Tag Archives: Art

The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning by Steven Pressfield

Summary
  1. The artist’s journey begins with the hero’s journey, it is merely the beginning and it allows us to begin living authentically, to self-actualize. It is the gift you get from going through the often painful hero’s journey, it is what you do with your gift, how you help the world and those around you.
Key Takeaways
  1. The artist’s journey is personal, solitary, mental, an evolution, a constant, about self-discovery (as opposed to self-expression), yet universal
  2. The Hero’s Journey has 11 steps:
    1. The call to adventure
    2. Refusal of the call
    3. Meeting the mentor
    4. Crossing the threshold
    5. Tests
    6. Approaching the innermost cave
    7. Ordeal
    8. Reward/Bliss
    9. The road back
    10. Resurrection
    11. Master of two worlds
  3. Subject
    1. We are all born to find our “subject”, it finds us and not the other way around. It is our calling, what we are meant to do. It is terrifying to try to find which is my so many people put it off. Once we find it, we can’t turn away from it but it takes a risk to act on it
  4. Voice
    1. We have to find our voice, how we best express ourselves
  5. Point of View
    1. Once the artists develops their “point of view”, they can answer any question about any aspect regarding their work, they know what “movie” they’re making and what it takes to get there – they have the hologram in the head
  6. Medium of Expression
    1. The artist must determine the medium for the message.
  7. Style
    1. Every artist has a style that they must develop over time. Hemingway didn’t write with short, simple words because he didn’t know more complicated ones – it was because it was his style
    2. Your style must blend seamlessly with the medium
    3. Style is inseparable from voice, it evolves out of subject and point of view and blends seamlessly with medium of expression.
  8. Subject, voice, point of view, medium of expression, and style are all different ways of thinking of your gift, which is the same as asking the question, “who am I?” Finding the answer to these questions is not a rational journey, it cannot be rushed or planned, we are born with all of these but they are out of our normal consciousness and it takes time, suffering and persistence to find them. We must give up our control, our ego, to find them. Once you discover your gift, you become an artist. To the outside, nothing may seem to change but internally everything changes. Everything in your life which is “not artist” falls away. Externally, your life may look boring with no drama, binges, disrespecting your gift/voice/talent, the artist is now on a mission and her life has acquired a purpose. Your life is now about following their muse, about becoming who you really are, and this journey will take you through the rest of your life
  9. An artist is in touch with their time, they speak of and to their time
  10. In this journey, all enemies are mental and self-generated. But, on the flipside, same with all strengths
  11. All progression is made by increments and is done by accessing the unconscious, your muse. Everything you create as an artist comes beyond your conscious awareness. Artists do not know what they’re going to do before they do it, and often don’t know what they’re doing while they’re doing it. This “second” you is the real you and it is much smarter than the “you” you normally associate with
  12. The artist’s journey lasts the rest of your life
  13. Resistance (fear, distraction, temptation, etc.) is a mini refusal of the call. You can get over this by meeting with the mentor – it can be external but even better you become your own mentor, helping yourself get past the Resistance. The aim is to make ourselves Masters – not just of our crafts, but of ourselves
  14. Index of basic skills acquired during the Artist’s Journey
    1. Learns how to start
    2. Learns how to keep going
    3. Learns how to finish
    4. Learns how to hang on
    5. Learns how to let go
    6. Learns how to be alone – learns how to gain energy from her work alone, and need for third party validation attenuates
    7. Learns how to work with others – would rather produce something better with others than they otherwise could have alone than get credit
