Category Archives: creativity

Creativity: Taking risk & stretching self

How do you think about risk?

Do images of hang gliding or dying on Mount Everest come to mind? Does it mean an activity where one false move can mean death for you? The truth is risk doesn’t need to involve danger. Risk can also be defined as the intentional interaction with uncertainty. “Uncertainty is a potential, unpredictable, unmeasurable and uncontrollable outcome; risk is a consequence of action taken in spite of uncertainty” says Wikipedia. Risk can be defined as “activities with uncertain outcomes.”

The ability to take calculated risks is an essential human trait, crucial to our development. Our risk-taking ancestors were the successful survivors who took chances to adapt to their changing environment. And today, the same principle applies, “To grow, we need to experience challenges — whether we’re 4, 14, or 40” says psychologist Michael Ungar. I’d add–until our dying breath.

Facing things that make us uncomfortable has advantages, whether we succeed or fail: we become more emotionally resilient, confident, satisfied, and engaged with life. We don’t have to parachute from a plane (thank God!) to reap the benefits of taking risks. Choosing to be creative everyday means taking some risk. Any time we pay attention to areas of our life that feel challenging, lacking or intriguing to us– we can choose to take some risk. Whether that means being open to the universe to find a new mate after a divorce or to change our artistic medium in order to better express ourselves on an easel. We embrace the adventure of uncertainty. “Do one thing every day that scares you,” Eleanor Roosevelt said.

Will taking a risk cause anxiety? Yes!

Researcher Hans Selye found there are actually two kinds of stress: Distress is a negative stress and eustress is a positive stress. “Eustress,” or healthy anxiety motivates or focuses our energy. Healthy anxiety is “just right” anxiety; the kind we need to be creative. Too much anxiety becomes toxic to our performance, paralyzing it. Too little anxiety is toxic as well, as it puts us in an “I’m bored” state. So the level of risk we choose to take should include “just right” anxiety for us. This will look different for you than it does for me, but for both of us, it will involve a “stretch” from our head, heart or gut center (or all three).

Pioneer Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard explains in his 1844 treatise that anxiety is the dizzying effect of freedom, of paralyzing possibility, of the boundlessness of one’s own existence. He writes, “Anxiety is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility.”

We intuitively know that our best learning occurs just beyond our comfort zone from our heart, head or gut perspective. That’s what happened to me when I left my corporate job after 19 years. I had to take a big risk, relinquish the golden handcuffs, and take a leap of faith into the deep unknown. Through the process I discovered more passions: living off the grid in the mountains, building a rustic cabin, trail running on old mining paths and meeting my soul mate whom I would marry. There is always a sense of satisfaction that emerges from trying something entirely new and proving ourselves to be capable of the task. Creativity is born!

Perhaps the coolest benefit of taking a risk is that it’s simply fun. Neuroscientists explain this bliss with biochemistry: New, challenging, and risky activities trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that’s part of the brain’s reward system. Call risk taking the ultimate antidote to boredom. It’s the best way (I am aware of) to wake up and feel fully alive. We can have a say in our destiny—by taking a risk– versus being dominated by our circumstances. Indeed every chance we take teaches us something about ourselves and leads us mysteriously along our long term creative path.

If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. As Vincent van Gogh said, People are often unable to do anything, imprisoned as they are in I don’t know what kind of terrible, terrible, oh such terrible cage.”

Any risks you’ve taken you’d like to share– that reaped you creative benefits?  Was the risk from a head, heart or gut perspective? Happy risk taking.

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.

Read more in my book and my website: The Three Sources of Creativity: Breakthroughs from Your Head, Heart and Gut.

Writers–A must watch interview–S.King & GRRM

This is a great video of Stephen King and George R. R. Martin interviewing each other that you simply must check out. Why? Well first of all– they are two great authors of our time.

King has published 54 novels and six non-fiction books and has written nearly 200 short stories. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. His novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was the basis for the movie The Shawshank Redemption which is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for 7 Oscars in 1995

George R. R. Martin is best known for his international bestselling series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, which was later adapted into the wildly popular HBO dramatic series Game of Thrones. Martin has been called “the American Tolkien”and Time Magazine named him one of the “2011 Time 100,” a list of the “most influential people in the world.” GRRM (as he is known) lives in my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico– we are blessed by his very generous community presence and participation!

Second of all–these two authors have opposite writing styles: King writes several books a year and Martin infuriates his fans due to his slow writing pace. This leads Martin asking King a question he’s always wanted to know regarding his writing process.

It’s a great example of how there is NOT one writing style that works: On one end of the spectrum some authors work freely–“organically,” and on the other end–other authors structure detailed outlines (skeletons) that they follow and add dramatic meat to (like James Patterson).

