Animals Inspire Great Art!

Why do animals inspire such great art? For some, it is their unconscious beauty–they never struggle to be “authentic” or creative–they just are. For others–many would say–it’s their unconditional love and joyous way of giving back to us. And yet for others, it is the desire to “conserve” the rare beauties for the next generation.

For photographer Michael Kern, he uses abstraction to remove fear and prejudice of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids, “I’m trying to help people see the beauty in the beast,” he says.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL D. KERN

Kern’s says that most of us don’t experience and appreciate the beauty of these animals due to our natural fear of them–and some of these species need our help to survive. He is dedicated to their conservation and hopes to save them through revealing them in his art.

Kern’s creatures include: bush viper, tragopan, chameleons, rainbow millipede, flower mantis, and blue tarantula

He starts by photographing the animal. Then he “deconstructs it into its most basic elements: color, line, pattern, texture.” These are the building blocks of a new image, which he alters in Photoshop. His technique results in a pair of portraits: one abstract, one of reality. When he is successful Kern muses, he turns fear into fascination for his viewers.

Kern’s Panther chameleon (left) and rainbow millipede

Frida Kahlo is famed for the love of her beasts and she is frequently painted with them in her self-portraits.

 Frida Kahlo with her pet deer

Frida kept pet monkeys, xoloitzcuintli (“Mexican Hairless”dogs), parrots, parakeets, macaws, chickens, a pet eagle, and a fawn called Granizo. Kahlo had a chronic pain-filled life due to childhood polio and a tragic bus accident— but her animals were a calming constant.

Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait With Monkeys

Painter/illustrator Norman Rockwell remains widely popular for his nostalgic depictions of American family life, he did many iconic covers for the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines. He often painted dogs because they were an important part of families and a sense of “home.” His own dogs hung out with him in the studio. He recommended that other artists depict them “just as carefully and understandingly as you paint the people.”

Normal Rockwell posing a beagle for a reference photograph

 “Boy and Girl Gazing At The Moon” by Norman Rockwell

Another dog-inspired artist is Picasso. Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most influential artist of the 20th century, was born in Spain in 1881. He acquired Lump his dachshund in 1957. When Lump and Pablo met, it truly was “true love”. Lump was allowed anywhere on Picasso’s property, including being the only creature allowed in Picasso’s studio. Lump appeared in 54 of Picasso’s works. They were together for sixteen years, and died within months of each other.

Pablo Picasso and Lump

 Pablo Picasso’s “Dog” Line Drawing

Paul Klee’s unique style was influenced by expressionism, orientalism, cubism, and surrealism.  His original work is a favorite of many other artists, art scholars, and teachers because it is immediately recognizable.

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” Paul Klee.

Klee was so devoted to his white cat (Bimbo) that he would write to his wife (while he was away) simply to inquire how his kitty was doing.

Paul Klee, his wife Lily, and their cat Bimbo

Klee’s love of cats meant many were incorporated into his paintings.

“Cat and Bird” by Paul Klee

 “The Mountain of the Sacred Cat” by Paul Klee

Why such a love of cats you may ask? The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was a photojournalist for Life and other publications and is considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. He explains his love for cats like this: “I’m an anarchist, yes. Because I’m alive. Life is a provocation…. I’m against people in power and what that imposes upon them. Anglo-Saxons have to learn what anarchism is. For them, it’s violence. A cat knows what anarchy is. Ask a cat. A cat understands. They’re against discipline and authority. A dog is trained to obey. Cats can’t be. Cats bring on chaos.”

 Photo of Henri Cartier-Bresson and his cat

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

The most famous surrealist was Salvador Dali, born in Spain in 1904. He painted bizarre scenes that were meant to cause confusion and inspire creative interpretation. Dali had an eccentric lifestyle that accentuated his brilliant artwork. He owned two ocelots, Babou and Bouba, one or both of whom accompanied him frequently.

Dali loved to collaborate with other artists, as this “live” photo shows.

Portrait of Dali and cats by photographer Philippe Halsman

How do animals inspire you to make art? What is your favorite kind(s) of animal(s) and why do you think this is? How do they make you feel, think and act–that is different from people?

Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.

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Lady Liberty: Repression, Art & Metaphor

Our lady love, the U.S. Statue of Liberty, was created through inspired repression, collaborative art and poetry–standing for defiant resistance, independence, and ultimate victory. She is magnificent, but how did she become a symbol for outcasts of the world–how did this art-piece evolve into such a grand living metaphor?

