Vincent van Gogh unfinished means (fill in the blank). This prompt's potential is limitless.
Rocking the art world last week, The New York Times reported Sketchbook Attributed to van Gogh Pits Scholars Against a Museum. The sketchbook's 65 drawings trace back to van Gogh's time spent in Arles, France. According to Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, a University of Toronto professor emeritus of art history, and Ronald Pickvance, author of two book about van Gogh's life in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, the sketchbook is a remarkable discovery for several reasons. However, one reason caught my interest. Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook is based on sketches made in a commercial ledger.
In my recent post on Ledger Art: A Narrative of Resilience, I wrote about how Native American artists, confined to reservations, used government ledgers as a medium to record their stories and history. They used ledgers because ledgers were all they had. Welsh-Ovcharov contends van Gogh did the same thing. He used any medium available to sketch. Welsh-Ovcharov and Pickvance believe the van Gogh sketches are authentic. When short of money to purchase canvases, van Gogh had a reputation for drawing and painting on any material not nailed down. The sketchbook is a commercial ledger, most likely given to van Gogh by the proprietors of the Cafe de Garé. Van Gogh lived at this cafe and inn while in Arles from May to early September 1888.
From my longtime friendship and association with Dominique-Charles Janssens, Founder and President of the Institut van Gogh and owner of the Auberge Ravoux, van Gogh's last home and where he died, I've heard many stories. With joie de vivre, Dominique describes Vincent swiping tea towels off the tables at the Auberge. Six of Vincent's tea towel paintings are now in private collections. So for me, Vincent sketching in a commercial ledger is not a far-fetched reality.
Alas, though, I am an enthusiast and not a scholar or art expert. With all the fake news swirling around us, what is the truth?
In Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum is the sole authority responsible for the authentication of van Gogh's work. The Museum released a statement citing several reasons why the sketchbook is not van Gogh's.
According to Louis van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at the Museum, the sketchbook was reviewed in 2008 and 2012 with same conclusion: the sketchbook is not authentic.
Given the financial value of van Gogh's work, the likelihood of forgery is high on the Museum's list of concerns whenever someone claims discovery of a "lost" van Gogh. In fact, while researching forgeries for this post, I noticed that investigative reporter James Ottar Grundvig is the author of Breaking van Gogh: Saint-Rémy, Forgery, and the $95 Million Dollar Fake at the Met published last month by Skyhorse Publishing.
When it comes to van Gogh, everyone seems to have an angle.
The one thing I know is true is this: when you enter Gallery 825 inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you will see more people clustered around paintings by Vincent (as he signed his paintings) than any other artist. And if you take seat and observe people, as their eyes travel over the colors and textures, you realize you are in the presence of the spiritual connection between artist and viewer. It is remarkable.
Every now and then, I'll take my dog-eared copy of Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh edited by Irving and Jean Stone to Gallery 825. Reading one or two letters surrounded by the paintings is deeply moving. Amid his doubts and obstacles, van Gogh's vision and hope for the world remains extraordinary.
Creative expression is what makes us human and it is through this impulse that we each have the potential to bring more beauty into the world. We are all unfinished works in progress. And that is an encouraging truth.
Note on the Post Header Image: van Gogh's unfinished canvas of the Village of Auvers-sur-Oise was one painting among many by other artists included in the MET Breuer's exhibition: Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. I could not resist taking a photo of the people gathered around Vincent's canvas. No other canvas drew as much attention in this particular gallery.
Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible was a fantastic exhibit and merits its own blog post. So many posts to write!
How do you manage your time for creating content for your blog? Please share your tips!
Viewers gather around van Gogh's unfinished painting of Auvers-sur-Oise at the MET Breuer, September 2, 2016.
Resilience, according to Merriam-Webster, is the capacity of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused by compressive stress. I think the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the rounding-up and squeezing Native Americans into land reservation spaces against their will, qualifies as compressive stress. Making the resilience of Native Americans, as expressed in Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains, all the more haunting and awe-inspiring.