Enjoy the highly entertaining conversation between these two funny characters: At nearly an hour-long, this spontaneous and friendly interview dives into the details of both author’s writing crafts. The two discuss each others work, aspects of their personal life, writing interests and more. Warning: there is profanity.

Which of these two authors do you more resonate with and why? Please do share your thoughts about their interesting discussion.

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.

King, Rowling, Angelou: How to Write Successfully

Do  you love top 10 lists? I find them hard to resist on topics I’m passionate about. Today I have chosen three videos of top 10 rules from three iconic writers: Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Maya Angelou.

Every time I watch Stephen King “live” I find myself laughing out loud–really loud!–the writer comes off as an extroverted stand up comedian. King needs little introduction, he is an American author of contemporary horror, science fiction, and fantasy and has sold more than 350 million copies. A favorite King quote of mine is:

Stephen King’s Top 10 Rules For Success: Be sure not to miss #10!
 


Ms Rowling is a British superstar novelist and best known as the author of the unprecedented Harry Potter fantasy series. The books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, and sold more than 400 million copies. In 2004, Forbes named her as the first person to become a billionaire by writing books! A favorite Rowling quote of mine is:

 J.K. Rowling’s Top 10 Rules For Success: Don’t miss her #4 insight!


Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She’s best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. For me she pierces the heart with her words–always poetic–and so inspiring they sweep me away. I simply adore Maya Angelou! My favorite quote of Maya’s:

Be sure not to miss #10 of this Maya Angelou video!

I thank Evan Carmichael for making these useful and heart-felt video collages. Its simply amazing what you can find on the internet–from creative people for free–for inspiration!

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.

Happy Independence Day! Surprising facts about July 4th

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY America!

AMERICA–We are celebrating a very special day symbolic of US!

Many may not know these interesting (!) FACTS about this unique day–DID YOU KNOW?

Continental Congress actually approved the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain on July 2. But it was on July 4 that the Declaration of Independence was officially signed in 1776.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence made July 4 our official independence day, but also the deaths of two of our founders cement it. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, former U. S. presidents, BOTH passed away on July 4th in the same year, 1826. They were bitter political enemies–until retirement, when they became close–writing each other more than 150 letters. Even more amazing is that both died by a difference of five hours and both knew that the other was on their deathbed. Their intimate and intellectual genuine friendship is an inspiration. We can move–upward and onward–beyond petty politics!

July 4 is also Liberation Day in Rwanda. The Rwandan Genocide ended this day in 1994 and birthed a new government. Heroes in Rwanda’s Patriotic Army overthrew the Hutu’s regime. This date also started their trajectory of success to the present day and beyond.

What do July 4th and Mount Everest have in common? George Everest was born July 4th, 1790–after whom the world’s highest mountain is named. This is the favorite mountain where so many are willing to die to climb to the peak! Such wonder and breath-taking beauty!

What else is unusual about July 4th?

The usual date of Earth’s “aphelion,” when our orbit is furthest from the sun is—you guessed it! –July 4. There is that mighty and symbolic independence again!

Also coincidentally, on July 4, 1862, Lewis Carroll told Alice Liddell a great story that would grow into Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.

It has been estimated that 150 million hot dogs will be eaten in the US in today’s celebrations. (I didn’t say we have good taste…)

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT–JULY 4TH IS OUR AMAZING DAY… ENJOY IT!

And I’m sending lots of love out to (especially) the ladies of Rwanda, this is YOUR day. Sending joy and success to all today!

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 pursuing long term creative quests in my book and website.

What has 8 eyes?

Spiders seem to define the ultimate in creativity. True spiders of the order Araneae are the largest group of carnivorous animals on Earth!

YES, ALL SPIDERS ARE PREDATORS. They hunt and capture prey–mostly other insects and other invertebrates, but some large spiders may even prey on vertebrates such as birds.

Why are spiders fantastically successful as hunters? There are many reasons. One might think it is because most spiders have 8 EYES. Even so, the fact is few have good eyesight. Instead they rely on touch, vibration and taste stimuli to navigate and find their prey.

This jumping spider’s main center pair of eyes are very acute. The outer pair are “secondary eyes” and there are other pairs of secondary eyes on the sides and top of its head. Photo by JJ Harrison

Head of a Net-casting Spider, Deinopis. Photographer:Reg Morrison

Most spiders detect little more than light-dark intensity changes. Some spiders have median eyes that detect polarized light and they use this for hunting.

Eye shine from a Wolf Spider, Photographer: Jim Frazer

Spider’s eight eyes are typically placed in two rows, on the front of their carapace. Their direct eyes, or AME, differ markedly in structure from their other indirect eyes (ALE, PLE, PME). The direct eyes appear dark, whereas the indirect eyes usually have a layer of light reflecting crystals, behind the light sensitive retina, giving these eyes a silvery appearance.

