s easy to not love them. instead, we can focus on our similarities. then we can grow in our kindness. we are all human beings. we all suffer. we all want the best for ourselves and our families. we all hurt. we all cry. we all laugh and smile. we all yearn for comfort and freedom. just because someone is different in some way, does not devalue their needs, innate beauty, and their inherent right to happiness.

so much for part 1. stay tuned for part 2! in the meantime, do you have an article you think we should see? go here to submit it.

(image by circusvoltaire)

creativity: the murky mind

artist brent cole, thinking.  photograph by will foster http://flickr.com/people/mazakar/this is the first in a series of blog conversations about creativity with jeremy of PsyBlog, one of the leading psychology blogs.

in a post in january, jeremy wrote

how do great artists create? how do brilliant scientists solve the hardest problems in their field? listen to them try to explain and you’ll probably be disappointed. artists say mysterious things like: “the picture just formed in my mind.” writers tell us that: “i don’t know where the words come from.” scientists say they: “just had a hunch.”

of course, not all scientists, artists and writers give such mysterious answers. some talk about the processes they went through or what inspired their conceptual jump. but their explanations are almost invariable unsatisfying. they usually can’t really explain how they made that vital leap of the imagination.

cognitive psychologists find that this is true for all walks of life; we often have little understanding of what goes on in our own minds. jeremy cites a classic literature review by nisbett and wilson of psychological studies on this topic. some of the conclusions are that

a) when people’s thought processes are manipulated, they are mostly unaware of it and even if they are, it is difficult for them to identify what occurred
b) when explaining what they do, people don’t seem to access the correct thought process(es). if they do, it only happens when the explanation is plausible.

so this is one way of looking at this topic. let’s go for another perspective, that of dr. mihaly csikszentmihalyi (“me high, chicks sent me high”, as the good doctor likes to joke about the pronunciation of his name). csikszentmihalyi is one of the leading researchers on the topic of creativity.

the chapter “the work of creativity” in his book creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention has a heading, the mysterious time, where we read:

… conscious [thought] sequences can be analyzed, to a certain extent, by the rules of logic. but what happens in the “dark” spaces defies ordinary analysis and evokes the original mystery shrouding the work of genius: one feels almost the need to turn to mysticism, to invoke the voice of the muse as an explanation.

csikszentmihalyi’s research subjects unanimously state that it is important to let problems simmer below the threshold of consciousness for a time without paying too much attention to them, maybe even consciously moving attention somewhere else.

so here’s my thought: perhaps these accounts of thought processes that are “disappointing”, “unsatisfying” or “implausible” are so murky because creativity needs that muddiness, needs to work away from the light of our attention?

what do you think, jeremy? and gentle readers – especially if you are artists, what do you think?

homelessness and mental health

i recently found out that my friend aaron zacharias wrote an article on mental health and homelessness. you can find it at heretohelp, an e-zine dedicated to mental health.

the article shows very clearly how mental health and homelessness interact. tenuous mental health, especially when coupled with adverse events such as divorce, workplace accidents, or, in aaron’s case, unemployment, can explode into a literally maddening spiral of not just mental illness but severe and alarming deterioration of all of a person’s life. homelessness is perhaps one of the most damaging consequences.

it’s interesting to juxtapose this with anti-psychiatrist psychiatrist (yes, you read this right) thomas szasz’s thoughts on homelessness. szasz argues that mental health is not a cause of homelessness per se. he also says that once a person becomes homeless, she or he will often act and think in ways that are associated with mental illness.

that is, once a person is uprooted, they can and most often will experience hopelessness, confusion, sadness, lack of motivation and can display extreme anger. that only makes sense since a lack of physical place/space and the attendant personal security is almost always accompanied with irregular and insufficient sleep and meals and increased exposure to violence, to name but a few adverse events. these alone are apt to drive a person crazy, in a very literal sense.

aaron traces this from both ends – a decrease of mental health while he was homeless, and an increase once he found a home again. here is a shortened version of his article:

i had already been through more than my share of trauma, beginning with an abusive childhood. but it wasn’t until i became homeless at the age of 42, that i developed a paralyzing sense of despair and hopelessness that led to several years of prolonged anxiety and depression.

when i was in my early 20s, i had been unable to finish my education because of financial problems and stress – guaranteeing me a lifetime of low-wage employment.

but in the 1990s, our governments began to slash social programs and restructure the economy, with disastrous effects on the lives and livelihoods of the working poor. unemployment insurance was renamed, ridiculously, employment insurance and became difficult to qualify for. getting social assistance became a humiliating nightmare.

before i knew it, i was unable to pay my rent. i had quit my job; funding cutbacks had affected my employer and they wouldn’t give me more than seven hours of work a week.

the severe economic pressure i was living under, along with unresolved issues of childhood abuse, precipitated several breakdowns. i wasn’t thinking clearly. and the cost of housing was rising much faster than most people’s incomes . . .

i ended up homeless.

i was one of the fortunate homeless – i was able to couch surf. that worked for a while, but people soon began to get sick of me. i was paying my way, but they made it clear they wanted to move on with their lives and, since i wasn’t doing this for myself, i was too much of an emotional burden for them.

i was easily victimized because of terrible self-esteem, stemming from the childhood abuse. being dependent on the kindness of others, it was like the proverbial wounded chicken getting attacked by the others in its flock.

being homeless and constantly distressed made stable employment impossible.

later on, among other places, i found a room in a shared apartment with two other people. not only were there three of us in a cramped two-bedroom apartment, but three days a week the landlord’s mother and young son were there. day and night, there were comings and goings. it didn’t feel like a healthy situation: among other things, the landlord insisted on keeping his cat’s litter box in the bathtub.

fortunately, i had been networking with judy graves, who coordinates the tenant assistance program for the city of vancouver. one day, judy asked me about my housing situation and then got me onto a number of wait-lists.

i have now been living in candela place1 for almost five years, and i’ve been employed and off social assistance for the past four and a half years. when i moved into candela place, i began seeing a psychiatrist, who for four years helped me work through my traumatic stress issues, without putting me on medications. i am now working full-time as a peer support worker with vancouver community mental health services

thanks to safe, secure and affordable housing, my life is finally in a good place – i no longer feel as though i have to squander all my energies at merely coping and surviving.

now that i’m no longer in a panic about having to survive each day, i can actually enjoy things – and with a depth of pleasure i never thought would be waiting for me at this stage of my life (i am in my early fifties). i’m still a working artist, and i’ll be travelling to costa rica this spring, where i’ll be painting murals in a bed and breakfast.

(you can find aaron zacharias’s paintings here).

(you can find this article posted in the surfers’ paradise blog carnival. that’s web surfers, not wave surfers. and no, i don’t look like that lady standing right over my post 🙂 )