In the 1960s, paintings of “sad-eyed children,” massively reproduced in posters and cards, became possibly the best-selling art in the world for a time, thanks to the tireless marketing by Walter Keane of “his” work. The “big eyes” images were owned by celebrities and hung in many permanent collections.
But Walter Keane was a fraud and plagiarist: the art was actually created by his wife Margaret Keane.
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“Before the dance of inspiration and perspiration can begin, there must be some raw material, some spark of inciting energy.”
From the book The Soul of Creativity: Insights into the Creative Process by Tona Pearce Myers.
Actor Rose McGowan relates an experience that may be common for many creative people: being inspired by seeing someone else’s artwork or other form of creative expression:
“After saving my allowance for ten years, I flew to Paris when I was 15 years old. When I visited the Musée Rodin, I was profoundly inspired by the story and the pain of Camille Claudel. Her diminutive sculptures — much smaller in stature to Rodin’s — led me to become an artist.”
Where does creative inspiration come from? It may show up mysteriously, “out of the blue” – and for a good part of human history, it has been explained as a gift from a supernatural being, a Muse.
At least some people still embrace that idea, or at least like to use the concept.
Novelist and author Steven Pressfield writes in his book “The War of Art” about pulling in creative power when we are doing creative work:
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What does creative excellence take?
In his article How to Win American Idol, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to research by Rena Subotnik and Linda Jarvin, who “interviewed over 80 top students at different stages of their musical careers and identified the traits important to succeed at every stage on the way to the top.
“The three abilities that were absolutely necessary as a baseline were intrinsic motivation, charisma, and musicality.”
But for musicians at an “elite” level of talent, “technical proficiency mattered less and the following factors rose to prominence: self-promotion skills, having a good agent, capitalizing on strengths, overcoming self-doubt, exuding self-confidence, good social skills, persevering through criticisms and defeats, and taking risks.”
How does a brutal teaching style impact those factors?
“I push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that is an absolute necessity.”
How much does forceful mentoring help students achieve excellence, and when does it become abusive?
Those issues are part of the movie Whiplash, apparently named after the jazz standard by Hank Levy.
The quote above is by acclaimed teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) at a music school reputed to be “one of the best in the country,” explaining his teaching approach to one of his star pupils, Andrew (Miles Teller), who idolizes jazz drummer Buddy Rich, and has aspirations to also be “one of the greats.”
One of the myths of creative and multitalented people may be that they can choose whatever personal and career paths they want.
Having many interests and abilities can make for a rich and satisfying life, but also be a source of stress, especially at crossroads like choosing college majors.
Gifted education specialist Tamara Fisher quotes Bryant (a pseudonym), a graduating senior who lists his possible future careers as “applied psychologist, scientific psychologist, college teacher, philosophy, mathematics, architect, engineer.”
“I’ve suffered enough. When does my artwork improve?” Refrigerator magnet
The tortured artist mythology is an ancient and enduring one: The idea that art depends on suffering, and artists need to be suffering with dark emotions, and need their pain to create.
But that is a wrong and destructive idea.
For example, in his appearance as a guest on The Ellen Show, Colin Farrell said he is more creative being sober and happy.
“I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”
Musician Sting also said he bought into this myth for a long time:
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As Dr. Webb explains “Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence… (or ‘ultimate concerns’) – death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness.”
His related book: Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope.
Webb has written extensively about how characteristics of giftedness that are a part of so many people – including well-known artists such as Robin Williams – are often misdiagnosed.
One kind of pressure is feeling an intense urge to create; it is probably an inherent part of being a creative person.
But other pressures can lead to stress and overwhelm, and being pulled away from the joys of creating.
Annemarie Roeper (founder of the Roeper School and The Roeper Review, a professional journal on the gifted) wrote about this intense inner pressure to create as a characteristic of high ability people – but you may experience this even if you are not “technically” gifted:
“Gifted adults may be overwhelmed by the pressure of their own creativity. The gifted derive enormous satisfaction from the creative process.
Most of us experience some kind of trauma in life.
How does it impact creative people, and how can creative expression help?
Acclaimed actor Patrick Stewart is one of many artists who have been deeply impacted by trauma in early life.
An interview article notes he “was for decades a man plagued by fear and stifled by rage. The roots of his struggle go back to a difficult childhood, marked by poverty and abuse that took him years to understand.”