Tropical Jumping Spiders are spider specialists. They prey on both hunting and web building spiders. Photographer: Robert Jackson

The following are more stunning photographs of the jumping spider, captured by macro photographer Thomas Shahan.

For a few spiders, good vision is vital for hunting and capturing prey and for recognizing mates and rivals. They include the day active jumping spiders (Salticidae), the flower spiders (Thomisidae), the wolf spiders (Lycosidae) and net-casting spiders (Deinopidae), more often seen by twilight or later at night.

Wonderopolis 900 × 600

You may ask “why 8 eyes?” Burke museum curator Rod Crawford explains, “It almost certainly has nothing to do with the 8 legs… While 99% of spiders do have 8, almost 1% have 6, and a few have 2 or 0. All harvestmen and solpugids have 2… The functions of the 4 different eye-pairs vary widely among different groups of spiders. Details would be a whole dissertation in itself.”

Wonderopolis 900 × 600

You guessed it–there is no universal answer as to why spiders have 8 eyes. We’ll just leave it with, “mother nature has her reasons,” and why not for ‘just’ beauty’s sake? Or for curious photographers to discover?

Yes it is true, we need nature more than nature needs us. Please share what you think about spider eyes–and especially your theories as to why they have eight eyes. And of course your photographic techniques for capturing their glory.

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 pursuing long term creative quests in my book and website.

Ugh! Why is my creativity stalled?

My last blog post was about asking why–three times, in three different ways to get motivated about creating your next thing. This is part two, what if I know why I want to create this thing, but I am still stuck??

Asking your head, heart and gut–why do you want to create your thing of interest–is a big deal. Our why is the motivation behind creating, it drives us. And keeps driving us. But what if we think we aren’t good enough?

Self-awareness is the key to recognizing and managing our self-doubt about our creativity. Where is the resistance (the BIG R!) originating from? Most of us feel the negative power of the “Big R” but don’t really analyze it. One of our creative centers–either our fearful/critical head, our envious/comparing heart or our lazy gut center is to blame. Which of these intelligence centers is your resistance culprit?

One of the tricks of our head center is perfectionism–this stops us from creating–it tells us we aren’t good enough to do it. If our head center convinces us that everything has to be perfect, it knows we won’t begin, or at least we won’t finish what we started. For example, I’ve done endless research for my new book and made an outline of the chapters. Is my head center the culprit for my stalling actually writing it? I ponder this–I’m not at the point of analysis paralysis and still have incredible curiosity about my subject. No, I don’t think its fear from my head center that is stopping me at this point.

Our heart center says, “What if I suck?” If we say this, then what we are really saying is that I suck compared to others. Comparison is a major creativity killer. So I say to my heart, my feelings, “If I really suck at this then why do I have a persistent desire–a calling–to birth this book?  My heart says, “I have a deep passion for this subject, it is significant to me and I don’t think anyone else has already done this book… I know they haven’t!” Its my unique voice and history and take on the subject (my mess, my message) after all–so why compare myself to others?

What am I feeling, I ask my heart? “I am feeling overwhelmed by my story–getting lost in it.” This is another effective “Big R” tactic. “What are the most authentic pieces of your book,” my heart says, “most true for you? Cut everything else, get rid of it…” OK this is great advice from my heart. Its helping me, not causing my “Big R.” Its telling me to simplify, simplify on the message(s) that matter most.

This leaves only my trusted gut center for me to ask the same question: Are you the culprit– the resistor of me writing this book? Alright it confesses: “I am pitifully suffering from under-action, undisciplined writing time and poor resolve. I am excessively surfing the net–in the name of research–which is really BS. I am not controlling my time, NOT spending my time doing the right things at the right time for the good of my book.” My gut tells me, “You know you write best in the morning, the earlier the better, but instead you are insanely reading newspapers and opinions… the all-distracting Trump thing you have going on… he isn’t anything you can control, so why spend your best time on this?”

My gut tells me: “Creativity isn’t about rare talent, it’s about executing! Quit ignoring writing your book and feeling overwhelmed by it. Get down to the nitty-gritty writing of the details to discover which of your ideas work best. It’s a numbers game, but it is a numbers game that you are not playing!” Oh yes, thanks for reminding me–being creative isn’t magic. It’s just a person dedicated to actually doing it for better or worse–no matter the ever present resistance–every single day.

Aha, that’s it! My distractions and excuses are essentially lies. My gut tells me so! We can DO this creative thing, lets do it!

I invite you to read more about the creative high hanging and low hanging fruit from our three intelligence centers in my book: The Three Sources of Creativity: Breakthroughs from Your Head, Heart and Gut.

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 pursuing long term creative quests in my book and website.

.