    8. Learns emotional distance – learns how to detach from the judgment, their emotional needs
    9. Learns how to handle rejection
    10. Learns how to handle praise
    11. Learns how to handle panic
    12. Learns how to give up
    13. Learns how to go beyond what you know
    14. Learns how to be brave – run towards what scares you
    15. Learns how to keep the pressure on
    16. Learns how to kill – either the Resistance wins or you do, which will it be?
    17. Learns how to help others and how to be helped
    18. Learns how to steal good ideas
    19. Learns how to how the marketplace works
    20. Learns how to gain perspective on their work
    21. Learns how to learn from history
    22. Learns how to learn from the masters who have come before them
    23. Learns how to be humble
    24. Learns how to self-validate
    25. Learns how to self-reinforce
    26. Learns how to self-evaluate
    27. Learns how to commit for a lifetime
    28. The amateur is one who does not have any of these skills – they are not mentally tough, they don’t have persistence
  15. A better name for the unconscious is the superconscious. You must develop the ability to go from the conscious to the superconscious and back again often and effectively. Most people are afraid of finding out what’s truly in us, of what we really have, of finding out who we are
  16. The artist believes in a different reality and shuttles back and forth between realities
  17. How the world works – The universe exists on at least two levels – the material world (physical world) and the ethereal (the higher realm, the soul, it cannot be seen or summoned but can be felt, it is the plane we are trying to access as artists). An artist’s skill lies in shuttling between the normal mind and the higher mind. They cease direct thinking and shift to a more intuitive, non-linear mindset, this is what makes the process addictive
  18. All art is about the recognition of beauty and the articulation of empathy and compassion for the other – the artist is a force for unity
  19. Mankind’s original sin, what got Adam and Eve cast out of Eden, is identifying with the ego
  20. Daimon = genius. It is us, yet it is separate
  21. The secret that every true artist knows is that the profound can be reached by focusing on the mundane. Sit down at the keyboard, stand before the easel, you have to show up
  22. The mysterious flow of creativity can be prompted, primed like a pump, by emotionally and physically creating a habit and a space where you want that energy to flow
  23. Who you are is what you produce, what you write/produce/paint…
  24. The artist’s journey is the hero’s journey of the human race
  25. How do you know when you’re ready? You decide. You act
What I got out of it
  1. The artist is one who can shift between the normal everyday world and the higher plane where inspiration hits, where the daimon resides, and being able to translate this higher plane into art

The Lives of Artists by Giorgio Vasari

Summary
  1. Giorgio Vasari  the effective founder of art history, describes the lives and works of some of history’s great artists
Key Takeaways
  1. Vasari had titanic energy and was an accomplished artist in his own right but his most important legacy is this book – having pretty much invented art history
  2. Design is the basis of all good art – practice to imitate human and natural world
  3. Grace and effortless-seeming is the greatest compliment anyone can pay you
  4. The origin of these arts was Nature herself, that the inspiration or model was the beautiful fabric of the world, and that the Master who taught us was that divine light infused in us by a special act of grace which has not only made us superior to other animals but even similar, if it is permitted to say so, to God himself
  5. Cimabue made Byzantine art less “awkward” and was Giotto’s mentor
  6. Giotto a natural talent but worked hard and learned to draw from Nature
  7. Design and invention are the father and mother of all the arts and not of a single one alone
  8. Truly happy are the men who are by nature inclined to those arts which can bring them not only honor and great profits but, what is more important, fame and an almost everlasting reputation; even happier are those who in addition to this inclination exhibit from infancy a gentility and civility of manners which make them most pleasing to all men. But  happiest of all, finally, are those (speaking of artists) who, in addition to having a natural inclination towards the good as well as noble habits resulting from both their nature and education  live in the time of some famous writer from whom, in return for a small portrait or some other kind of gift of an artistic nature, they may on occasion receive through such writings, the reward of eternal honor and fame
  9. No doubt those who are the inventors of anything noble attract the greatest attention from historians, and this occurs because new inventions are more closely observed and held in greater amazement, due to the pleasure to be found in the newness of things, than any number of improvements made later by anyone at all in bringing these things to their ultimate state of perfection.
