HOW CREATIVE PEOPLE SUCCEED

I rarely re-post work by someone else on this site, but I read an article by a best-selling author, Jeff Goins, called The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Succeed.  In it, Jeff posits some insightful ideas about creativity, luck, and being in the right place at the right time, and I would love to hear your own insights and views on the subject.  Here is the text:

The other week, I was invited to a dinner hosted by a friend. Those attending included people I’ve admired for years. Halfway through the dinner, I silently asked myself, “How did I get here?”

For years, I heard people talk about their influential friendships and subsequent success, and I would seethe with envy. It seemed unfair. Of course those people were successful. They knew the right people. They were in the right place at the right time. They got lucky.

Years later, I would discover that success is born of luck (I don’t think any honest person can dispute that). But luck, in many ways, can be created — or at very least, improved.

The truth is life is not fair. For creative work to spread, you need more than talent. You have to get exposure to the right networks. And as unfair as that may seem, it’s the way the world has always worked.

The good news, though, is you have more control over this than you realize.

Creativity: A Systems Approach

What makes a person creative? Of course, as human beings we are all endowed with the ability to create. But what is the difference between that kind of “little c” creativity and the world-changing “big C” creativity that changes industries and leaves a legacy for generations to come?

In his decades-long study of creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes what he calls a “systems approach.” Since creative work tends to be subjective, he posits a model that includes three systems. They are:

  • The Domain
  • The Field
  • The Individual

In order for a work to be considered Creative (in the sense that it offers some kind of enduring work the world remembers), it must satisfy all three of these areas. Here’s how it works.

First, an individual must master her craft in a given domain (art, science, mathematics). Then, this person must offer the creative work to a field of influencers in that domain who are trusted experts. Finally, the gatekeepers decide if the work is worth being accepted as authoritative into the domain.

That’s the systems approach to creativity.

And as much as I initially winced at the word “gatekeepers” when considering what makes creative work succeed, once I started reading biographies of famous artists, scientists, and musicians, it made a lot of sense. Talent is only part of the equation. The rest is network.

Hemingway, Paris, and Enduring Work

When he was just a young man in his early twenties, Ernest Hemingway moved from Chicago, Illinois to a poor district in Paris. He had just returned from a short stint of serving with the Red Cross in World War I and wanted to pursue a career in writing. There was just one problem: he didn’t have much exposure to other writers.

Who would teach him?

In Chicago, Hemingway met Sherwood Anderson who encouraged him to move to Paris to meet Gertrude Stein, who led a community of writers, poets, and artists there. Plus, it was cheaper to live in Paris, and Hemingway could live modestly while still having time to travel and write.

In Paris, he met Stein, as well as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and many others who would shape his work for years to come. This included a connection via F. Scott Fitzgerald to Scribner’s, the publisher that would later publish his novels and change the course of his career forever.

Before that decade in Paris, Hemingway was a writer of some notable talent and a pretty good journalist. But after those years immersed in the creative work of others, he was a household name.

Due to the connections created through that community, Hemingway became one of the most famous writers of the 20th Century. It’s inconceivable such a development could have happened anywhere else. Not because there was something special about the Left Bank at that time, but because without a network, creative work does not endure.

Without a network, creative work does not endure.

In other words, without Paris, there is no Hemingway. But what does that mean for mere mortals like you and me?

Finding Your Own Paris

Are we doomed to failure if we don’t live in the right place at the right time?

Of course not. But networks matter, maybe more than we care to admit. Vincent van Gogh’s work matured much more quickly once he met the French Impressionists. And why wouldn’t it? He now had a field of gatekeepers who both critiqued and validated his work.

Whether we like it or not, we all need some kind of objective standard against which to measure our work. And although van Gogh did not sell much of his work in his lifetime, it was the tenacity of a well-connected sister-in-law who eventually brought his paintings to market. In fact, most of the great art the world has ever seen came about not through a single stroke of genius but by the continual effort of a community.

Great art does not come about through a single stroke of genius, but by the continual effort of a community.