Can organizations be creative?

Have you ever been at a corporate off-site or other workshop/offering where the result of the initiative fell flat? The intent was good; but there were no new meaningful insights. It was scheduled rather than organic. Our brains had time to predict the future, and the potential for novelty disappeared. Transplanting the same mix of people to a different location, even an exotic one, then dropping them into a “new” conference room usually doesn’t work.

No, new insights usually only come from new people, new environments, and new incubations; any circumstance where the brain can’t predict what will happen next. In short, by creating paradigm shifts in our three centers of intelligence: our heads, hearts and guts.

It is possible for employees, supervisors and managers to “wire” creativity into their organizations by drawing upon the three centers of intelligence. But do organizations have heads, hearts and guts? Resoundingly– yes they do!

The Ted talk below succinctly illustrates “collaborative visualization”– this is a “head based” technique to begin with (using our imaginations) that quickly can lead to creative action (gut based). If the visualization taps into our heart’s passion, then it can lead to a triple intersection (of head, heart, and gut intelligence) creativity. 

Organizational cultures reflect back the top people driving them. You can learn more in my recent book. I include diverse case studies such as, Apple Corp, Exxon/Mobil Corp, Saddleback Church and more.

What do you think about “collaborative visualization” as an organizational approach? Any hope for it working in your organization?

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

Want to make something creative?

What shall I make for my next creative project? It is easy to get stuck at “What the heck should I make next”?

Instead of focusing on “what” should I create, I humbly suggest asking yourself WHY–three times. Get very quiet and still and ask your head, heart and gut separately: Why do I want to make or create this thing? Let the voice of each intelligence center answer this question for you very distinctly.

What does your head say to you about this creative thing?

What does your heart say about it?

And what does your gut intuition say about it?

Write down each distinct intelligence center answer and reflect on each.

Clearly articulating why you’re creating what you are will light your path and continue fanning the flames inside you, and likely will touch others deeply too. Regardless if your creative thing is purely for your own enjoyment or you want it to be a commercial success–if you don’t start with why, you have no compass.

I’m writing my first science fiction book. When I start to doubt myself on why I’m writing this book I ask my head-why am I writing this? My answer is mostly because I love the space/astrophysics/spiritual subjects involved and by doing the in-depth research involved I get to learn new things, “the latest and greatest”. I ask my heart, why am I writing this? I want to find more clarity and meaning about the cycle of life and the suffering involved in it. If I can find some peace in it, perhaps it will help bring peace to others too. I ask my gut, why? My gut says there are some older, deeper truths inside me that I can tap into, feel and know to be true. My intuition quietly says–this is important to you, your curiosity about scientific and spiritual facts and how they can co-exist in different realms. I can now go forward knowing I am doing the right thing by writing this book.

Imaginative thinking is at the core of art, science, and a number of other disciplines, but the science of imaginative thinking is a secret. I believe by tapping into (the usually un-reflected upon) WHY from our head, heart and gut perspectives can tap into our untapped imaginations.

Starting with why can lead to levels of excellence we never considered attainable, especially for long term creative projects. By emphasizing the WHY behind our motivations to succeed, versus the WHAT approach, which is less passionate, less inspired (and probably a more habitual approach) we can have confidence in our creative product. We can be authentic in our approach, which will–at the very least–delight us and perhaps even really inspire others.

Do your research first. Mark Twain said, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” Good research is about asking broad questions, and thinking critically about the answers. It’s something everyone can learn, and do quickly with Google, and countless other search approaches. If we do this well, it will save us time, energy and money by reducing unknowns and creating a solid foundation to build the right thing, in the most effective way. After all time is–by far–our most precious commodity.

Where have you gotten your ideas in the past? Take the time to reflect upon this, then write your answers down. Next, what are you waiting for… go do that research. If it is being in nature and for example, examining something much more intensely than others do, then go do it!

How do I know if what I make will be the right thing? Because even if we’ve done the research, we still don’t know if we’re actually making something that works for others. This only matters if we aspire to commercial success.

Is my new  book something that others will want to read?

Is my performance art exhibit something others will be inspired to participate in?

Will my new video or movie be a hit or a dud?

We must run targeted experiments to find out. You know how to do that already–writers reach out to beta readers, marketers get focus groups, designers reach out to real users, artists have… each other through various associations, and so on.

Swedish artist Måns Wrange has used the concept of the focus group in his work The Good Rumor Project. He used the focus group not only as a means to investigate the opinions of the group members, but also to spread an idea (the rumor) across society with the help of the group members. Now that is creative, stay tuned on how it works (video below).

You can read Part 2 of this post here.

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.

Read more in my recent book and my website: The Three Sources of Creativity: Breakthroughs from Your Head, Heart and Gut.

Surprising Ways 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.

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.