Saturday, July 31, 2010


I want to apologize to Nicolas Carone. You see, I had never heard of him until his obituary appeared in today's New York Times. He was 93 years old. He rated a big picture in the obituary section, in front of a painting dating from 2007, along with a substantial--and respectful--text. Identified as an Abstract Expressionist, he had a one-person show at the Lohin Geduld Gallery in New York in 2005. It was his first solo show in a New York Gallery since 1962.

(Image: New York Times, Washburn Gallery)

This is what happens so often. An artist sets out on a promising career and finds himself in excellent company. Carone was friends with de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner during the 1950s. He studied with Hans Hoffman. He showed at respectable New York Galleries, at the Venice Bienale. His work was collected by the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Whitney. And then Abstract Expressionism went out of style. Pop art came along. Minimalism. Conceptualism, for God's sake. Painting itself went out of style. A handful of the better known AE artists survived, but many of them were sidelined. The art world--since the start of the 20th century, at least--demands the new, demeans what went before.

It's not about art. It's not about the quality of the work. If you check him out online, Carone was perhaps not amongst the strongest of the AE painters, but also not a a negligible one. A man, then, who devoted his life to a powerful passion and a dedication to his vision. Was he ever discouraged by the neglect of the big time art world? I'd like to bet he was. Did he quit? Never. The Times obit suggests that the last two decades of his life produced his strongest work. How wonderful. But not surprising, if you believe, as I do, that talent matures with age, so long as you stick to it.

It's sad to think, on the one hand, of the many thousands of fine painters, poets, musicians--creative people of all kinds--who have never come to my attention. Carone is only one of them. And yet... is it not inspiring, too? If this one man can "persist" until the age of 93 without any of the customary rewards, then so can all the rest of us who have not achieved wealth or fame. It's about the mission, not the recompense; about the process, not the reception of the product. Still, it's important in my view to persist on that other front, too. As I often need to remind myself, the act of creation is an effort to communicate. I don't "do it for myself." No matter how many disappointments or setbacks, I need to take responsibility for my work and do what I can to bring it to the attention of those who might find in it some piece of their own humanity, and say, Yes!

So, along with my apologies for never having known his name, I salute Nicolas Carone for a life lived in the sometimes joyful, often painful struggle with art. May his work continue to find those who look at it with pleasure and who take away from it some further understanding of what art and life are all about.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Artist As Brand: An Interview With Greg Spalenka

I am happy to re-introduce a new friend and fellow thinker from the Southern California area. I mentioned Greg Spalenka, Founder of Artist As Brand,™ in an early post entitled "Branding: A Different View, and am happy to note that I will be participating in his workshop Artist As Brand, in Costa Mesa August 6-8 at Find Art Gallery. Greg is an energetic, knowledgeable and inspiring workshop leader and this three day event might well be a life changer. He describes it as a "transformational, career energizing boot camp." My own contribution will be a short one, but I will be on hand for at least the first two days and available for anyone interested in further acquaintance. Please check out Greg's site, Artist As Brand, I would be particularly delighted if any Persist readers decided to sign up. And until then, please enjoy some of his insight below!
Persist: I know you studied at Art College of Design. Aside from the skills you needed as an artist and designer, what were the most valuable qualities you brought away from that experience?
Greg Spalenka: My mantra growing up has been, "Am I more than I am?" Confronting my fears has been a motivator, hence, I pushed myself to move beyond my abilities. I watched and learned much from my peers. While at Art Center I made friends with fellow student Matt Mahurin. Matt is an individual with lots of talent, tremendous passion and energy. He showed me that the concept behind the art creates a strong foundation but a personal vision manifests by taking risks. All art is study, so don't get too precious with it. One day there was a class assignment I was struggling with. I couldn't pull it together so I asked Matt to come by and take a look. When he arrived he proceeded to take my art outside onto the second story balcony. He looked at the art, then at me and said, "Sometimes, Spalenka, you just have to know when to let a piece go", and proceeded to wing it out into the street. I voiced an expletive and ran down the stairs to watch in disbelief as cars drove over it. I pulled the art from the street. Deep gashes covered part of the surface, and new textures came to light. "Whoa"! It actually improved the piece! That experience taught me that sometimes its a matter of taking a painting to unexpected places to make it work. Allowing the "risk factor" to enter the equation allowed the art to evolve on its own accord. Most of my art now embraces process or "happy accidents".

Persist: You spent a good while in the commercial art world in New York. Can you say a little about your experience of that city? Why did you choose eventually to leave and come back west?
Greg: Soon after graduating from Art Center (BFA Illustration) I moved to New York at the behest of Mahurin. I was terrified of the idea of moving to this city, but it was the center of publishing and if I was to make it as an illustrator this was it. Trudging the portfolio around Manhattan was a full time job. The jobs trickled in, but soon the big publishers were calling. Rolling Stone commissioned a portrait of Elvis Costello, New York Times Magazine put my portrait of a young Hemingway on its cover. I created art for most of the major publishers around the USA. Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, U. S. News & World report, The Atlantic, Business Week, Mother Jones, OMNI, Psychology Today, Ms., Playboy, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Examiner, Wall Street Journal, Harper Collins, Viking Penguin, Random House.