The exhibition is free and in its final weeks at the Museum of the American Indian, One Bowling Green, New York City. The Museum is a branch of the Smithsonian and housed inside the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. The building itself is situated on roughly the same spot as the first settlement in New Amsterdam. Fort Amsterdam was meant to defend the Dutch West India Company's fur trade along the Hudson River. In 1625, New Amsterdam was a province extension of the Dutch Republic. The Native Americans supplied them with pelts in exchange for European-made goods.
However, Unbound does not include the Iroquois or Mohawk tribes, who were "Keepers of the Eastern Door" along the Hudson. You can learn more about these tribes and others in the Museum's main exhibition hall, which includes an expansive collection of objects, photographs, and media covering the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego.
Unbound focuses on the Tribes of the Plains. The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River. The area covers parts but not all of the following states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Minnesota, Texas, Wyoming, Iowa, and the Canadian Provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
Curated by Emil Her Many Horses, Unbound traces the evolution of narrative art from historic hides, muslins and ledger books to a wide selection of contemporary works by Native artists, the majority commissioned by the Museum exclusively this exhibition.
Balcony view of Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House built 1901-07.
Recently, The New York Times reported that 280 Native American tribes gathered in Near Cannon Ball, North Dakota in what activists called "the largest, most diverse tribal action, perhaps since Little Bighorn." (Also known as Custer's Last Stand.)
The tribes of the Great Plains are protesting a pipeline that they fear will contaminate the river and their water supply. Given the lackluster federal and state government attention to the water crises in Flint, Michigan, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Huntsville, Alabama, just to name a few, the tribes in North Dakota make an important point. Not to turn this post into a rant, but clean water is a precious resource, one that we cannot afford to take for granted.
Unbound is organized in four sections. Introduction, From Past to Present, Warrior Art, and Contemporary Expressions. In this post, I share my favorite pieces and reflections from two separate visits to the Museum.
In Native American culture, the human world and the natural world co-exist. According to Larry Littlebird, author of Hunting Sacred: Everything Listens, hunting is a sacred act. When the buffalo is slain, the hunter is grateful for the animal's sacrifice.
As a result of this sacrifice, the hunter's community will be nourished and clothed. The buffalo's hide makes an excellent canvas for storytelling. On this particular hide, the stories are about stealing horses. Whenever I give my presentation about horse mythology, one of my great passions, most people do not realize that in the Americas, horses were extinct two million years ago. Native Americans came to know the horse from their interactions with European explorers.
Native American Blackfoot mythology refers to the horse as Pono-Kamita, which translates to English as "Elk Dog." The Elk was their point of reference. In another example, Lame Deer, a Sioux Medicine Man, explains: "we have no word for the strange animal we got from the white man--the horse. So we called it sunka waken, "holy dog."
"As life on the Plains changed, artists used pictorial storytelling to record the past and preserve the future," according to the Exhibition Fact Sheet. In other words, after the Battle of Little Bighorn (1876), the U.S. government completed its relocation of Native Americans to reservations. The Museum designates the Reservation Period as 1870 to 1920.
As an aside, you might be wondering, as I was, about how and when the U.S. government issued formal apologies to Native Americans. Here's an interesting article from the Indian Country Media Network. 7 Apologies Made to American Indians.
Ledger Art is testimony to the human spirit, which seeks any available medium for self expression. As you see from the thumbnail, artists took used government-issued ledgers and transformed them into vehicles for telling stories about love, community, and war.
Artists use colored pencils, gold marker, ink, graphite, and glue. Notice the ledger's date (1895) in the upper-righthand corner. I took this thumbnail from Grand Entry, 2012 by Darryl Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux, b. 1967).
Detail from Grand Entry, 2012 by Darryl Growing Thunder. (Assinboine/Sioux, b. 1967)
In the first drawing, notice that the horses appear to have Elk antlers growing from behind their ears. This is the confluence of the mythical and the reality.