This is a story of ideals, resolve, collaboration, a sculptor and a poet. It took 21 years for this idea to become a reality.

It was first proposed by Édouard René de Laboulaye (the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society) at a dinner in 1875: His idea was that the French finance the statue and the Americans provide the site and build the pedestal. Laboulaye was an ardent supporter of the Union in the American Civil War and said: “If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort—a common work of both our nations.” He hoped that by calling attention to the recent achievements of the United States, “the French people would be inspired to call for their own democracy in the face of a repressive monarchy (of Napoleon 111).”

Laboulaye by Nadar: He was the originator of the idea of a U.S. monument

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor who was also at this dinner, was inspired by this “proposal” and it was he who pitched a massive sculpture design to influential people on his first trip to America. Bartholdi’s hometown in Alsace had just passed into German control, which motivated his own keen interest in independence, liberty, and self-determination. The statue would commemorate the centennial of American independence. When he arrived at the New York Harbor, he focused on Bedloe’s Island (now named Liberty Island) as a site for the statue because he was struck by the fact that vessels arriving in New York had to sail past it.

Larger than life Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, Sculptor of Statue of Liberty in 1880

Bartholdi and Laboulaye considered how best to express the idea of American liberty.  A significant female icon in American culture was a representation of Liberty, derived from Libertas, the goddess of freedom widely worshiped in ancient Rome, especially among emancipated slaves. A Liberty figure adorned most American coins of the time. Also artists of the time commonly used Libertas as an allegorical symbol of republican ideals. A figure of Liberty was also depicted on the Great Seal of France. Bartholdi wanted the statue to have a peaceful appearance and chose a torch, representing progress, for her to hold.

 1880 Liberty Gold Coin

Bartholdi made the first sketches for the statue during his U.S. visit and continued to develop the concept upon his return to France. He also worked on a number of sculptures designed to bolster French patriotism after the defeat by the Prussians. One of these was the Lion of Belfort, a monumental sculpture, to honor the locals’ persistent resistance of a Prussian siege. The defiant lion, 73 feet (22 m) long, displays an emotional quality characteristic of Romanticism, which Bartholdi would later infuse into the Statue of Liberty.

Bartholdi’s Lion of Belfort

Bartholdi made alterations in the design as the project evolved. He initially considered having Liberty hold a broken chain, but thought it too divisive after the Civil War. Instead she rises over a broken chain, half-hidden by her robes. He finally settled on a keystone-shaped tablet for her left hand to evoke the concept of law. Although Bartholdi greatly admired the United States Constitution, he chose to inscribe “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” on the tablet, desiring to associate the date of the U.S.’s Declaration of Independence with the concept of liberty. He decided on many details, such as a height of just over 151 feet (46 m) for the statue, and the symbolic seven rays in the crown representing the Earth’s seven seas.

Bartholdi’s design patent

Bartholdi completed the head and the torch-bearing arm before the statue was fully designed, and these pieces were exhibited for publicity at international expositions. It was rumored in France that the face of the Statue of Liberty was modeled after Bartholdi’s mother.

The statue’s head on exhibit at the Paris World’s Fair, 1878

In 1881 Auguste Bartholdi contacted an engineer named Eiffel to help him build the Statue of Liberty to withstand significant wind stresses. Eiffel devised a “spine structure” consisting of a four-legged iron pylon to support the copper sheeting which made up the body of the statue. Eiffel would later design the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

In 1885 the statue was formally delivered to America. Fundraising for the pedestal was difficult for the Americans, and by 1885 work on the pedestal was threatened due to lack of funds. A newspaper publisher named Joseph Pulitzer came to the rescue by urging the American public to donate money towards the pedestal. His newspaper, New York World, raised over $100,000 in six months, enough to finish the pedestal. The majority of contributors gave less than a dollar, securing Lady Liberty’s destiny as the people’s prize. Pulitzer published the names of each person–all 125,000–who made a contribution in his paper.

Unpacking of the head of the Statue of Liberty, which was delivered on June 17, 1885

“The New Colossus” is a sonnet that American poet Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 as a donation to help raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal’s lower level.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

It is a stunning fact that Bartholdi’s gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to international republicanism–but a poet reinvented the statue’s purpose–turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world.

One immigrant who arrived from Greece recalled, I saw the Statue of Liberty and I said to myself, “Lady, you’re such a beautiful! You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America.” And always that statue was on my mind (Sutherland, Cara A. (2003).