Illustrative journalistic projects of my own making were important too. One of the projects involved 10 days with soon to be boxing champion Mike Tyson. I created life size drawings, paintings and studies of Tyson and the trainers and boxers of Cus Damato's gym, which were published alongside my commentary in the 1989 January issue of "Print" magazine.

Most of the subject matter I illustrated was on the heavy side, Apartheid, Terrorists, War, Government corruption, Injustice, Corporate monsters, Pollution, Murder, Mafia, Child abuse, Psychology, etc. I got a good look at the underbelly of humanity. I realized everyone has an agenda. It was fascinating to see how different publishers would run the same story and skew it so the reader would view it through their lens. I felt that finally I was making an important mark as an artist. I believed that looking at the wounds of the world could bring us closer to healing it.

Living in Manhattan was like living in an illustration, the world crammed into a five mile by fifteen mile island. The juxtaposition of images from day to day was surreal. Walking out the front door of my building was a rush of sound and sight. Beautiful models would walk by, while police peered inside a car at a murder victim slumped at the wheel. Down the street a laughing homeless man snagged purses from a flooded gutter with a fishing pole. I was never at a loss for intense bizarre imagery. Sometimes the street found its way literally into the art. Rusted pieces of metal, grating, weathered plastic, broken glass, indescribable man made things would compliment a little corner of some piece I was working on. The city got into my blood.

After eight years I had enough of the concrete and intensity and returned to CA.

Persist: What interested you initially in helping others find their inspiration and their path to success? What are the rewards of the work you do in this area?
Greg: There has always been a part of me that is committed to empowering truth within people. Teaching chose me. I have been asked to lecture and teach here in the US and abroad for over twenty two years. Seeing creative individuals transcend their fears, and reach their artistic goals brings joy to my heart.

Persist: What led to the choice of the title "Artist as Brand"? Could you say a bit about the site? When did you start it? What has been the response? How much of your time do you devote to it?
Greg: The title Artist As Brand has caused some controversy especially in fine art circles because many people associate the word "brand" with corporations. It seems that the word brand has been branded. However if you look at the essence of the word this is what you find...
–noun and verb
1. kind, grade, or make, as indicated by a stamp, trademark, or the like.
2. a mark made by burning or otherwise, to indicate kind, grade, make, ownership, etc.
3. a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic.
4. to impress indelibly.
5. a brand name.
A brand is a purpose transformed into a product or service that connects to people, the planet, and beyond. The key word here is purpose, and specifically your purpose. This is where the heart of your essence resides, where your most potent art manifests, and the strength of your perseverance matures. The purpose inside you aligned with your personal vision is the foundation of your creative power. When your heart is joined with your art, a vital one of kind signature is formed. This brand is unique to you and your intimate product.

Artist As Brand was born with the intention of empowering artists to make a living from their heart on their own terms by creating an individual base(s) of devoted buyers (fans and patrons).
The concept of Artist As Brand was first presented at the University of San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador last year. The response was so amazing I felt this new paradigm of art sustainability needed to be shared with the world. This year classes will be held in California, Utah, New York City, Toronto, and possibly Oregon, Korea. I am in negotiations to bring it to Australia, Taiwan, China, Japan, Singapore, England, Holland, Ireland and more.

As with any new business there is lots of promotion and education that must be sent out to potential students. I am finding that most of the participants so far are recent graduates who want to create their own unique art empire, or professionals/professors/artists who have been in the field 5-10 years and want to recharge or re-invent themselves. Please see my RESULTS page on my site for testimonials.

Persist: What would you like my readers to know about the workshops that your offer?
Greg: The Artist As Brand™ workshop champions a new model of artist promotion and sustainability that begins with the heart. Participants focus on niche markets which together over time can produce a unique art empire! This is a three day course for serious individuals who want to fuse their creative and financial destinies.

If you were to advise yourself as you do others, what advice would you be giving to yourself right now?
I know that persisting is a key word to succeeding in any worth while endeavor.
This will resonate with you I am sure!
My mantra is "Am I more than I am?" So onward and upward!
Greg started his award winning career as an artist after graduating from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California in 1982. Moving to New York City he began a twenty six year journey illustrating for America’s most prominent publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers. There is more biographical information on his website Artist As Brand.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Some people worry about "what to say". Me, I never give it a moment's though these days. I write unashamedly about myself. I have often wondered what impels me to talk about myself so much, and I now wonder why the new book of essays I'm currently working on should be, once again, so personal. The simple answer is that I know nothing of what goes on in the minds of others except what they choose to tell me—which is usually the boring parts! And that this whole creative exercise is about learning what goes on in mine. I suspect it's the same for you too, no matter what your medium.