Here we have the charms of love. The woman is on her way to fetch water with her bucket when she is surprised by a suitor playing a flute. The number of horses behind him indicates his interest in marrying her.
In the second drawing, four of the five women hold fans suggestive of the stars and stripes of the American flag. The woman in the center holds a parasol in one hand. Native Americans often traded goods with the Europeans in exchange for parasols. In her other hand, she holds her handbag with a U.S. flag depicted on it.
Drawing of a Courting Scene, 2012. Norman Frank Sheridan Sr. (Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho, 1950 - 2014)
Independence Day Celebration, 2012. Lauren Good Day Giago. (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree, b. 1987)
Independence Day Celebration, 2012 by Lauren Good Day Giago is based on historical photographs of Fourth of July celebrations on the Fort Berthold Reservation. "My people weren't allowed to do our traditional dances. They would allow us to come out, dance, and be together as a people on Independence Day, " Giago says.
Choosing a favorite piece to share with you from this part of the exhibit is difficult. I'm drawn in by the majesty, magic, and unique energy of each artist.
For me, Mountain Chief, 2012 by Terrance Guardipee (Blackfeet, b. 1968) gallops throughout the exhibition and captures all that is sacred in storytelling.
Guardipee depicts renowned Blackfeet warrior Mountain Chief with a fallen foe and two captured horses. His own mount is lavishly illustrated with symbols. On the front legs alone are a yellow disc symbolizing the Creator Sun, red dots representing the strength of the horse, yellow markings indicating accomplishments, and pyramids that signify mountains, which are considered the Backbone of the World. (from Museum note)
Mountain Chief, 2012 by Terrance Guardipee (Blackfeet, b. 1968)
It is not possible to change the past, but it is possible to shape the future. Two pieces by Chris Pappan (Osage/Kaw/Cheyenne River Lakota, b. 1971) charge forward. "I intentionally distort portraits because people have a distorted understanding of Native people. As artists and keepers of culture, we have a responsibility to promote the truth," Pappan says.
Wah Zha Zhe Creation, 21st Century Ledger Drawing No. 54, 2012 by Chris Pappan (Osage/Kaw/Cheyenne River Lakota, b. 1971)
Drawn as solid dots inside circles, stars form the background of this portrait of Chief Bacon Rind, one of the last of the Osage chiefs. The stars reference the Wah Zha Zhe, or Osage, creation story about people stepping down from the stars. (from Museum note)
Culture Crossroads, 21st Century Ledger Drawing No. 55, 2012 by Chris Pappan (Osage/Kaw/Cheyenne River Lakota, b. 1971)
Based on an old photograph, the drawing depicts a seated man and his mirror image coming together to create what Pappan refers to as a third eye. The image represents two ideas, cultures, or identities coming together to create something new. (from Museum note)
In a profile of artist Dwayne Wilcox for the Heritage Center, he said this about his work: "A lot of the images I do are a reflection on how Native people view the outside world rather than how somebody might be looking at us and putting us under a microscope so they can write a book about us from their perspective. I want to show our perspective, from the inside, looking off the reservation."
In this drawing, the dance contestants check their smartphones prior to their performance. The title for this piece is a play on words. Wánci (pronounced ONE-g) is the Lakota word for the number one. 4G Better Than One-G shows how new technology is present in Native life.
4G Better Than One-G, 2012 by Dwayne Wilcox (Oglala Lakota, b. 1954)
Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains closes December 4, 2016 at the Museum of the American Indian. Don't miss it. This exhibition is extraordinary in its beauty and in the subtle ways it challenges the viewer to think about history and the way forward.
Saturday's blog post featured the influence of Quincy Jones on Herbie Hancock. Today, I'm following up with Quincy Jones's Top 10 Rules for Success. It is excellent. Begging the question: What's your #1 Rule for Success?
