‘Great things are done by a series of small things brought together’ Vincent Van Gogh
I wish to address those who feel ‘lost in the game’. Those who have recently started out on their careers as ‘writers’, ‘creatives’ or ‘visual artists’ and those who have invested in their creativity for many years now, and still feel like things have not turned out the way they would have wished or imagined. I especially want to address those who find it hard to maintain their motivation, feel misunderstood, unloved and unappreciated. You might be questioning your talent, abilities, the wisdom of your decision in choosing ‘a lonely road’ – of being ‘an artist’.
As a matter of fact, it is almost inevitable there will be challenges ‘along the way’ and there will certainly be a time when a strong headwind of denial and rejection will be blowing in your face.
But here is the naked truth. Even if you possess an exceptional talent – you’re still entitled to nothing. This world will not notice you unless you make all that you do ‘a thing of life and death’; like this was the only thing that could save you – this is how you could find your own way of ‘standing out from the crowd’.
It is you, and you alone, who will have to push hard to ‘make things happen’. But before you give up, you should ask yourself a simple question: what are the things that are stopping me from trying hard and making me get closer to my ultimate goal?
First, you need to understand that you are not alone in something you may experience as ‘a lonely battle with the world’. Stephen King was broke and struggling when he was first trying to write. He lived in a trailer with his wife—also a writer—and they both worked mutiple jobs to support their family while pursuing their craft. They were so poor they had to borrow clothes for their wedding and had gotten rid of the telephone because it was too expensive. The first novel by King was rejected by 60 publishing agencies.
(c) Stephen King, Private Collection
Oprah Winfrey, on the other hand, dealt with a lot throughout her public life. She had to cope with the criticism about her weight, racism, intrusive questions about her sexuality, but she never let it get in the way of her ambition and drive. When you look at her childhood, her personal triumphs are cast in an even more remarkable light. In her youth, Oprah was reportedly a victim of sexual abuse and was repeatedly molested by her cousin, an uncle, and a family friend. Later, she became pregnant and gave birth to a child at age 14, who passed away just two weeks later. But Oprah persevered, going on to finish high school as an honors student, earning a full scholarship to college, and working her way up through the ranks of television, from a local network anchor in Nashville to an international superstar and creator of her own television, her own magazine and to many people around the world (including myself) she’s a role model, an example of inner strength and proof it really pays off to stick to your goal and stay determined.
(c) Giorgia O’Keffe Museum
Another great example – this time from ‘the art world’ – is Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite female artists who is also known as ‘The Mother of American Modernism’.
During her life time, she had to ‘put on hold’ her career as an artist 3 times. The first break spanned several years, when O’Keeffe took on more stable jobs to help her family through financial troubles. In the early 1930s, a nervous breakdown made her end up in a hospital, and caused her to set aside her brushes for more than a year.
Georgia O’Keeffe ‘Purple Hills Ghost Ranch’ No 2
In the years leading up to her death in 1986, failing eyesight forced O’Keeffe to give up painting entirely. Until then, she fought hard to keep working, enlisting assistants to prepare her canvas and mix her oil paints for pieces like 1977’s ‘Sky Above Clouds/Yellow Horizon’ and ‘Clouds’. She managed to use watercolors until she was 95.
Giorgia O’Keffe, ‘Flower Of Life’, II, 1925
But that’s not the only thing that makes me admire O’Keeffe and her artistry. While living in New Mexico, O’Keeffe sunburned her face regularly due to the long exposure to the hottest weather. For the sake of her art, she used to spend her days outside, putting up with most stifling hot days to capture its most vivid colors. When she wasn’t painting, she often camped out in the harsh surrounding terrain, to keep close to the landscapes that inspired her. This what she once wrote about herself as an artist:
“I know now that most people are so closely concerned with themselves that they are not aware of their own individuality, I can see myself, and it has helped me to say what I want to say in paint.”
Giorgia O’Keffe, ‘Iris 7’, 1929, Giorgia O’Keffe Museum
It’s worth mentioning that while O’Keffes work varied between the literal portraits, abstractions and landscapes, her artistic legacy is still most identified by her iconic flower paintings. As far as I am concerned, I prefer Giorgias abstract landscapes much more than the flowers simply because, to me, they seem to illustrate the artists state of mind that was very often filled with deep meditation, representing the state of ‘zen’ (禅) that stands for the complete harmony, as if in the temple where all the thoughts, all worries and sorrows are let go.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Red and Yellow Clifs 1940, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
While looking for an inspiration for this article, and reading about O’Keeffe, I came across the striking abstract paintings by contemporary painter Marta Spendowska (you could visit her website by clicking here), with whom I’ve recently communicated with via mail and Social Media.
(C) Marta Spendowska, Portrait, Private Collection of the artist
Marta was born in Poland and currently lives in the US and creates her beautiful art, living in the house near the ocean. According to what we can read on her website she ‘paints outdoors to breathe the New England landscape onto paper.’
(c) Marta Saniewska, ‘Bloom 5’. Bloomland Series, Private Collection
I truly enjoyed the ‘artist statement’ written by Marta and I want to share it with you as it says a lot of who she really is, what her art means to her:
“As an artist, I am at the mercy of beauty and spirituality which I have come to recognize as twin sisters. They are the strongest influences and have become the biggest motivators in my daily life—like my morning coffee—they trigger my energy and allow it flow freely. By learning from my experiences, I have become the unique author of what I know. And so, I paint what I know.’
(c) Marta Saniewska, ‘Hidden Light In Your Life’, Detail
(c)Marta Spendowska, ‘The-Abyss of pink Sunrise’, Private Collection
What Georgia O’Keeffe and Marta Spendowska have in common is not only the talent for creating delightful artworks in a subtle, delicate, graceful and very harmonious way, but also the determination to fearlessly follow their true dedication. When I observe the career of Marta, I know that she will still grow a lot as an artist and will never ‘sleep on her talent’. Her wisdom lies in the fact that she learned ‘the art appreciation of all that you have been given’. In her art, we can observe that she is at peace with nature and the world. Things can only get better and even more exciting – this is what I ‘read’ and ‘feel’ while looking at Marta’s art.
I am sure that there are hundreds of other examples of those who could teach us ‘The (Sacred) Art Of Not Giving Up’. But even these few artists I mentioned are already proof that everything changes when one – instead of expecting and demanding things from the world – starts to look back at the reality the way Buddhists do, breathing deeply and ‘living one full day at the time and enjoying the scenery’.
Georgia O’Keeffe, ‘Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico
you must rise above
the gloomy clouds
covering the mountaintop
otherwise, how will you
ever see the brightne
poem by Taigu Ryokan