In October 1886, the structure was officially presented as the joint gift of the French and American people, and was installed on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. It was the largest work of its kind that had ever been completed up to that time. The statue’s completion was marked by a parade and a dedication ceremony presided over by President Grover Cleveland.

Bedloe’s Island in 1927, showing the statue and army buildings. The eleven-pointed walls of Fort Wood, which still form the statue’s base, are visible.

There is a presentation tablet that honors “the Alliance of the two Nations in achieving the Independence of the United States of America and attests their abiding friendship.” A group of statues stands at the western end of the island, honoring the men and woman closely associated with the Statue of Liberty: Two Americans—Pulitzer and Lazarus—and three Frenchmen—Bartholdi, Eiffel, and Laboulaye—are depicted.

In 1984, the Statue of Liberty was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO “Statement of Significance” describes the statue as a “masterpiece of the human spirit” that “endures as a highly potent symbol—inspiring contemplation, debate and protest—of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy and opportunity.”

Liberty Island, credit photo by D. Ramey Logan

Lately our lady has been depicted as weeping or hiding her face in shame… so symbolic and dear she is to us! She is leveraged to express our emotion over distressing current events we fear will change what our country stands for. She is a most powerful metaphor.

We should remember that this icon originated at an idea-inspiring anti-slavery French dinner, which motivated a sculptor to imagine a statue of a woman holding a torch burning with the light of freedom. The sculptor hoped this would also inspire his home country to freedom. It took 21 years for this idea to become a reality and a living, beautiful metaphor of freedom.

Credit: New York Times, Hodgson photographer

Please do share what the Statue of Liberty means to you. Many thanks especially to Wikipedia for helping me piece this story together!

Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.

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Nothing is Original?

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” King Solomon

“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” Marie Antoinette

“No idea is original, there’s nothing new under the sun, it’s never what you do, but how it’s done.” Nas (Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones)


The saying, “There is nothing new under the sun” is as old as the bible,
found in Ecclesiastes 1:9 and spoken by King Solomon–but is it true?

Some people find this idea depressing, aren’t we unique beings created by our Creator to be creative after all? We know our thumb print is like no others… even identical twins, who share the same genetics (initially), have different prints.

We know each snow flake is like no other. Each snowflake falls and floats through clouds with different temperatures and moisture levels, which shapes each snowflake in a unique way.

SO it seems “the how“–of how we come together–is what matters. You have a mother and a father and possess features from both. However, the sum of who you are is bigger than their parts. You are a mysterious conglomerate of your parents and all of your ancestors–but you are even more than a physical genealogy–you are a genealogy of ideas too.

You don’t get to pick your parents, but you do get to pick where your ideas come from–what books you read, who your heroes are, the art you view and study, the music you listen to, the movies you watch, the people and ideas you surround yourself with on a daily basis. Your ideas are a mashup of what you choose to bring into your life–we are a sum of our influences.

What good artists understand is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative works build on what came before–nothing is completely original. It is the way we uniquely combine, subtract, mash and tinker with the ideas that creates something new. It’s an endless cycle of recycling–in a similar way that nature does.

I love this picture of the “rock cycle” to illustrate this idea of “nothing new under the sun.” The rock cycle is a basic concept in Geology that describes the time-consuming transitions through geologic time among the three main rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. The rock cycle is an illustration that explains how the three rock types are related to each other, and how processes change from one type to another over time.

So here you have it: Sedimentary rocks transition to metamorphic rocks, which transition to igneous rocks and through erosion and environmental conditions transition back to sedimentary rocks–nothing new under the sun!

Just like nature we are all recycling ideas–whether consciously or unconsciously. Francis Ford Coppola says it best:

“We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.”

Steve Jobs also famously said in 1996:

“Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ — and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

So lets go forth creatives “shamelessly stealing” all of the ideas we need and want and LOVE to create our own new art–the way only we can. May we endeavor to say–some day–what Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” 

Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.

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Awed by Eagle Huntress Photography

I recently viewed the Eagle Huntress documentary in utter awe by the beauty and sweeping photography filmed on location in Mongolia–not an easy place–and wondered how on earth did they film it?! I was shocked to learn that it was filmed by only two people–not 200 people–thanks to modern technology! The director of photography, Simon Niblett, succinctly sums up the equipment they used to accomplish this extremely challenging feat in the video below:

Aisholpan, a teenage girl from a nomadic family in Mongolia, in “The Eagle Huntress.” Credit, Asher Svidensky, Sony Pictures Classics

The film is a masterpiece due to the photography: It follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains with her father to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an expert eagle hunter. It was filmed in real time, there was no re-shooting of scenes, which makes this feat even more amazing. It chronicles how Aisholpan rises to the pinnacle of this tradition that has been handed down from father to son for centuries.