The mind is a vast and magnificent cathedral—a universe of infinite possibilities, an infinite number of which are never realized. It is capable of infinite learning, and I tend, these days, to see every experience as an opportunity to learn, every object a source of new and fascinating study if only I bother to look at it with care, and with a mind open to what it has to tell me. On the table in front of me as I write, for example, there is a coffee cup, which might lead to reflections about pleasurable taste, mental and physical stimulation, or addiction; a cell pone, the source of endless speculation about communication and technology, and the way in which one’s life can easily be consumed by this tiny, inanimate piece of machinery. Then there’s the bottle of Nature’s Miracle odor and stain remover; don’t ask…! (It’s George’s fault.)

So I find it incumbent on me, as the owner—well, let’s say the occupant—of this only mind I can really know, to use every opportunity to explore its spaces. With the minds of others, I can do this only indirectly, by inference, and without the precision I would want to achieve. If I want to understand more about what it means to be human, this is my best exploratory vehicle to send out over the inexhaustible terrain. It’s my Mars Rover Spirit. I can direct it anywhere, ask it to perform any task, and send the results back home through the stratosphere.

I know my own life. I know my environment. I know my habits, my pleasures and antipathies, my addictions. If I’m paying the right attention, I can sense when something is amiss. The signals, if I read them skillfully, will show me what directions to take and where the next potential pitfall lies. Then it becomes a matter of skillful navigation, of finding a passage past the fears and inhibitions to reach the work site and begin the work. These are tasks I’m simply unqualified to contemplate in any mind other than my own. They are unreachable, unknowable. My own is hard enough. So I start where I can, I use the tools I have at my disposal, I mine the mother lode on my own property. I’m happy in the knowledge that this one is quite enough; indeed, that it’s inexhaustible.

So, if you’ll forgive the dreadful mix of metaphors, I trust these thoughs might explain a bit why it does have to be me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Heeding The Call

Remember, as a child, hearing your mother’s or your father’s voice, calling your name? If I close my eyes, I can still hear that call. I’m out in the backyard, perhaps, in the orchard behind the Rectory; or out in front, on the swing that hangs from the great old pine tree; or upstairs, in my room. I’d like to bet, if you close your eyes, that you can hear a similar call, in a place that has a particular resonance for you. Close your eyes. Hear your name. Re-imagine the precise detail of the place, the time of day, the circumstance. Someone, somewhere, is calling you…

But I want to talk about “calling” in that other sense, the calling that is the name for what I am given to do with my life, what I was put here on this earth to do. Call it a mission. Each of us, I firmly believe, has that mission, that sense of purpose. When we discover it, when we’re able to pursue it consciously, we are most likely to be at ease with ourselves and those around us. We are authentic. We are “in integrity,” in the sense that we are on target, whole. Everything we do and everything we say feels right. We are comfortable with it. As some say, we are in flow.

While we are still looking for it—this sense of purpose—or ignoring it, or unaware of it, we flounder. We are scattered. We feel ill at ease with ourselves and others. Remember that feeling when your name was called? You felt, perhaps, recognized, your very being was somehow affirmed. If you follow your calling, this is how you feel. At one with yourself.

There are signs everywhere. You only have to watch out for them with quiet, careful attention and they’ll show you the way. Some are as small and unobtrusive as a burned-out light bulb, say, or a chance encounter. There are no accidents. Some come in the form of miraculous messages from the universe. When my wife and I were debating the affordability of our little cottage in Laguna Beach, for example, we found ourselves embroiled in one of those huge quarrels that threaten the very survival of a marriage. We took a walk down to the shore, still arguing hotly, when my wife, Ellie, pointed to a black blob riding in on the surf. A sea lion. It came to rest literally at our feet, rolled over and waved a flipper at us. We wondered whether it was sick and needed help, but as soon as others spotted it from further down the beach and started running in our direction, it simply turned around and swam back out of sight.

Needless to say, we hurried back home and signed the real estate agreement. It would be nice, of course, if all our signs were as unambiguous as this one. They are not. But they are there, if we take the trouble to watch out for them, and pay heed to their invitation—or warning.

I was fifty years old when I finally paid attention to what the signs from the universe we trying to tell me, and learned that it was time to be a writer. I was Dean of the Arts at Loyola Marymount University at the time. I had been attracted to the job by the then President’s lure of funds to put up a new arts complex, to bring the fine arts up to the same standing as the excellent existing film and television departments. During my three-year tenure, though, the entire administration changed: the President who had appointed me was shunted out, a new Academic Vice President was installed—and I found him in one of my new painting studios, pacing it out to see how many desks he could fit in there, intending to co-opt it as a classroom for his academic programs…

A familiar pattern of events had begun to repeat itself, and this time I was unable to ignore it. I decided it was time to try my hand at being serious about what had called me from the age of twelve. It was time to be the writer I was always supposed to be. I managed to disentangle myself from those particular chains, and I have been grateful for the freedom ever since.