  10. Basis of art history lies in first-hand observation
  11. Any beginning, no matter how small, is always worth of no small praise
  12. Robbia devoted himself so completely to sculpture, altogether abandoning the goldsmith’s craft  that he did nothing else but chisel all day long and sketch at night. And he did this with such zeal that on many occasions at night when his feet became cold, in order not to leave his sketching, he would warm them up by placing them in a basket of wood shavings – that is, the kinds of shavings carpenters remove from boards when they work them with a plane. I am not in the least surprised by this, since no one ever becomes excellent in any profession whatsoever unless he learns while stills  boy to endure heat, cold, hunger, thirst, and other discomforts; those people, therefore, who think it is possible to attain an honorable rank with all the comforts and conveniences in the world are sadly mistaken: it is achieved by staying up late and working constantly, not by sleeping!
  13. Artists should pay close attention to this, since experience makes it clear that from a  distance all things – whether painting, sculpture, or any other similar thing – have greater boldness and force if they are well roughed out rather than well finished; because of the effects of distance, it also often seems that rough sketches, which are created in an instant of artistic frenzy, express the idea behind them in a few strokes, whereas on the other hand, great effort and too much diligence may sometimes diminish the power and knowledge of those who never know when to pull their hands away from the works they are creating. And anyone who knows that the art of design (to avoid speaking only of painting) are akin to poetry also knows that just as poems dictated during a poetic frenzy are the truest, the finest, and the best when compared to those produced with great effort, so the works of men who excel in arts of design are best when they are created by a single stroke from the force of this frenzy rather than when they are produced little by little according to the inspiration of the moment with great effort and labor. The artist who from the very beginning has, as he should, a conception of what he desires to create, always moves resolutely towards perfection with the greatest ease
  14. Let it suffice to say that whatever great artists pursue, so do the lesser ones
  15. Nature has created many men who are small and insignificant in appearance but whoa re endowed with spirits so full of greatness and hearts of such boundless courage that they have no peace until they undertake difficult and almost impossible tasks and bring them to completion, to the astonishment of those who witness them. No matter how vile or base these projects may be, when opportunity puts them into the hands of such men, they become valuable and lofty enterprises. Thus, we should never turn up our noses when we meet people who in their physical appearance do not possess the initial grace and beauty that Nature should bestow upon skillful artisans when they come into the world, for without a doubt veins of gold are hidden beneath the sod. And many times those with poor features develop such great generosity of spirit and sincerity of heart that when nobility of soul is joined to these qualities, they greatest miracles may be expected of them, for they work to embellish ugliness of body with strength of intellect. This can clearly be see in Brunelleschi. Heaven also endowed Filippo with the highest virtues, among which was that of friendship, so that there never existed a man more kind or loving than he. In his judgment he was dispassionate, and whenever he considered the measure of another man’s merits, eh set aside his own interest or that of his friends. He knew himself and communicated the degree of his own talent to others, and he was always ready to help a neighbor in need, declaring himself a confirmed enemy of vice and an admirer of those who practiced virtue. He never wasted his time but was always striving to asst his friends, either by himself or with the help of others, and he went about visiting his friends and always supporting them.
  16. Filippo’s hologram in his head – “…And none of you has remembered to point out that the internal scaffolding can be constructed to do the mosaics and countless number of other difficult tasks. But I, who envision the dome already vaulted, recognize that there is no other way to vault it than the one I have set forth.”
  17. The greatest gifts often rain down upon human bodies through celestial influences as a natural process, and sometimes in a supernatural fashion a single body is lavishly supplied with such beauty, grace, and ability that whatever the individual turns, each of his actions is so divine that he leaves behind all other men and clearly makes himself known as a genius endowed by God (which he is) rather than created by human artifice. Men saw this in Leonardo da Vinci, who displayed great physical beauty (which has never been sufficiently praised),a  more than infinite grace in every action, and an ability so fit and so vast that wherever his mind turned to difficult tasks, he resolved them completely with ease. His great personal strength was joined to dexterity, and his spirit and courage were always regal and magnanimous. And the fame of his name spread so widely that not only was he held in high esteem in his own times, but his fame increased even more after his death
  18. The greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less since they are searching for inventions in their minds, and forming those perfect ideas which their hands then express and reproduce from what they preciously conceived with their intellect
  19. The loss of Leonardo saddened beyond all measure everyone who had known him, for no one ever lived who had brought such honor to painting. His splendidly handsome appearance could bring calm to every troubled soul, and his words could sway the most hardened mind to either side of a question. His great physical strength could check any violent outburst; with his right hand he could bend the iron ring of a door-knocker or a horseshoe as if it were made of lead. His generosity was so great that he sheltered and fed all his friends, rich and poor alike, provided they possessed talent and ability.