This first video is a look at the 9/11 Memorial. The second video is a beautiful, haunting prayer sung by cantor Ari Schwartz at the Interfaith service held on September 25, 2015. In closing this post, I share the story behind Double Check (post image) by Seward Johnson and its significance when I saw it for the first time. We will always remember.
The feature image for this post is Double Check by Seward Johnson. During a visit to Grounds for Sculpture, I saw this image for the first time and it was surreal for me. On September 11, 2001, I was living in London. A few minutes after 2 p.m., a colleague interrupted a meeting to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I reassured her that it was probably a hobbyist flying a Cessna plane.
She asked me to step into her office. On her computer screen, I saw the reality.
The story behind Double Check is one inspiration. A few weeks after September 11, 2001, the rescue workers found the statue in the rubble. It had been on display in Liberty Plaza. Although scratched, the statute was intact.
During the same time period, a copy of the statue was on display in Germany, where people had turned it into a makeshift memorial. Johnson recalled the statute back to the United States via Rome. In Italy, people left notes of support for New York. Johnson collected the tributes. He cast the statue in bronze with the pieces exactly as he had found them.
The original sculpture is now in its original location, today called Zuccotti Park.
Before you listen to Quincy Jones describe how he discovered piano, I suggest you watch this clip of Herbie Hancock. On American Masters, he describes the Jazz scene in New York during the 1960s and how Quincy Jones inspired him.
"Every cell in my body said this is what I'm going to do for the rest of life," Jones says in this charming interview with Steven Colbert.
After these inspiring interviews, here's your reward. This clip spotlights a young "Q" conducting his "dream band"—an 18-piece orchestra of world-renowned players such as Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Sahib Shihab, Budd Johnson and Benny Bailey.
One Writer's Beginnings, as Eudora Welty shows us, come from our light in relation to the world around us. She is one of my favorite short story writers. So when I read the manuscript for Footsteps: In Love with a Frenchman by Susan M. Tiberghien, I fell in love with the simple, everyday stories of life and decided to publish them under my imprint Red Lotus Studio Press. The difference is that Tiberghien writes nonfiction. These essays about falling in love, raising six children in five European countries, speaking three languages, are real. Imagine, if you will, a European Brady Bunch with discriminating tastes and better table manners. These essays are all too human and funny.
For Labor Day weekend, I placed the eBook on FREE promotion for you.
There is much to learn about how writers become writers. In Susan's essays, we see her process evolve and gain insight into the risks she took in her career. My favorite essay is Emilia's Petition. Would you sign it? Read the essay and let me know!
Best wishes, dear readers, for a happy Labor Day weekend!
Georgia O'Keeffe chose her friends carefully. She counted her true friends on one hand.
Considered a pioneer in the Modern Art movement, she was born on November 15, 1887. Two years later, Thomas Edison filed a patent for the electric lightbulb. O'Keeffe died in 1986, in the age of Post-modern artists. Just shy of her 100th birthday, she missed the beginning of the Digital Age and its widespread public adoption of the Internet. Much has changed. It is now 2016. Friendship remains the same. True friendship still takes time.
As creators, our challenge is to understand how the spectrum of online friendship unfolds when we use social networking tools.
The other day, a young actor told me her agent said she needed more "friends and followers" on her social media platforms. As if this "social proof" matters more than her gifts and talent. What troubles me about this agent's comment is that he provided no context for her about what "more friends and followers" even means.
Think about it. It takes less than one-tenth of one second to "like" something. Consider the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram posts you've "liked" today. How many? What do you remember about them? What's different in your life as a result of all of the "liking" activity.
To achieve more: you need only to program social algorithms to engage with other social algorithms. Achieving more has nothing to do with your talent.
To achieve real: you need to consider your audience in the context of the Spectrum of Online Friendship. The content your create, your engagement style, your genuine interest in your audience amplifies your talent. This is at the heart of a brand strategy, one that builds the career you envision for your future.