What I have learned from this and other experiences is that one key to creative success is the ability to listen to the call and watch for the signs. When I do both these things I know that I’m on the right track.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Still Working...

I have not been as attentive as I should have been to Persist: The Blog. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, my trusty assistant, Emily, has been unwell, and unable to report for duty. Our sympathies go out to her, of course. I believe that good health is our most important asset in life, and that it needs to be attended to. I hope to have her back as soon as she feels ready--but no sooner.

The second reason is more complicated. As I think I have mentioned in an earlier post, I have been experiencing the desire to get back to "work"--and by work, I mean the writing that is disconnected from "Persist," both book and blog. I mean the writing that is yet to be done, the next adventure, the next book... I have been doing a good deal of that, and you'll find some of the results on The Buddha Diaries, including the recent post, "Two Deaths," and today's entry, "The Teaching of the Bentley (That Was Not a Bentley But a Bullet-Proof Rolls Royce)." I'm having such a great time doing these essay/stories that all efforts to "persist" have begun to seem unappealingly backward-looking.

Rest assured, however, that this effort will continue. When Emily returns, she will hold my nose back to the grindstone, I'm sure. And I have come to enjoy and admire the community of those who dedicate their energies to inspiring and encouraging creativity in all its forms. I still believe that these are the juices, if any, that will save us from ourselves; if this planet is to survive the assault of resource-grabbing human beings, it will be thanks to the more laudable qualities of the human spirit, which is capable of soaring.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Coming Soon

For creative friends living in the Orange County Area please note that I will be joining Greg Spalenka as a contributor to his workshop, Artist As Brand, in Costa Mesa August 6-8 at Find Art Gallery. Greg is an energetic, knowledgeable and inspiring workshop leader and this three day event might well be a life changer. He describes it as a "transformational, career energizing boot camp." My own contribution will be a short one, but I will be on hand for at least the first two days and available for anyone interested in further acquaintance. Please check out Greg's site, I would be particularly delighted if any Persist readers decided to sign up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


For persistence, you can't beat an artist like Ruby Nishio, featured on The Buddha Diaries today. Here's a woman, born before World War II, who did time during the war in an internment camp, and who spent her working years as a seamstress. She has been making quilts for 20 years now, and they are amazing works of art. Here's "New York, New York"...

Read more about it on The Buddha Diaries. And more about Ruby Nishio. You won't know her name, she won't sell her art--but she's still a wonderful artist. So it's not all about fame and money!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Please note: My review of three shows at ACE Gallery is featured on Huffington Post Arts section today.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stories in the Subconscious Mind: Screen Writing Success with Jurgen Wolff

I enjoyed my half hour interview with Rick DiBiasio of Middle Aged Crazy on Blog Talk Radio yesterday afternoon. Our talk ranged from the challenges faced by our creative people in our current cultural climate to detailed questions about Persist, the book, and its contents. I found Rick to be a bright and perceptive questioner and valued the time I spent with him. I plan to return the complement and include him on our growing list of interviewees before too long. In the meantime, as promised, here is the interview with Jurgen Wolff, the hollywood writer and writer's mentor. I hope you'll find it as interesting as I did and that you will take the time to visit his sites at Jurgen Wolff, Your Writing Coach and Time to Write. There is much to be learned from a man of his experience.

Persist: You clearly have an extensive history and a fine reputation as a writer in a variety of fields. At what point did you begin to recognize that you had a contribution to make as a coach and advisor to others? What brought you to this realization?

Jurgen Wolff: When I went to Hollywood, I found that it was very difficult to get good information on what producers were looking for, how to get an agent, and so on. I didn't have any connections, so I came up with the idea of starting a little publication that I called "The Hollywood Scriptletter," and used that to get interviews with experienced writers, producers, agents, and TV and film executives. By publishing the newsletter I was able to share what I was learning. These interviews later became a big part of two books I wrote.

My first successes were in the field of sitcoms and again, at that time, there was very little information about how to do that. I started teaching some workshops and found I really enjoyed sharing information and helping people who were trying to get their start. At that point I wasn't that much more experienced than they were, which was good because it allowed me to understand their needs.

I continue to write books about writing and creativity but now I am also able to reach more people via the internet and I'm excited about the new mentoring/coaching program I have that helps people to set and reach their goals. I call it the Breakthrough Strategy Program. It's on a hiatus during the summer but returns in September (information at I also have a new website dedicated to helping people who want to learn scriptwriting--that's at Screen Writing Success.

Persist: In what way are the satisfactions and rewards you get from your creativity coaching work different from those you get from writing and publishing?