  20. No one should think it strange that Michelangelo took pleasure in solitude, as a man deeply enamored of his art, which wants a man to be alone and pensive for its own purposes, since anyone who desires to apply himself to the study of this art must avoid companions: it so happens that those who attend to the considerations of art are never alone or without thoughts, and people who attribute their desire for solitude to daydreams and eccentricity are wrong, for anyone who wishes to work well must rid himself of cares and worries, since talent requires thought, solitude, comfort and concentration of mind. All the same, Michelangelo cherished the friendship of many people, great men, learned scholars, and talented people, and he maintained these friendships whenever it was appropriate
  21. Michelangelo possessed such a deep and retentive memory that after seeing the works of others a single time, he recalled them in such detail and used them in such a way that scarcely anyone ever realized it; nor did he ever create any works which resembled another, because he remembered everything that he had done
  22. As long as he wants to be rich, he will continue to be poor
  23. Anyone who follows others never passes them by, and anyone who does not know how to do good works on his own cannot make good use of works by others
  24. Now, if I have reached the goal I desired, that is, to be useful and to give pleasure, I shall be extremely grateful, and if I have failed I shall rest content, or at least less troubled, having toiled in an honorable cause and one that should make me worthy, among men of talent, of at least their compassion, if not their forgiveness…As for the rest, having done the best I knew how, accept it willingly and do not ask of me more than I know or am capable of, and be satisfied with my good will, which is and always will be to help others. – Vasari
What I got out of it
  1. Really insightful book on the personalities and works of some of history’s best artists. Mastery in one realm can shed light on all others.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Summary
  1. Leonardo was the original Renaissance Man, excelling in everything from botany to athletics to engineering and, of course, art. Isaacson took on this project because Leonardo is the epitome of making connections  across disciplines which is the basis for creativity, innovation and genius
Key Takeaways
  1. What set Leonardo apart was not “genius” but extreme observation and curiosity – he ad a passion which was both playful and obsessive.
  2. He was the master of combining art and science. Separating the two is a man-made construct and a false duality
  3. The infinite works of nature are woven together in a unity with marvelous patterns
  4. Leonardo was more human than most people realize and we can learn from his intense curiosity and imagination. His formal education was minimal and most of his abilities were honed by practice rather than being God-given like many people assume. He knew how to marry observation with imagination which made him history’s consummate innovator
  5. Year after year his to-do lists were filled with things he wanted to learn and do as well as people he wanted to meet with. Leonardo’s journal entries are the most impressive compendium of curiosity in history. It shows his curiosity as well as his weirdness. He was gay, flamboyant and his acceptance in Florence at this time was what made Florence great. They allowed people to think and be different. Florence became the greatest cultural and innovative center and creative center in the history of the world as it allowed for mass mixing of different people, skills, cultures, etc. It was unique period of history in that they praised and rewarded those who could master many different fields
  6. Isaacson’s main learning is that deep observation and curiosity of our world leads to a deeper and more meaningful life.
