Saturday, August 14, 2010

DaVinci Academy Art Department

As you may know, I teach visual art at DaVinci Academy in Ogden, Utah.  I love it.  I get to teach some of the most talented youth . . . ever.  Many of my students are leaps-and-bounds ahead of where I was when I was their age.  Their potential is amazing.  They are driven, they have something to say, and they are creative.    These are kids who have faced more than their fair share of challenges, and yet, they are still moving forward and excelling.  Art is how they learn, how they express, and how they live. 

Unfortunately, art is one of the most difficult programs to adequately fund.  The cost of art supplies quickly add up and the ability to produce meaningful projects is greatly limited.  And, with the economy crunch, this year is already looking tight.  That's why we are launching the DaVinci Academy Art Department Winter Fundraiser 2010.  Donating is easy, and it's tax deductible.  Small donations are welcome.

10th Grade Student Work
Here's a list of some of the projects that your donation will help fund:  Anatomy for Artists (advanced drawing, college prep course), Sketchbooks for Kids (creativity initiative in which high school students will gather art supplies and provide them to children in under served areas), college portfolio development, student art shows, Shakespeare Competition (acting, music, and visual art), student concerts, two annual student plays, FUSION (an evening of collaborative arts), and more.

For your donation, you will receive a special thank you from DaVinci Academy's art students.  You will also be recognized in all programs printed for this year's art events.

I probably sound like a salesman.  I'm sorry.  But I believe in this cause and the potential of my students.  I hope  you can too.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about DaVinci Academy or the Art Department Fundraiser.

Thank you!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Balancing Act Called Success

Photo by Brent Moore.
In my last post, I wrote about failure.  Now it seems only right that I take some time to address the concept of success.  I was about to call success the opposite of failure, but I don't think it is.  I would rather think of failure as nothing more than success in progress, a WIP for lack of a better term.

So, then, what is success?  How do we define it, especially with regard to creative works?  Is success always an accomplishment of great meaning and popularity, or is it simply the absence of failure?  Or as author Samuel Beckett suggests, is it the process of "fail[ing] better"?

And who or what determines the success of a creative work?  In sports it's easy.  They have games and tournaments, and you win if you score the most points.  In art, there are competitions, but the whole "win or lose" concept doesn't really work.  In my own experience, I've had paintings that have been accepted in one art show, only to get rejected in another.  In such cases, a creative work gets judged by a jury.  It's a process that works well for thinning entries, but it is subjective, which means that one jury's decision will be different from anothers.  And, honestly, that doesn't seem a good way to judge a person's success.

Pschychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi argues that creativity results from the interaction of three elements, namely "a culture that contains symbollic rules, the person who brings novelty into the symbollic domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation" (Creativity, p. 6).  I would like to borrow those three components and rename them simply Culture, Creator, and Audience.  Just as each element contributes to creativity, it also helps us determine the success of a creative work.  The catch here is that each element, in its own way, wants to take all the credit.  For example, an artist (creator) will think he has been particularly creative on his own, but culture will be quick to point out that the artist's work would never have been accepted had not the attitudes and values of the population changed so drastically over the past 50 years.  And the audience (some proclaiming to be experts) will say, we found him first and he is only successful because we value his work.  They will go on bickering in such a way. 

I think the key to becoming successful in creative endeavors is to balance these three elements, to make them work together.  It's when the artist becomes caught up in the "bickering" that his success becomes shaky and fragile.  To illustrate, I'm going to present what I call my "Lucas Theory."  Yes, it might be a bit corny, but it makes a point.  It's basically this . . . the first three Star Wars movies (episodes 4 - 6 ) were good because George Lucas came up with some pretty cool ideas that fit within the culture and were received well by the audience of the time.  He had things pretty well balanced.  But sometime before making Episodes 1 - 3, he became "off-balance."  He focused more on himself as creator and less on the culture and the audience.  In fact, while defending Jar-Jar Binks in an interview, Lucas said, "I can't make a movie for fans."  But of what value is a creative work if it is not made with an audience in mind? 

So, I suggest that the success of a creative work can only be measured when we take into account the ability of its creator, its acceptance within a culture, and its appeal to an audience.  When we give too much weight to any one of the elements we spin off course.  We get a false measurement which results in a false perception of our work.  Balance is vital to a true and enduring success.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Fabulous Failure

When is the last time you were grateful to fail?  Seriously, have you ever totally messed things up and said to yourself, “wonderful!”?  Well, if you’re like most of us, you probably prefer to think of yourself as a complete idiot in such situations.  Odds are--if your mistake was big enough--you’ll avoid trying to do whatever it was you were doing, ever again.  But not trying again is truly the greatest, and perhaps only, mistake you will ever make.

I just read a fabulous quote by Madeline L’Engle, one of my favorite authors.  Keep in mind, Madeline’s book, A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected 29 times by pretty much every major publisher for over two-and-a-half years.  She said:
Human beings are the only creatures who are allowed to fail.  If an ant fails, it’s dead.  But we are allowed to learn from our mistakes and from our failures.  And that’s how I learn, by falling flat on my face and picking myself up and starting all over again.  If I’m not free to fail, I will never start another book.  I’ll never start a new thing.
Here are a few more quotes you should take to heart:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal.  It's the courage to continue that counts.”  -Winston Churchill

“I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 ways that don't work.”  -Thomas Edison

“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” –Henry Ford

“Failure is merely feedback that there is something blocking the path of the emergence and expansion of the greatest version of yourself.” –Mother Teresa

I believe one of the most important traits a creative person can acquire is the ability to take risks.  You must be willing to risk failure in order to succeed.

Don’t be afraid to try.  Don’t be afraid to “say something.”  As stated by Mother Teresa, you are in the process of discovering “the greatest version of yourself.”  Allow yourself the ups and downs of that search.  And allow the same for others.