Jurgen: Writing is quite a solitary activity. I enjoy that, but I also like to get out and interact with real people. I guess the main satisfaction I get in terms of teaching and coaching is encouraging people who often don't get that encouragement from anybody else, and watching them blossom. I understand from my personal experience what an important dream it is to want to share your stories with others.

As well as the workshops, I share tips on my writing blog, and on the screenwriting site I mentioned. I post there every day and it gives me an excuse for staying on top of new developments on the writing scene. It's not a secret that when you teach, you learn a lot as well, and that's part of the appeal.

In November I will be teaching for two weeks in Las Vegas and those classes will be filmed and turned into DVDs for people who can't make it to my live workshops, so that will be another way to share my methods and I'm very pleased about that. .

Persist: I myself place a good deal of emphasis on the need for “practice” and recommend a daily practice-such as meditation-as a fine model for the writing practice. To what extent does something similar figure in to your workshops and individual sessions?

Jurgen: I have developed a lot of what I call "right brain" tools and exercises that use visualizations, dreams, and techniques like mind mapping. I know from my own experience and that of my students that these make writing easier, more enjoyable, and more organic. I think it was Michelangelo who said the figure was already in the marble, he was just chipping away the parts that weren't the figure so he could liberate it. I have much the same attitude toward stories. I believe they develop in our subconscious mind and we just have to clear the way for them to make their way into the conscious mind. We have to allow the story to appear rather than to try to force it.

That is one reason I am against the trend toward using templates or formulas in screenwriting. I believe the story should determine the structure, not the other way around. Too many aspiring screenwriters start with the three act structure or the hero's journey or some other model in mind and try to make the story fit it. That results in very predictable and inauthentic stories. Of course that doesn't stop many of them being made into predictable and inauthentic films--some of which make a lot of money.

I think it's important to feed your mind with lots of different things: mythology, music, art, nature, and some foolishness. Pay attention to your dreams and take time just to wander and be quiet. You are filling the well that eventually you will dip into to get the material you will turn into a story. It's not fashionable to say so, but we need to disconnect sometimes, to waste a bit of time, to leave the phone and the computer turned off so we can hear ourselves.

Persist: I am also much concerned with the predicament of writers and artists who are not and may never expect to earn a reliable living following their passion. How do you advise those with the passion of the amateur rather than the goals of the professional?

Jurgen: If you base your judgment of your work and your life on how much material success you will have, you have come up with a prescription for unhappiness. The cliche is that good work will find an audience but sadly I don't think that's always true. In our culture, the writers and artists who are great at self-promotion tend to get the attention, not necessarily the ones with the most talent. I worked in Hollywood for about ten years and it really is a place where "you are only as good as your last picture." That attitude is soul-destroying and was one of the reasons I left and moved to London. Here I've made less money but have been happier, and that's a good trade.

First, I think you have to love the process and your creation (which is not the same as thinking it's perfect, of course). For instance, I wrote a novel that so far is unloved by publishers. But I am very fond of the two central characters and will be glad I got to know them and to spend a year with them, even if the book is never published. Actually, if I don't find a traditional publisher probably I will self-publish and at least introduce these characters to my friends. If you don't enjoy the act of creating something, if you think it will be worth doing only if you sell your creation, maybe you should be doing something else.

However, naturally we all want to have our work reach as many people as possible. One way forward is to learn about marketing as well as creating. I have written two books on this topic, again because I needed to learn the process and thought I might as well share what I was learning. It's still not my favorite part of what I do, but I know that I need to do it.

By the way, if you are shy, it would be a good idea to try to overcome that. I am confident when teaching or public speaking, but I have a basic shyness that I realize has been a hindrance. Maybe my next book will be about how to overcome shyness! Actually that is one of the reasons I first learned hypnosis and it did help.

Back to your question, it really helps if you have a day job that leaves you enough energy to pursue your creative activities. Or if you have a rich spouse or partner. I am thankful every day that I have been able to make a good living doing what I love, but the hard truth is that for some the act of creation will have to provide enough satisfaction--not because they are less talented but because life is not always fair.

Persist: To what extent and in what ways does your practice of hypnotherapy feed into your work as an advisor to writers?

Jurgen: The visualization tools I use for myself and with my students and clients could be called "hypnosis lite." They give an easier access to the subconscious mind and sometimes yield remarkable results. For instance, one exercise is in your imagination going into the character's residence and finding a photo or painting of great importance to him or her. This happens in a light trance, and 99% of the people I do this with find the image and often it gives them a sudden greater understanding of their character.

I also use it to help people with creative blocks. In a light trance, they get into a dialogue with the block, which usually is a form of protection against rejection. Then, in the waking state, we figure out how to build in that protection so they can move forward. For instance, perhaps someone is blocked from finishing a novel because they fear it will be rejected. We make a deal that when they finish it, they have the option of never showing it to anyone. When they get to that stage, we make the deal that they will show it to only one person who is supportive but candid. The process continues small step by small step so that it feels safe all along the way. And when they are ready to send out the manuscript, I suggest they start work immediately on something else so not all their emotions will be invested in the project they have just finished.