With her father Nurgaiv’s help, Aisholpan learns how to train golden eagles, and then captures and trains her own eaglet. Although she faces disbelief and opposition within this exclusively male tradition, she becomes the first female to enter the competition at the annual Golden Eagle Festival.

 Credit, Asher Svidensky, Sony Pictures Classics

The Altai mountains are ruggedly gorgeous. Renowned photographer Asher Svidensky said, “I knew I had to find another way and tell a new story that was not yet told in the snowy Mongolian mountains. I tried coming up with new ways of photographing the eagle hunters. Should I use different lenses? Ask them to perform tasks other than hunting? How could I tell a more interesting story than the usual “Even today, there are eagle hunters in Mongolia”?

Credit, Asher Svidensky, Sony Pictures Classics

Modern Mongolia is a relatively young unitary sovereign state in East Asia that exists from just after the fall of communism in 1990. It is landlocked–sandwiched between China to the south and Russia to the north. Today’s Mongolia is going through a transition – it’s no longer communist and is not yet modern. Approximately 30% of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic; horse culture is still integral. The film beautifully captures this uniquely nomadic way of life.

Credit, Asher Svidensky, Sony Pictures Classics

Against all odds, Aisholpan ends up winning the competition, and her eaglet breaks a speed record in one of the events.

 Credit, Asher Svidensky, Sony Pictures Classics

Most of us have not visited Mongolia. This is a wonderful British-Mongolian-American collaboration to document a heart-felt story. It is the winning photography team–of two!–who brought us this rugged land, and an understanding of the lifestyle of its adaptable nomadic occupants. The dialogue was in the Kazakh language but the photography connected us all.

Credit, Asher Svidensky, Sony Pictures Classics

Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.

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Wow! The Diversity of Body Art

Body art is art made on, with, or consisting of, the human body. The most common forms of body art used to be tattoos or body piercings… but the ever-innovative art world has evolved a long way from just this form.

For me body art must be tasteful–I will highlight three different forms of body art that have awed me of late: 1) Digital body art inspiring natural beauty 2) Healing tattoos and 3) Mimicking body art transformation

Look closely–the following is digital photography art composed entirely of the nude human form. Cecelia Webber is a multimedia artist who spent much of her childhood outdoors. Her website states: “Her deep appreciation for nature, along with her scientific background, give her a deep awareness of organic forms that she draws upon to concoct pieces bearing a unique interplay between colors, shapes, and models’ bodies.”

It is Webber’s flower series (using naked people!) that inspire me most.

           Sunflower

            Ink flower

           White Dandelion

           Jungle pink

            Rose

My second example is Brian Finn, a tattoo artist who is helping others turn traumatic scars into symbols of strength. Finn who is from Toledo, Ohio, “gives forward” by inking over people’s scars from domestic violence, human trafficking or self-harm—for free.

                                   A tattoo done on scars as a result of self-harm.

                 A skull and pistons, done on a survivor of domestic violence

Finn is booked with appointments to transform scars. His volunteer work is genius and to be admired–to this the humble artist says, “it’s simply the right thing to do.” He explains that he does it all to help others feel empowered. “It’s just something I can do that won’t take much time that can make a big impact on other people. A tattoo can help disguise the scars, so … it’s like a new chapter.”

My third selection of body art is body painting, which has been around for thousands of years. Every tribe on earth has used clay and other colorful natural pigments to adorn themselves–often in ceremonies. This has evolved into our modern use of cosmetics and makeup, albeit in a more conservative way.

Since the 1960’s there has been a revival of body painting due to changing attitudes of how we view our bodies. My next selection is simply elegant and enchanting–not to be missed!–by Johannes Stötter.

Johannes developed his unique bodypainting technique of his own accord without others’ influence. He joined the international bodypainting community in 2009 at the World Bodypainting Festival in Austria, where he competed in the world championship for the first time. He became world champion in 2012, and the awards (and his originality) just keep coming.

The creativity of the human being and spirit–and the beauty of our bodies–never ceases to amaze and thrill me. What new art forms have you recently discovered that inspire you? Rock on art world into 2017–more originality to come!

Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.

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What I loved about 2016 and What Not So Much

Wow, 2016 was an ever-eventful year. I want to share with you what awed and delighted me the most… and what did not.