Actual "social proof," as a marketing metric, is measured by the number of brand advocates you have on your social platforms (not total number of friends or followers). Brand advocates promote you by sharing your content with their friends. Your talent resonates and means something special to them. They care about your success.
Developed by Mike Arauz, digital market expert, the spectrum of online friendship is a tool for developing a mindful, marketing practice. Your objective is to cultivate relationships over time for lasting value. The first step is to evaluate your own social behavior. Consider your engagement with people and/or brands that mean something to you. Find your behavior on the spectrum. Where are you a brand advocate?
Next, use the analytics from your social media platforms. Look at your friends, followers, subscribers. What is the quality of their interaction with you? For each platform, where is your audience on this scale? How many brand advocates do you have? Notice where you have opportunities to create or curate types of content your audience will find valuable.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to "buy" friends and followers. You cannot buy trust. Trust must be earned through consistent social listening and creating and/or curating the kinds of stories, moments, resources that affirm your connections.
Circling this post back to Georgia O'Keeffe, I think Charlotte Cowles interview with Juan Hamilton in Harper's Bazaar provides a good bit on insight into the artist and her approach to friendship. Check it out. Exclusive: Georgia O'Keeffe's Younger Man.
And, as always, please share your comments on this post!
How is your business journal coming along?
In the post, Keep a SMART Business Journal (Part I), I wrote about the Forgetting Curve and the Learning Curve. While working on Part II of the post, I started listening to the audiobook Smarter Faster Better: The Secret of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New York Times.
Not only is Duhigg's second book excellent, the publishing professor part of me wants to write an entire post, right now, on how an author builds a body of work and the elements of packaging and branding. Instead, I am taking a page from Duhigg's first book and practicing self-discipline.
For instance, did you know that more than 40% of the actions people perform each day aren't actual decisions, but habits? When I read this in Duhigg's first book, it blew my mind. When am I choosing versus only thinking that I am choosing? Which actions fall into the 40%?
In his first book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Duhigg explains in clear language with interesting examples what habits are and how they serve us. In fact, I added a question about best/worst habits to my client questionnaire; by doing so, clients have a better understanding of "noticing" the world around them more clearly.
So before I publish Part II of the business journal post, I think it is helpful and fun to watch the video of Duhigg talking about his cookie habit and what he learned about how his brain works. Plus, I've included five quotes from The Power of Habit that I feel have helped me become more productive.
Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.
The problem is that your brain can't tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it's always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards.
Habits can be changed if we understand how they work.
Dozens of studies show that will power is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.
Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
The other day, while flipping through my business journal, I found this quote (post graphic) by writer Barry Eisler. This particular business journal was one I wrote three years ago. When I read this quote again, I felt reassured that I am still aspiring and perspiring in the right direction.
Like you, I'm familiar with advice about keeping a journal for story ideas, plots, characters, titles, pitches, etc. But, I think it is rare to hear advice from successful writers about keeping a business journal. We still have work to do around fusing the divide between creativity and sustainability. This post underscores how we can grab hold of Eisler's quote and build on it by keeping a business journal.
Even though I've been working solo for 10 years, I am as guilty as the next writer when it comes to this lie we all tell ourselves: "I keep a solid, working idea of my business in my head. I know what's going on. I have notes."
No. We don't retain as much information as we believe we do. Further, when we go to those fancy workshops, we forget most of the strategy details we learned before the cocktail hour begins.
According to Art Kohn, author of Communicating with Psychology and expert in performance improvement, we forget 90% of what we learn in seminars, workshops, and training programs. In his article, Brain Science and the Forgetting Curve, Kohn explains the intricacies of our neural networks, how our brains parse stimuli, and he translates the evidence into our Forgetting Curve. Acknowledging that we cannot hold everything in our heads is a good start. We are now ready for a different curve that is more useful for our goals.