It's unfortunate that for most people the word hypnosis brings images of people on stage doing Elvis impressions or a funny dance. Not only does it trivialize a tremendously valuable tool, it makes them afraid that the hypnotist will somehow have total control over them. Of course that's not what it's about in the context of creativity, but that image is hard to counteract.

Jurgen Wolff is a writer and teaches writing and creativity techniques internationally. He has written nine books, including "Creativity Now!| and "Your Writing Coach," as well as more than 100 episodes of television (including "Benson," "Family Ties" and "Relic Hunter,", mini-series (including "Midnight Man" starring Rob Lowe), TV movies and feature films. His plays have been produced in London, New York, Los Angeles and Berlin. He lives in London.

Monday, July 12, 2010


I'm thinking this morning that Lance Armstrong, after his stunning setback in yesterday's Tour de France, is now perfectly placed to teach us all a great deal more about persistence, in the face of almost certain failure. A cancer survivor and champion of the Tour, he has taught us about guts, determination, and winning against all odds. Now it's time for him to teach us how to persist also in defeat. Any thoughts?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Mission/The Brand

It's a rare thing, in my experience, to meet up with an online chum "in the flesh," out here in the real world. So it was a special pleasure to sit down over lunch yesterday with Greg Spalenka, whose Artist as Brand site I have watched with particular interest since I have quarreled, as regular readers will know, with the whole concept of "branding." Greg brings a redoubtable reputation as artist and illustrator to his commitment to helping others make the most of their creative potential. We found that we had much in common--including a number of the institutions where we have studied, worked, or lectured: Otis College of Art and Design, the Art Center College of Design, the Laguna College of Art and Design... And we found a good deal of common ground in how we think about art, artists, and the creative process in which we are involved. I discovered, for instance, that Greg's concept of "brand" is really not that much different from my own understanding of "mission." It's a sense of dedication, a passion, a singleness of purpose, a particularity of vision; in Joseph Campbell's terminology, perhaps the "bliss" he would have us follow.

Greg is promulgating his passion not only through his website, but also through workshops and individual counseling. His workshops, as you'll discover if you visit the website, are offered at locations throughout the country, and Greg is eager and ready to take on the globe with his creative vision. To judge from first impressions, I'd guess he has the energy and the skills to do just that; and we need such positive energy in our suffering world. In the meantime, we talked about the possibility of my making a contribution to one of his upcoming workshops in the Southern California area, in the form of a short lecture or presentation. Should this happen, I'll be sure to put out word.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Allow Me to Introduce...

... my wife, Ellie Blankfort. You have in fact met her before, since she has been mentioned already in several posts--most notably the one about her struggles in the studio. You'll now find, along with her picture in the right-hand sidebar of Persist: The Blog, a link to her website where she describes her work with artists. Her individual mentoring sessions are clearly of great help and inspiration, since artists keep returning to see her. Together we facilitate a support group that meets regularly at our home, to share many of the issues that come up in these pages. We also, together, offer day-long and weekend workshops. I'm sure I'll be writing more about these after our imminent summer retreat, at the beloved cottage in Laguna Beach which we bought more than fifteen years ago. I'll also plan to include her in our series of interviews. She is a woman of long and serious experience in the contemporary art world. In the meantime, I just wanted to let you know about her...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Quick Note...

... for today.

First, I'm sure that readers of Persist: The Blog will share my interest in aesthetics. This can be a dry and tedious field of philosophical inquiry, but there's also a great number of interesting issues at stake. If you missed it, check out my brief advance
review of Leonard Koren's soon-to-be published book with the provocative title, which aesthetics do you mean? ten definitions, posted yesterday on The Buddha Diaries. Koren combines word and image in a slim, readable volume, off
ering an elegant, sometimes playful engagement with ideas. As a teaser, let me ask if you know about wabi-sabi?

Also today, Emily and I are working on an interview we received just yesterday from Jurgen Wolff, and plan to get it posted early next week. In case you don't know of Jurgen and his work, he is a highly successful scriptwriter for film and television who has also devoted considerable time and energy to writing books about his methods and advising aspiring writers about the creative process. He's also a trained hypnotherapist, who brings that skill to his work in counseling, and a widely known workshop facilitator. I hope you'll look forward to meeting him on Persist: The Blog next week.

