The Good Life
I want to open up a topic we creatives are often hesitant to talk about – the idea of living well. Often, when we think back to what motivated up to pick up a guitar, a brush, or a camera, there was some idea of who we wanted to be and how we wanted to move though the world that went along with it. As we get older, we like to think the vision of our creative life becomes more mature, but we are not immune to the visions of good living that bombard us online, in print and through broadcast media.
The Thomas Crown Affair
I’m a big fan of The Thomas Crown Affair. The 1968 original with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway was cool, but I prefer the 1999 version with Pierce Brosnan as Thomas Crown, the high-flying executive and occasional art thief and Rene Russo as Catherine Banning, the investigator whose job it is to recover priceless stolen paintings on behalf of their owners. It’s a stylish, non-too-serious crime caper with some great set pieces, wonderful locations, Brosnan at his charming best and Russo burning up the screen in a great wardrobe from designer Michael Kors.
There’s a scene that always gets me, the morning after some illicit and rather athletic love-making, Crown and Banning are enjoying a very elegant breakfast in the indoor garden of Crown’s New York townhouse. Crown’s home would not out of place in Architectural Digest and the couple, seated around a perfectly presented breakfast setting, could easily be gracing the pages of Vanity Fair or Vogue. Banning turns to Crown and purrs, “you live well.”
The Artist’s Life
Don’t we all wish we had our lives “together” like that? Picture perfect, sexy, relaxed & damn good-looking? We use the word “lifestyle” to describe not just the way people live, but how attractive and envy-inducing the environment they live in happens to be. And, this moment, like many in The Thomas Crown Affair, is all about lifestyle.
But, is living well simply a matter of perpetually looking like we are on the set of a high end magazine photoshoot?
I’ve been fortunate over the past year to “break bread” so to speak, with some amazing artists, filmmakers, photographers, designers, writers and entrepreneurs. Over coffee or beers, tacos or tapas, the conversations have always moved freely between the craft and business of creative work and the life we hope live as creative souls. While holidays on remote beaches or well decorated homes and studios occasionally come up in conversation, very little of the focus is on the kind of stuff that fills the pages of “lifestyle” magazines.
Almost always, the decision to do creative work is accompanied to a desire to live in a distinctive way, which often involves some kind of rejection of social norms. Those with “day jobs” talk about not wanting to be defined by the corporate life, or the 9-5 routine for the rest of their lives, and everyone talks about craving personal freedom, self-expression, uniqueness and a sense of choosing one’s own values.
Living well, in this sense, has much less to do with what is visible, or on the surface, than it does with inner feeling, emotion and state of mind.
The Artist’s Table
James Victore is a brilliant New York based artist and designer I’ve asked to mentor me for this year. I’ve written so much about the importance of mentors that I thought, after finishing No Missing Tools, I needed to find one to help me prepare for the next season of work. Recently James announced the latest in what he calls “The Dinner Series,” which is a workshop for creatives which uses shared meals as part of the focus for learning.
Sure, the styling looks great here, like a food blogger’s paradise. Good food and drink is great and can provide encouragement to share stories, but there’s something more at work here. For the artist, the generous and hospitable table is also a safe place, made secure by like minded souls. It’s a place that allows us to tell the truth about the kind of life we want through the work we do; freedom, pleasure, self-expression, beauty, community and things we desire to leave behind, fear, conformity, self-doubt, regret.
I may be projecting a lot here, but my own experience is that the artist’s table, if we can call it that is a very special and important place. It’s where we learn to stay authentic to our creative goals.
Authenticity is such a marketing buzzword these days. But, for the artist, authenticity is essential, not just as a way to package and sell art, but because the work itself demands it. The best, often the only way to stand out is by creating something that connects emotionally with the viewer, listener or reader. To do that we need to feel deeply, open ourselves up to experience, reveal our passion and perspective and channel that emotion into what we offer the world.
A great example of how demanding this is can in found in a recent piece on Brain Pickings, entitled, F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Secret of Great Writing. Fitzgerald was responding to some writing sent to him from a young, budding author. His response is just as true for any kind of art as it is for writing.
“I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.”
If we want to tap into these emotions and open them up to expressed in our work, there are few more powerful things we can do than learn to share openly and honestly with people who understand our struggle. The artist’s table, in whatever form you can find it, is one of the best ways I know to unlock our creativity and find the courage to do our most unique and distinctive work.