One of the biggest takeaways I have from my coach training is a frame for how we learn. Learning how to drive a car is a good example. In the beginning, our position is unconscious incompetence (we don't know what we don't know). After a few driving lessons, our position is conscious incompetence (we recognize what we don't yet know). The day of the driving test, we have conscious competence (we know what we know). We pass the driver's test. Driving becomes routine. We've reached unconscious competence (we don't think about what we know; we do it automatically).
Unconscious Incompetence: we don't know what we don't know.
Conscious Incompetence: We recognize what we don't yet know.
Conscious Competence: We know what we know.
Unconscious Competence: We don't think about what we know; we do it automatically.
In my case, after working as a publisher for 15 years, I had unconscious competence when it came to writing business plans. Most writers do not realize, or if they do, they may not appreciate, the time and effort an editor puts into a publishing plan for each manuscript purchased for the publisher. Each book has its own business plan. Each publishing program (the entire list) has its own business plan, which is the foundation for the editor's performance evaluations. Over the course of 15 years publishing books for my list, plus working in various managerial roles, reading and critiquing the plans of the editors who worked in my groups, I've read more than one thousand plans easily.
When I went solo I thought, "hey, I'm my own boss. I can lighten up. I know all of this planning stuff." I kept writing my business journal, but I did not write a formal business plan (until several years ago). Today, my written business plan continues to pay off. When people ask me what it is like to be self-employed and what's my best piece of advice, I suggest that they set aside all the bonuses, awards, accolades from their employers.
Accountability is what makes a business journal powerful. As I will discuss in Part II for this post, accountability is the foundation for your business plan. Keeping a business journal is the first step. To get started, I offer three tips.
Tip 1: Choose a method that complements your learning and working style. If you are an auditory learner, someone who takes and gives verbal instructions easily, record your journal using a voice notes application. Every few days or once a week, carve out time to replay your voice journal and jot down key points, phrases, observations.
When I work with musicians, I find they like to work out the basics of their journal through chords and songwriting. Writers, on the other hand, like to use a notebook or a note-taking application such as Day One Journal or Evernote. If you are artistic, you might choose to draw and sketch a few notes using storyboard frames.
Once you have a method, your goal is to be consistent with recording entries.
Tip 2: Choose timing that works for you. In his insightful book, The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life, Geshe Michael Roach suggests keeping a Six-Times Book, where you are checking in with yourself six times each day. Most of us, myself included, have yet to obtain this level of enlightenment.
I notice that most people develop the discipline for business journal writing when they do it for 15 to 30 minutes each morning, or several times per week. You might also try two-minute writing exercises. For example, choose one word to associate with a specific goal.
Try it right now. Jot down your goal. For two-minutes, write whatever comes to mind around the word "happiness" in relation to your goal. Then, do the same with two other value-oriented words such as "courage" or "serendipity." Now that you've written for a total of six minutes, put the pen down. Stand up, read these entries aloud. Your goal now has a voice! Go for it!
Tip 3: Choose to Make it Easy. When you move from beginner's mind to developing the new habit of business journal writing, your inner critic will scream, stomp, and say whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. This signals true progress on your part. Rather than resist this inner critic, acknowledge it and move forward. Keep recording entries.
In Keeping a SMART Business Journal (Part II), I share what I've learned about breaking the rules of SMART goals and rewriting them to work for creatives.
You know I love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts, questions, and resources in this blog's Comment section. And, let's connect on other social platforms, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
Happy business journal writing!
You are meant for something special. But are you awake, really awake in the world?
In this inspiring Ted Talk by philanthropist and writer Lynne Twist, she describes leading her life not only by her wants and needs but by her commitments. Her commitment, to end world hunger, brought her to the Amazon Rainforest. Her talk is fascinating.
My introduction to Lynne's work was through her book, The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources. I recommend it to different clients and the book's impact transforms their life choices. It is a powerful book.
Are you prepared to initiate action around what you fear most?
Hold this question in your heart while listening to Lynne's talk about our collective dream and what she's committed to in the Amazon Rainforest.
Then, ask yourself the following question: Am I asleep or awake in my own dream?