If you would like to explore his various sites you can visit the following links:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


It happens. It's happening right now. It’s not quite the Slough of Despond, but I have been watching myself sinking, in recent days, into a mood that matches the particularly gloomy marine layer we are experiencing this June in normally sunny Southern California: low clouds, mist, patches of fog, poor visibility…

No point in denying it. Denial only makes things worse. It’s a constant struggle to keep it down, and the resulting battle fatigue just adds to the pervasive sense of discouragement. After the big initial push to get the word out about Persist, I have found myself running out of steam. The familiar, bothersome questions begin to raise their unwelcome heads: Is it really worth the effort? How many readers have I actually reached? In more basic terms, how many copies have I sold? (I was tickled, by the way, to find a copy yesterday on E-Bay! A steal at $10.95!) And then there are the deeper, more perplexing questions: Who do I really think I am? What do I think I’m doing with my life? What about that contribution that I feel I need to make, the mark I tell myself I need to leave?

When these questions rush in, they’re usually accompanied by the kind of funk that leaves me glowering under that thick marine layer of gloom. I don’t have good answers for them. Or rather, more truthfully, I have only bad ones.

So what to do? I’m guessing there are vast numbers of people like myself, who experience this sinking feeling now and then—some, surely, more frequently than I do, and some less. But knowing that I’m not alone is scant comfort when the mood begins to strike. And feeling sorry for myself is not a viable response. It helps nothing. On the contrary, it has the opposite effect. It drags me down still further. Besides, it’s undignified! I flatter myself to think that I have achieved enough self-awareness at this stage of my life to recognize it when it happens, and it’s not a pretty sight.

And I do know very well what to do about it when this mood hits. The problem is—as I like to say about my meditation practice—it’s easy and it’s hard. I have learned about the wisdom of equanimity. I know how to set about finding that state of mind where I can observe the mood happening without attaching to it. It’s a matter of finding a place of refuge where I can sit quietly for a while and bring my attention to the breath; a matter of bringing it back to the breath whenever it wanders—particularly into the bleak territory that seems to attract it at such moments; and, when the mind settles, a matter of allowing it to observe the presence of despair without attaching to it. It’s a peculiarly dark cloud, but like all clouds it will drift away in its own time.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of perspective. When I manage—and meditation is a useful way to do this—when I manage to distance myself from my self, I’m able to arrive at a longer view of this self in time and space; seen in the perspective of the centuries and of the immeasurable vastness of the surrounding universe, my self and its self-important worries will seem petty indeed. When seen like this, they recede perceptibly and soon begin to dissipate with each outgoing breath.

So, yes, I do know how it can be done. As with most things of this kind, however, the art of equanimity is a lot easier to preach than it is to practice. The practice is the hard part; it requires patience and vigilance, and constant, effortful repetition. The mind is perfectly capable of wallowing indulgently in its soothing bath of welcoming self-pity, which can come to feel so justified, as fitting as a comfortable old sweat suit. It’s frankly easier to nod off and let it be than to wake up and catch it in the act.

It’s at these moments, too, when that wonderfully serviceable mantra comes in handy: This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am. In this light, I recognize this “Peter Clothier, writer,” to be no more nor less than an identity I have chosen to adopt, along with the other identities I allow to define me. The trick is to remember that the mantra has the same validity in good times as it has in bad: it applies not only to the Peter who goes into a funk when he doesn’t get the return he somehow imagines his work deserves, but also to the Peter who likes to bask in the glow of his successes. That’s where the equanimity really comes in. If I want to enjoy its benefits when I’m down on myself, I have to pay it equal respect when I’m up. If “down” is no more than an illusion I indulge, the same is true for “up.”

So there it is: breathe. It’s easy—and hard. It can be annoying to be reminded, in a funk, that there is a way out. The funk itself has its own rewards. How this, for one: If I’m a failure, I have the perfect excuse not to work? The human mind has its own sneaky ways, and needs to be kept a careful eye on. Otherwise, it’s perfectly capable of seducing us with the delusions and outright lies it can so readily create.

(Oh, and let me add, having written these words: a little bit of "getting back to work" does wonders! I recommend it.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Quote of the Week

"Poets don't draw. They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently."

--Jean Cocteau

Thank you Janice Tieken for your contribution. I like the subtlety and complexity of this one!

I'm intending that this will be a continuing feature of Persist: The Blog and hope that readers will feel inspired to keep sending their favorite quotes. You can do this either in the comments section or via Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, July 5, 2010


(for Ellie)

(Before I get started on today's entry, please remember to continue on down to the July 1 interview with Jill Badonsky, if you have not already read it. Jill has some truly interesting observations, and lots of useful information about where she herself is coming from in the work she does... Worth a read!)

So my wife Ellie raised an interesting question yesterday morning. She had awoken from a dream which she did not describe in detail, but which concerned the relationship between the Ellie she has chosen, in the course of her adult life, to become, and the “Ellen” she was called by her parents as a child. She was wondering how this relationship might be playing out in her studio, now that she faces the challenge of making paintings—a relatively new experience for her, since she has devoted her professional life, successively, to selling art works, advising corporate and private collectors, and advising artists. She came to the studio, then, just a couple of years ago, with a ton of knowledge of contemporary art and a finely honed eye, but with no actual, technical practice.