My #1 delight of the year was: It was a five-year journey to our solar system’s gigantic planet of Jupiter, but NASA’s Juno spacecraft stunned us by nailing it right on time! To celebrate its accomplishment, Juno entered Jupiter’s orbit on U.S’s independence day–July 4th. Juno will probe beneath the obscuring clouds of Jupiter for the first time and study its auroras. I was in awe as I watched this event in real time online–along with the scientists at NASA–the tension in the room was palpable and so was the sheer joy of Juno’s unbelievable performance seen in this AWESOME VIDEO:

The returning data and images of Jupiter to Earth will keep scientists busy for many years. What will we learn about Jupiter’s origin and what will it mean for Earth? Jupiter already sucks up monumental space junk so that it does not slam into us, what else will we learn about our friend?

                                                              Jupiter Aurora

This is why I love King Jupiter so much: Earth is a nice place to live precisely because of Jupiter’s overbearing gravity. It acts as a super-sized gravitational shield to planet earth. It keeps incoming space junk, like comets, away from our inner solar system. Just think about what that asteroid did to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago!

The whole world was watching when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fell apart and its pieces crashed into Jupiter in 1994, leaving Earth-size scars that lasted a year. That’s Jupiter doing its cosmic job–better it than us!

It was high time we visit our fearless BIG, BIG-brother whom protects us from many spooky cosmic thugs–hip, hip hooray to NASA for this in 2016!

My #2 delight of the year was: Another NASA launch, which happened on Sept. 8 that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system. This one is the FIRST asteroid sampling mission called the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx). The spacecraft (with the very un-sexy name) is designed to reach the asteroid Bennu in August 2018, and then return a sample of it to Earth in 2023.

Illustration of OSIRIS-REx collecting a sample from asteroid Bennu

Why should we care about Bennu? Bennu was selected from over 500,000 known asteroids by NASA’s selection committee. It was chosen due to its close proximity to Earth, the low Δv required to reach it, an orbit with low eccentricity, low inclination, an ideal orbital radius, and it has loose dirt on its surface. Asteroids smaller than this typically spin too fast to retain dust or small particles.

Whittling down from 500,000 to only 5 asteroids: Finally, a desire to find an asteroid with pristine carbon material from the early solar system, possibly including volatile molecules, organic compounds and amino acids reduced the list further to just five asteroids. Ultimately Bennu was selected between these five due to its potentially hazardous orbital impact to Earth. So YES Bennu is one special asteroid! Very COOL NASA VIDEO follows this journey:

My #3 delight of the year was: NASA in 2016 formally started an astrophysics mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe. Called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), it will aid researchers in their efforts to understand–by far the biggest secrets of all–dark energy and dark matter.

WFIRST will also discover new worlds outside our solar system– known as exoplanets. This is because NASA is STILL searching for another planet like earth, which could be suitable for life. Will they ever find it is the question–they have verified 1,284 exoplanets to date–none of which are the least bit hospitable. This artist’s concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. Credits: NASA/W. Stenzel

Regardless of absolutely no success to date to find an earth look-alike, NASA scientists won’t give up searching for life outside our solar system. They analyzed the Kepler space telescope’s “planet candidate catalog” and identified 4,302 potential planets to investigate. You go NASA–if they find one it will be the greatest discovery in all of the history of mankind!

Those are my top 3 WOW things to happen in 2016. NASA is by far the coolest government agency in the USA. Not only do they explore the galaxy and probe the heavens, they develop innovative technology and collect data on climate change. NASA has put a man on the moon and helped launch the collaborative International Space Station. Their mission is WOW: To “reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind,” and so far they are doing a stellar job.

What’s on top of my list for the lousiest of 2016? The death of facts: Regardless of your political affiliation, I think we can all agree that politicians have thrown out “facts” in favor of who can spread “delusions” or straight out lies the most effectively. The worst U.S. political election process I’ve ever witnessed in my years, my mom agrees and she is 88 years old. We can only hope an election that yucky is never repeated again here or anywhere!

9

Second on my list of not so great: 2016 saw the ranks in rock ‘n’ roll heaven quickly swell, as David Bowie, who died at 69 after a secretive 18-month battle with cancer, had just released Blackstar, the album that would serve as his final LP; Keith Emerson, the outsized co-founding keyboardist in Emerson Lake and Palmer, committed suicide at 71 in March; Leonard Cohen, one of the most acclaimed songwriters of the rock era, died in November at the age of 82. He had just released You Want It Darker, the 14th album in a career; Prince, whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson, died April 21 at age 57, after being found unresponsive in an elevator at Paisley Park, his home and recording studio in Minnesota; And British superstar George Michael was found dead in bed on Christmas day–just to name a few. RIP rockers, we LOVE you and the music you created!

