Working Isn’t Lonely

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“When you’re working very hard you’re not lonely; you are the whole damn world.”

—Shelby Foote (1915-2005) writer

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Style & Substance: Robert Weaver and the Value of Self-Awareness

“I yam what I yam (and tha’s all what I yam)” is what Popeye the Sailor would offer as an explanation of his shortcomings, but also for his successes. For artists, that’s a fundamental lesson. I often teach that one’s artistic success is about playing up what you’re good at while playing down what you’re bad at. Self-awareness on both ends of the success spectrum is a key to finding a way forward.

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When the Hall of Fame illustrator, Robert Weaver died, the New York Times described him as such: “…an influential illustrator who combined dazzling draftsmanship with an unusually painterly style.” “His style combined loose, rough-hewn rendering, deft abbreviations and sometimes elements of collage, with a startling degree of realism that seemed to capture of essence of any face or pose without resorting to photographic detail. He was influential both as an artist and as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts, where he worked for more than 35 years.”

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But to hear Weaver describe his method makes it all sound so simple, and so smart.

In an article in the January 10th issue of New York Magazine about a large exhibition celebrating his work, his success was stated clearly:

  “Weaver attributes his innovative approach to “a simple inability to do glamourous things – like beautiful women with beautiful hairdo’s. “I still can’t do them.” This “inability” took him to the top of his profession.”

For Weaver, his inability to follow the likes of Norman Rockwell and Al Parker (among others) and his recognition of his alternative strengths and interests, combined for a trailblazing turn in the communication arts. 

 

Further Observation

About a decade after Popeye came on the shore, the great American lyricist, Johnny Mercer, wrote “You’ve got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mister In-Between” and matched it with a catchy Harold Arlen tune to make the huge hit record “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” While certainly old, I recommend it as a theme song for every illustration student, but with one caveat. That is, please disregard the third line which states “don’t mess with Mr. In beween.” I say, there is much to be messed with, and learned from, the in-between. So, by all means – mess with it.

Success: True, Grit

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As a professor of Illustration, I have the great fortune of teaching some of the most promising artists in the world. Talents, skills and smarts are exhibited daily. The lessons and projects that I share with my students are designed to build on their abilities and to help propel to a lifetime of art making in the commercial realm. But what factor is crucial to to their success beyond the lessons and experiences of the classroom? What pushes students over the last hurdle from amateur to professional in our competitive field? I think University of Pennsylvania professor and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, Angela Lee Duckworth, is on to something: Grit.

Success: Alone Time

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“It seems to me that today if the artist wishes to be serious… he must once more sink himself in solitude.” Edgar Degas

 

“Art starts alone – and convinces society later.”  Douglas Davi

 

“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer – say, traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”  Wolfgang Mozart 

 

“The artist must actively cultivate that state which most people avoid: the state of being alone.” James Baldwin  

 

“I am aware of connectiveness, it is impossible to be isolated completely, but my interest is in solely finding my own way. I don’t mind being miles away from everybody else.”  Eva Hesse 

 

“I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”  Albert Einstein

“The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.” Thomas Edison

“Great decisions in the realm of thought and momentous discoveries and solutions of problems are only possible to an individual working in solitude.” Sigmund Freud

“Solitude vivifies; isolation kills.” Joseph Roux

“One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.” Carl Sandburg

“Be able to be alone. Lose not the advantage of solitude, and the society of thyself.” Thomas Browne 

“If you are alone you belong entirely to yourself.” Leonardo da Vinc

“Alone, and without any reference to his neighbours, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.” Oscar Wilde

 “In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for contructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.”  Rollo May

“The things one experiences alone with oneself are very much stronger and purer.” Eugene Delecroix

“If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.” Samuel Johnson

“My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.” Claude Monet

“A career is born in public – talent in privacy.” Marilyn Monroe

Further Observation

“Isolation can lead to uniqueness, but uniqueness also walks the halls of mental institutions.” Winston Seeney