Networks. Partnerships. Creative collaborations. This is where enduring work originates, and, incidentally, is how we get works like The Lord of the Rings and The White Album. Creativity is not a solitary invention but a collaborative creation. And communities create opportunities for creative work to succeed.

But how do you apply this approach if you don’t live some place like Paris, New York, or Rome?

Well, of course, you could move. According to Csikszentmihalyi, it’s better to move somewhere new than it is to will yourself to be more creative. And now, it’s easier than ever to transplant yourself someplace inspiring, even if temporarily. I did this eight years ago, relocating from northern Illinois to Nashville and unknowingly implanted myself into what would become a hub of creativity, technology, and entrepreneurship. I’m glad I did.

But you could also let go of your excuses and realize there’s a network available to you right now, wherever you are. This may come in the form of an online mastermind group or a series of events you attend, maybe even one you organize yourself. The truth is there are connections everywhere and always more resources available to those willing to look.

A Seat at the Table

Five years ago, I decided to do something radical — well, radical for me at least. I let go of my cynicism and began reaching out to influential bloggers and authors, people I had watched for years and wanted to know. I asked them to meet me for coffee. And here’s the crazy part: most of them said yes.

Even though I was a shy person, I met these heroes of mine and followed up with them, doing everything I could think of to help them. In some cases, it just meant buying their coffee. In others, I would interview them for my tiny blog, realizing that even the most influential people don’t mind talking about themselves.

I tried to be the kind of person these people would want to invest in — following every piece of advice they gave, doing everything they told me to do, and not questioning a single word of it. And at some point, I got lucky.

It’s naive to say success doesn’t involve luck. Of course, it does. Crazy stuff happens all the time, stuff we can’t control that sometimes works in our favor. At the same time, luck is not completely out of your control. Luck can be planned, anticipated. Although I can’t tell when or where luck is going to come from, I do know the more you put yourself in the company of greatness, the more likely some of that greatness will rub off on you.

So if you want a seat at the table, the process might look something like this:

  1. Find a gatekeeper. For Hemingway, this was Sherwood Anderson and eventually Gertrude Stein. These were the people who held the keys to the kingdom, and every domain has at least one. Find someone who is connected to the people you want to know, and be strategic in reaching out, tenacious in staying in touch, and intentional in demonstrating your competency.
  2. Connect with other people in the network. Stein introduced Hemingway to other writers in Paris who could help him, but he was also relentless about meeting with them. He used to spar with Ezra Pound on a regular basis, boxing him and learning how to write terse prose in the process. If you show the gatekeeper you’re willing to learn, he or she will likely introduce you to others and keep investing in you.
  3. Help as many people as possible. This is crucial. It’s not just who you know, it’s who you help. People remember what you do for them a lot more than they remember how clever you were. In spite of his reputation as an alpha male, Hemingway did this, too — helping Stein get her work published, encouraging Fitzgerald when he suffered from creative blocks, and bringing attention to the work of the Left Bank.

Of course, every person’s journey is their own. But what I am now more certain of than ever before is that success in any creative field is contingent on the networks you are a part of. The question is, will you embrace the power of networks, or will you keep thinking those people are just lucky?

Luck comes to us all. But those who recognize it are the ones who succeed. Every story of success is really a story of community, and the way you find yours is by reaching out and taking advantaage of the opportunities that present themselves — whether that’s in Paris, Chicago, or your own hometown.

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FRANK COVINO, LONG-TIME FRIEND AND MENTOR, HAS PASSED

Covino Portrait1P1070431PaintingWorkshopCovinoFrank4-2015

Dear Artists and Friends,

It is with ineffable sadness in our hearts, that I must report this news.  Our friend and long-time art teacher and mentor, Maestro Frank Covino, passed away suddenly on Tuesday, February 16, 2016, after being pronounced “cleared of cancer” just last week.

If I may use a bold simile, his loss feels like looking up at the mountains in Sugarbush, where Frank worked hard to build the home he loved, and seeing that the grandest of summits has disappeared from our sight.