Third on my list of not so great? America is deeply, deeply divided about serious issues–and certainly about what kind of leader(s) we need. Who will help us to find common ground? If you live here you know what I am talking about. For the first time since I can remember I’m looking at 2017 with more consternation than hope… but I still have hope. Yes by these three shall I abide: Faith, Hope and Love. I end this 2016 reflection with–the greatest of these three is Love. God bless you all!

Thank you for reading my post. I am a writer and consultant living in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico with my husband and dogs. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.

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Commitment: Photographers, Writers & Ants get it!

Today I want to ponder the idea of “commitment”. William Hutchison Murray (1913 –1996) was a Scottish mountaineer and writer surviving and enduring during the World War II era. I love this quotation by Murray about commitment, which occurs near the beginning of his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951):

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back–Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

The first draft of Murray’s work was written while imprisoned on the only paper available to him – rough toilet paper. His manuscript was found and destroyed by the Gestapo. Murray’s response to this loss was to start again–despite his near starvation diet–and his belief that he would never climb again. His rewritten work was finally published in 1947. His book is credited with helping to inspire the post-war renaissance interest in the mountain climbing sport… and he did climb once again.

Jimmy Chin, Adventure photographer

So what does Murray, photographers and ants have in common? COMMITMENT. Ants are my metaphor for commitment as they are true survivors: They are as old as the dinosaurs, have already survived a mass extinction event, have conquered almost the entire globe, their total population make our 7 billion look weak… I could go on–but you get the idea–they have survived and thrived through their persevering “social” ant colony commitment.

Bridge by Andrey Pavlov

Andrey Pavlov is a Russian photographer that takes photographs of ants in stunning poses along with some help of props that make the images more fantasy-like. Have you seen his ant photographs before? They aren’t artificially rendered using Photoshop or CG software. They were created through patience and COMMITMENT, waiting for the right moment when the ants would move into the desired position.

Statue of Labour by Andrey Pavlov

The photographs in this picture gallery may look like they have been Photoshopped or assembled with dead insects, but the ants in these images are very much alive. Pavlov spends hours setting up fairy-tale scenes. He studied ants, and saw that they all follow a very specific path when they’re working. So he put his props on their trail, and photographed the insects interacting with his miniature ‘stage sets’.

Do not interfere with the driver! and more Photos by Andrey Pavlov

Andrey says: “I chose ants because I respect them and their way of life. They care about their children and look after the elderly.”

Andrey says: “I used to work in theatre which was a big help when it came to making props…”

What does commitment mean to you–from a head, heart and gut aspect? Please share! I hope that you enjoy these photos and the photographer’s commitment it took to create them. They certainly give me creative inspiration and enjoyment… and make me ponder “commitment.”

Thank you for reading my post. I am a writer and consultant living in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico with my husband and dogs. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.

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Why me, the turkey asks?!

How did Thanksgiving come to be celebrated with eating turkeys?

Did the pilgrims really eat turkey? There were definitely wild turkeys in the Plymouth area, however, the best existing account of the Pilgrims’ harvest feast comes from colonist Edward Winslow, author of Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Winslow’s account of the First Thanksgiving included no mention of turkey– but did mention “wild fowl” for the meal–which could have meant ducks or geese.

There were definitely wild turkeys in the Plymouth area,as colonist William Bradford noted in his journal. Bradford wrote of how the colonists had “hunted wild turkeys during the autumn of 1621.” However, Winslow mentions in his writings that the Pilgrims also enjoyed “five deer” as part of their feasting. Also, other meats that were staples in the Pilgrim’s diets were lots of fish and shellfish. So why not gorge on lobster or shrimp instead of turkey? I think turkeys have a good point to make here. 

Since turkey is a uniquely American (and big enough) bird to feed a big family, it gained traction as the Thanksgiving meal of choice for Americans after Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. It wasn’t as common as pork, and felt more fitting for a special occasion. And unlike chickens or cows, they don’t serve any real purpose like laying eggs or making milk. Could these be the reasons the poor turkey ends up on our plate? After all… just look into those eyes…


                    No matter what happens this month, at least you aren’t a turkey.