  7. Leonardo questioned everything and was never satisfied with accepted wisdom
  8. Leonardo was fortunate to be born out of wedlock or else he most likely would have ended up as a notary like his father and grandfather. Another benefit was that he was not formally educated, relying instead on observation and experience
  9. By handling the richest people’s money, the Medici’s, without titles or royalty behind their name, became one of the most powerful families in history. Lorenzo and some other prominent figures in the family set up the patron payment system which bred creativity which has rarely been seen before or since
  10. Observing, analyzing, and trying to find better ways to do things became Leonardo‘s method of learning – this preempted the scientific method by several hundred years
  11. Leonardo apprenticed for Verrocchio and learned from him mainly the beauty of geometry. There is harmony in proportions and that is natures brush stroke
  12. One of the many skills that set Leonardo’s art apart with his ability to use light, shade and color to make a two dimensional canvas into a painting which looks three-dimensional. ‘Chiaroscuro’ and ‘sfumato’ were two techniques Leonardo developed to make his art more lifelike and 3D
  13. Reality and scientific observation should inform but not constrain your art
  14. At 24, Leonardo was still living with his mentor and hadn’t produced anything amazing yet and was known for a less than ideal work ethic because he often left projects unfinished. He seemed to enjoy the imagination and conception of an idea more than the execution. However, there was more to it than that, as he was a perfectionist and knew he would learn and observe things in the future which he might want to incorporate or add on in the future. This was seen in several paintings where his autopsies and observation of the human body got him to change his already finished paintings so that they would be more accurate
  15. Leonardo used a technique called ‘pentimento’ which means he used light brushstrokes over and over which created a light, layered and expressive feeling in his paintings and it also allowed him to revise and rework over a period of years and sometimes decades
  16. Leonardo autopsied many bodies in order to observe how the skeleton, muscle and organs were laid out. He believed an artist should draw a figure from the inside out, starting with the skeleton and finishing with the skin and clothes and these observations helped him create some of the most lifelike and moving drawings of all time
  17. Analogy is one of the best ways to appreciate and understand nature. Because of his close observation, Leonardo noticed connections between how the human body (micro) and the earth (macro) worked similarly and how they were connected. The interconnection of nature and the unity of its patterns is a constant theme in his work. He was able to observe similarities between how blood pumped through veins and capillaries, how water made its way through branches in plants, how water flowed from rivers and tributaries. His cross-field, multidisciplinary observations and connections were unlike anything the world had ever seen
  18. Salai was a pupil and lover of Leonardo who he often painted. They fought a lot as Salai tended to steal things and slack off and eventually there seems to have been an estrangement between the two
  19. Obsession seems to be a component of genius. In one entry, Leonardo took thousands of measurements of different subjects and made comparisons and generalizations about the dimensions of a human body. His ultimate goal was the universal measure of man and how he fit into the cosmos
  20. Shadows are the most important part in helping give a three dimensional feel to the painting and that is why Leonardo spent the most time observing thinking and practicing shading. Leonardo observed that there are no definite lines or boundaries in nature so he began blending his paintings (sfumato) which went against the traditional, linear approach common at that time
  21. Leonardo dreamed more of being a great engineer than a painter and though he eventually got a chance to engineer water works and war efforts for Cesare Borgia, he was of course a better painter than engineer
  22. Michelangelo had a great disdain for Leonardo. They were very different – where Leonardo was athletic and well dressed, Michelangelo was disliked, dirty and had a disfigured nose after a fight with a fellow artist. They had a bit of a feud and rivalry which elevated all artists and made the best among them superstars
  23. The greatest anatomical work Leonardo did was on the heart. He recognized patterns due to his multidisciplinary style that others wouldn’t recognize for several hundred more years. His love of fluid dynamics, eddies, branching of veins and more all helped him understand the heart better than anyone else up to that point. Leonardo transferred this to his now famous curls of hair seen in many of his paintings
  24. A mark of a great mind is the willingness to change and drop preconceived notions. Leonardo’s gift was to seek and find patterns, establish frameworks and apply them to various fields. But equally important, he wouldn’t let these patterns blind him
  25. He used drawings, models, sketches and thought experiments to help him think, establish ideas and questions and to find gaps in his knowledge or thinking
  26. Leonardo had an uncanny ability to capture movement
  27. No moment unto itself is self containing. The past is rolled up into the moment and this influences the future
  28. Declaring a work finished stunted it’s evolution and Leonardo did not like that which is why he worked on several projects for years on end and sometimes decades. Don’t get rigid, always be willing to change, learn, grow and improve
What I got out of it
  1. More than anything, I am inspired to simply be more observant and curious about things around me. Why things look the way they do, how they might have come to be, etc. Simple questioning, thinking, observation and synthesis can take you far…