Here is a note from his wife, Barbara Covino, that you will all want to read:

Subject: It is with a deep abiding sorrow in my heart that I write this letter…forgive the delay but it has taken time to believe this is true…

Beloved friends and family , one and all,

After two days of profoundest shock, and countless tears I realize I must write you.  It is with a heavy, heavy heart that i must inform you that dear Frank has passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday night, February 16th.  It was quick and he did not suffer–a death we would all prefer–but he had been progressing so well, it was a gut-wrenching shock that still is unbelievable.

I truly cannot imagine a world, or a life without him…32 years of happiness and adventure.  Life was never boring with him!!! What an amazing talent, a brilliant man with a wealth of knowledge, a gentle and sensitive man who had to excel in everything he did, and was thus an inspiration to all who knew him.  He encouraged others to strive for excellence and to believe in themselves, giving them the tools to create a positive reality in their lives, whether it be art or health.  We all can repeat that golden maxim: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO AMELIORATE! Wise encouraging words, those.

But he was more than the sum of his parts; he was a genuine force of nature, a real Renaissance man, but above all else, he had a kind heart and a very great soul. We all loved him so; there will never be another Frank.  But I know it is now time for each and every one of us who was touched by his life, to take that spark and pass it on.  He gave us wings and it is time for us to fly…Make him proud!!!

I am too choked up to continue writing.  God Bless each and every one of you who had a place in his heart…family, friends, students….He loved you all sincerely and without guile….

We are in the process of collaborating with the family and planning both a smaller family funeral as well as a larger set of celebrations of his life and legacy open to all who loved him–one in Vermont and one on Long island.  As soon as the Covino south clan and Mark and Jennifer and I hammer out the details, I will email you all, soon as can be done.

We are going to give that wonderful man a send off he won’t soon forget!!!

Love and blessings , Barbara Covino

PS: PLEASE FORWARD THIS to everyone you can think of. It has grown into a cast of hundreds, and forgive the delay but it has taken time to believe this is true.

WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT!

Dear Artists,

The Frank Covino Workshop is seven weeks away. This may seem pointed, but…

We never know if this is the last chance we will have of being taught by one of the world’s greatest master teachers of oil painting in the manner of the Old Masters. In October, Frank will be in his mid-eighties and his traveling might be curtailed at any time. When we are with him, I think we sometimes take his presence for granted, but in this next workshop, as much as possible, we should hang on his every word, watch what he does at each workstation, audio-record what he says, take thorough notes, and ask good questions.

Have you priced workshops lately? There is no big-name artist today holding a serious workshop for less than $1,000 (Frank’s is $695), and a big name, does not a great teacher make. I have forked out my money for this, first hand, and I can tell you, Frank is one of the few “greats” alive today that can actually TEACH others how to paint. They may be wonderful painters themselves, but they frequently can’t convey their knowledge to students. Thus, you come away learning less than a tenth of what you would learn spending one week (and a lot less money) with Frank. That’s like getting 10 half-days VS. just 1 half-day, $300 cheaper.

I apologize if this sounds a bit like a sales pitch, but it isn’t–I have to pay the same amount as you do, plus do some of the behind the scenes prep work. It’s just that to avail ourselves of the joy of this knowledge while Frank is still with us, is such a privilege. There is nothing else like giving pleasure to our family and friends through our art–that wonderful feeling of giving a painting or a giclee’ to someone you love, and seeing their smiles and pride when they hang it on their wall. It would be terrible to look back and think, “If only I had taken his class when I could have…now it’s too late.”

Here is a sample of what you can learn to do at Frank’s workshop:
PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Bouguereau
Here are the details–

What: Frank Covino Workshop
When: November 9-13, 2015
Where: Gilbert, Arizona

A $200 deposit is due on Oct. 9, three weeks from now.

There will be space for a maximum of 12 people.

Frank is offering a special treat–If you sign up a new student, you AND the student each get $100 off the tuition (only 2 given per workshop).