Some U.S. presidents have taken pity on Thanksgiving turkeys, but others have not.
The first President on record issuing a “pardon” to his turkey was Ronald Reagan, who pardoned a turkey named Charlie and sent him to a petting zoo in 1987 (Wikipedia). The pardon was in response to criticism over the Iran-Contra affair, for which Reagan had been questioned on whether he would consider pardoning Oliver North; Reagan conjured the turkey pardon as a joke to deflect those questions.

President Ronald Reagan issues the first one-off “pardon” to Charlie, 1987.

President John F. Kennedy spares (but no pardon!) the turkey presented to him, 1963, only three days before his assassination.

  President Lyndon Johnson accepting a non-pardoned turkey, 1967.

President Gerald Ford accepting a non-pardoned turkey, 1975.

             Barack Obama Shows Mercy With Thanksgiving Pardon For Turkey

Whether you decide to pardon your delicious turkey or to devour one for good eating–is certainly up to you. Hey it’s still a free country and we celebrate this and much more with thanks and gratitude, especially our turkey laden with “tryptophan”–that amino acid allowing for a wonderfully peaceful nap after gorging…

And speaking of second chances, please consider the Messiah House Story this Thanksgiving.

2cdpm

Thank you for reading my post–I am very grateful for you! I am a consultant living in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves on my website and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.

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Vincent’s extreme empathy to his end

My favorite painter is Vincent van Gogh. I speak to 6 different patterns of creativity in my recent book, which flow from our head, heart and gut intuition. We all have a dominant center of creativity, a supportive center and a 3rd center, which we use less confidently in our creativity. I believe Vincent’s brilliant pattern was: A “Dominant Feeler” (heart center) and this was supported by his rapid intuition (gut center), followed by his third center of “thinking” (head center). Vincent van Gogh is an exemplar of this pattern. I explain why in my book and include a short excerpt here.

Born in the Netherlands, he was a preacher’s son. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a preacher himself. Vincent soon realized he was too empathetic to work with the poor immigrants he was ordained to serve. Instead, he became one of them (heart domination).

He did not begin painting until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In approximately a decade, he produced more than 2,100 art works (heart/gut pattern). His swiftly painted impressionist work was notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color. He said, “As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed…”

Vincent lived his “extreme empathy” pattern out his entire life. I believe until his last dying breath. History dictated he committed suicide–but did he really?

New research indicates Vincent did not commit suicide in the end, but was likely shot on July 27, 1890 by a neighborhood bullyboy by accident. Researchers believe a sixteen-year-old boy named Rene Secretan, whose tormenting of van Gogh included buying him drinks, fired the fatal shot. The research questions whether the artist, who was known to have spent time in an insane asylum, could have gotten a gun. Police never found van Gogh’s painting gear or the gun at the wheat field (which was one mile from the lodge) where he said he shot himself. Van Gogh had also written he considered suicide “sinful and immoral.”

This was only four days after Vincent had written his beloved brother of his renewed and determined interest in painting. The new theory is Vincent tried to protect the merciless boy and cover up the shooting by saying, “Do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to commit suicide” (Adeline Ravoux, 1956). Vincent’s doctor, Paul Gachet, confirmed he was in a good period and had improved psychologically in the very end. He grieved at his funeral and said admiringly, “an honest man and a great artist… who had only two aims, art and humanity.”

So close was Theo’s legendary relationship to his brother that he “fell gravely ill” almost immediately after his death and was dead some months after. His body is buried next to Vincent’s in Auvers.

Cover Picture

This theory contradicts old ones that Vincent went mad. As does Adeline Ravoux’s account of his last months, “He never drank alcohol. I insist on this point. The day of his suicide, he was not in the least intoxicated, as some claim. When I later learnt that he had been interned in an asylum for lunatics in the Midi, I was very surprised, as he always appeared calm and gentle in Auvers. He was well respected at our place. We called him familiarly ‘Monsieur Vincent.’”

Vincent died in the Ravoux’s second floor bedroom. Read Adeline Ravoux’s personal account of how Vincent died on the sad night of July 27, 1890. There is still no consensus on how Vincent died, as experts “cannot yet agree” with the new research conclusions about the painter’s death.

What if—van Gogh had developed or emphasized his “hidden” (or less used) rational center earlier in his creative life—or was able to get help for his mental health? We can only guess what the results would be. Why does he touch me so deeply? His confident command of color and commitment to painting the beauty he saw (in the moment) was genius; his magnificent paintings profoundly hit all three of my centers. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. He said he did this by, “…a succession of little things that are brought together.” He ultimately transcended the negativity of his inner “head” critic. This mysterious, utterly humble, and wild man who roamed the fields of Provence makes me cry. He is a true hero whom I can always draw inspiration from.