Keep your tunnel vision set toward Frank’s instructions, and you will be creating exquisite paintings this year that will still be around 300 years from now, because they will be so good that anyone who owns them, will not part with them! Remember, it’s better to spend a few weeks creating one work of significant art, than painting 10 quick ones that will end up in garage sales and bought for the frames they’re in (I’ve done this many times–have you?).

If any readers out there would like to join this workshop or have any questions, just comment below, and we will be in touch.

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All the best,
The Arizona Renaissance Art Guild

PAINTINGS FROM A WORKSHOP

The Arizona Renaissance Art Guild had a workshop with Frank Covino in April this year, 2015, and since we plan on another one later this November, I thought I would post these paintings for everyone to see some of the processes and quality of work generated.  Keep in mind that all of them are in different stages of completion.  Some were just begun by new students in the workshop, and some are the result of weeks of work by seasoned artists.

Whether you are someone who has always wanted to paint but never had the time, or whether you are a seasoned artist wanting to learn different techniques, you are welcome to join our workshop in November.  Stay tuned.  As soon as I get definite dates, I’ll let you know.  Enjoy the photos:

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Charlene1

Work in progress, by Charlene Higley

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Charlene

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Bouguereau

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Bill

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Bill1

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Glori

Work in progress, by Glori Robison

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Glori1

PaintinWorkshopCovino4-2015Pat

Work in progress, by Pat McKinley

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Pat1

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Cheri

Work in progress, by Cheri Stucke

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Cheri1

PaintingWorshopCovino4-2015Barb

Work in progress, by Barb Franelli

PaintinWorkshopCovino4-2015Karen

Work in progress, by Karen Schmeiser

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Karen1

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Karen2

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Karen3

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Karen4

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015RickFarmworker

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Rick

PaintingWorkshopCovino4-2015Sariah

by Sariah Clonts

PaintingWorkshopCovinoFrank4-2015

Frank Covino, Modern Master and Teacher Extraordinaire

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All the best,

Marsha

 

WORTH REPEATING

This subject was addressed a long time ago, but it is so critically important that it bears repeating. Of course, it’s about values because, without a thorough understanding of them, you cannot create significant paintings.

Many teachers assume that we all know what “value” in paintings means, so they don’t really elaborate and tell us HOW to see them. The concept is easy to understand when we’re talking about a greyscale, but extrapolate that to color, especially the various colors juxtaposed together to make a painting, and the values concept becomes murky.

You can make an entire painting a monochromatic green or even pink and, as long as those pinks have correct values, your painting will “read” and make sense to the viewer no matter what color you make it. Value is simply how dark or how light that color is.

Yes, but so what? Where’s the “how?” Well, first you have to learn to squint enough at something until the color disappears and you are left with a percentage of light. What amount do you see? Make your own value scale and go around your house placing it next to various objects; squint to make the color disappear so that you can just see the value of the object and not the color. This is a great way to train your eye.

Here is a value scale you can print, showing values 1-9 with the addition of black (which is the absence of light) and white. The lowest value is 1, or 10 % light; the next is 2, or 20% light and so on, up to value 9 at 90%, with white being 100% light:

value scale

When making a painting, values aren’t actual light, of course, but values create the illusion of dark and light in varying degrees (shadows and highlights). Value deals with the lightness or darkness of a color.

Here is part of Bouguereau’s Vendangeuse (The Grape Picker) in color:
Vendangeuse (The Grape Picker)BouguereauCropped
And here it is in greyscale, showing just the range of lights and darks (aka “values”):

Vendangeuse (The Grape Picker)BouguereauGrayscale

And here is the pink version:

Vendangeuse (The Grape Picker)BouguereauGrayscale

So, even in pink values, we still see the little girl, instead of a Botox Babe.

When we do a value-scale underpainting, we are separating the problems of seeing values in one hue vs. seeing those values in juxtapositions of many colors (hues). This makes the painting much easier to execute, and more accurate, because now you have a process.

And that’s why I say you must know how to see value because value analysis and then value duplication is the basis of all perception. It is the common denominator for the replication of all things, whether landscapes, still lifes, or portraits.

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All the best,

Marsha