Thank you for reading my post. I am a consultant living in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves in my recent book and website, and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.

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Velcro and Teflon Creativity

Which of your three creative centers–head, heart or gut–are you being negative to? bionic-brain

The secret to creativity might be summed up in a cheesy neuroscience joke: “The neurons that fire together, wire together.” When we disrespect what one of our intelligence centers is saying to us by automatically responding negatively to it, we are shutting that source of creativity down:

“My gut is always wrong, I never listen to it.”

“Listening to my heart will only cause severe pain and bleeding.”

“I think too much, I shouldn’t listen to my head but only act.”

“It’s a classic saying, and it’s widely accepted because it’s very true,” says neuropsychologist Rick Hanson. “We’ve got this negativity bias that’s a kind of bug in the stone-age brain in the 21st century,” he says. “It makes it hard for us to learn from our positive experiences, even though learning from your positive experiences is the primary way to grow inner strength.”

There are consequences of our highly interconnected head/heart and gut intelligence centers. Scientists believe our brains have a built-in “negativity bias.” The reason is pretty simple. Since we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots (rewards), it was more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots. It was a tough environment for our ancestors. If they missed out on a carrot, it likely would not kill them; but if they failed to avoid a stick, such as a predator, a poisonous plant, a natural hazard, or overly aggressive fellow caveman, then BAM!, fat chance to pass on their genes.

Our negativity bias shows up in lots of ways. For example, studies have found in a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one. People will work much harder to avoid losing 100 dollars than they will work to gain the same amount of money. Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.

The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. It is said approximately 80 percent of our (up to) 70,000 thoughts per day are negative. This is good and bad news for creativity. Our brains are tilted against lasting contentment and fulfillment. This means our memory banks are full of underlying expectations, assumptions, beliefs, and especially our moods—which automatically move in a negative direction. Mother Nature only cares about passing on genes; she doesn’t care if this means painful suffering in the process. Suffering includes subtle worries to intense feelings of sorrow, worthlessness, or anger and creating suffering for others. Naturally being wired to acquire negative experiences over positive ones, can make us more anxious, irritable, and blue. But these “sticky” emotions also create a deep well for us to draw upon and funnel into creative outlets. Such lack of contentment can result in a felt need and a motivation to create.

“I have the memory of an elephant. I can forgive, but I cannot forget. It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Perhaps the Velcro theory is why Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous elephant quote about her philandering husband makes sense. We are wired to hold onto the negative experience, even if we willfully (from our gut center) try not to. Mrs. Roosevelt exemplifies our need to take the negative and create something new. This is exactly what she did after discovering FDR’s first affair with her own private secretary. Her personal journals expose from this point forward, any remaining intimacy left their relationship. Up to this point she was willing to be a traditional wife, mother of their five children, and homemaker. After this very painful breach of trust, Eleanor established a separate house, and increasingly devoted herself to becoming a human rights and social justice entrepreneur. This included being a pioneer in the womens’ suffrage and African American Civil Rights movements. She was no ordinary first lady–I believe the most entrepreneurial one of all!

Eleanor knew how to make lemonade from potent lemons in her life

Perhaps an even more severe example of “making lemonade” is shown in the video below. This one will blow your mind for sure!

However, on a day to day basis, many of us don’t stay with our positive experiences long enough for them to be encoded into neural structure (meaning there’s not enough wiring and firing going on). On the other hand, we naturally tend to fixate on negative experiences. Positive and negative emotions use different memory systems in the brain, according to Hanson, and positive emotions don’t transfer as easily to long-term memory.

So we easily filter to see the tough parts of life. We can learn to bear negativity by intentionally tilting towards healthy creative outlets. This will lift our energy and spirits and use our resources. But we have to intentionally fill up our cups because positive experiences will wash through us like sieves. Please see a previous post on how to fight ANTS (automatic negative thoughts).

The more we get our neurons firing on positive facts, the more we’ll be wiring up positive neural structures. Intentionally focusing on “taking in the good” is a brain-science savvy and psychologically skillful way to improve how we feel, get things done creatively, and treat others consistently. By taking the positive in–from our head, heart and gut centers–and filling ourselves up with them, we will increasingly feel less fragile or needy inside, and less dependent on external supplies.

How good are you at creatively making lemonade from all the negative lemons in your life? Please share your insights on this, we all have “ANTS,” (mine can build huge mounds in my mind if left untended!)

Thank you for reading my post (excerpts from my recent book). My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves in my book and at my website and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.

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