Ellie is much aware of that inner Ellen, and realizes that both are at work with her in the studio. Coming out of her dream yesterday, she was once again trying to sort out the relationship between the two. It was in this context—and on being asked for my opinion!—that I offered my own admittedly amateur “analysis.” I tend to see “Ellen” as the little child (don’t we all have one?) who felt lost and abandoned, very early in life by divorcing parents, and who very successfully devised the means she needed then to assure her safety: threatened by the chaos she observed around her, her young mind perceived the imperative to control her world and developed the strategies she needed to achieve that end. “Ellie” marched in much later, into her adult life, as a strong and independent woman, equipped with her own talents and vision.

The studio back-and-forth, then, as I see it, is between the Ellen who insists on organization and control, and the Ellie who is committed to the search for her inner truth and authenticity. The painting is the field in which this struggle is played out. The more she is able, as I see it, to allow the painting to emerge intuitively, from the inner core of being, the more successful it becomes. I have this notion that a painting—not unlike a piece of writing—has its own sense of what it wants to become, and that the task of painting it involves as much the ability to stand out of its way as the ability to control the way in which it happens.

In this view, “Ellen,” the controller, becomes the antagonist in the creative struggle. I don't see this as an exclusively negative role. Indeed, it’s a vital one. Ellen wants to be sure that Ellie doesn’t make a fool of herself, that she doesn’t reveal too many of her inner secrets, that she doesn’t go blubbering and otherwise emoting all over the canvas. The trick is to find the balance, to be able to persuade Ellen to take the back seat when she’s not needed—and to quite acting as the back seat driver! When this happens, in Ellie’s painting, she stands a far better chance of allowing the painting to become what it wants to be--and not incidentally to reveal some more to her about who she is.

And then, of course, having expounded all this great wisdom to my wife, I realize that I am really talking to myself. I have my own old battle with the one I knew for a long time as “the editor,” who would stand looking over my shoulder as I wrote, offering his “helpful” advice and criticism: that’s so ridiculous! Who would ever read such nonsense? And if anyone ever reads it, they’ll see right through you for the fraud you are. You’re just showing the world how ignorant you are! So I was talking not only about Ellie, not only about myself, but about every artist caught in that familiar struggle between “form” and “content,” between the drive for free, spontaneous expression from the depths of the soul and the technical skill and control that are needed to give voice to it. The mano-a-mano between Ellie and Ellen is the dilemma of creative people of all kinds, in all generations. And it’s certainly my own…

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kaizen Muse-An Interview With Jill Badonsky

Today's entry is the second in my planned series of interviews with people who are interested in the phenomenon of creativity, and how to foster and nourish it. I discovered JILL BADONSKY online, and was intrigued by her blend of humor, whimsy, intuitive acumen, and belief in the workings of process. As a creative consultant and coach, she authors helpful books and websites, including her Kaizen Muse ("kaizen" is a Japanese word meaning "continuous improvement in small steps"), The Muse Is In and The Awe-manac: A Daily Dose of Wonder (which is also the name of her most recent publication). I thought I could learn something if I checked her out. Interesting, how we all come to a similar place from our many different directions... Here are Jill's responses to my interview questions:

PERSIST: THE BLOG: How did you get involved in creativity coaching?

JILL: I started researching creativity in the early 80s because I just seemed electrically fascinated and drawn to the creative process. I was an occupational therapist in psychiatry using creativity to help people express their needs and conflicts, find their self-esteem and develop the skills that come from being engaged in a creative process. Eventually, I applied my creativity to the corporate world which ended up in a lot of promotions and the feeling that I had sold my soul for values I did not believe in. I left the corporate world and joined an improv comedy troupe. I also wrote magazine articles and started to teach writing classes and The Artist's Way.

Then one day, I needed life coaching because I was writing a one-woman-play and was not finding the discipline to complete it. I noticed that the life coach I was seeing was blocking me. She prescribed non-linear, high pressure, left brain strategies to my right brain process that just wanted to play and be relaxed. She became the authority figure I rebelled against - a common response in the creative process. I just felt more resistant.

At that point I wondered how many creative souls were getting blocked by hiring life coaches. Around the same time, someone from one of my creativity workshops asked me to coach her and with the audacity required to be a ready-fire-aim entrepreneur I said yes. While coaching her I felt this out-of-body experience that validated that, "Holy A-ha! I'm in my bliss." and I started following it until I designed and started teaching Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching. It's been expanding and taking on a life of its own since 2004.

PTB: How long have you been at it?

JB: I would like to think my experience as an expressive therapist was the beginning of growing my creativity coaching expertise and that's been since 1980. I've been actively coaching people since 1997, wrote a book on the creative process (The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard): 10 Guides to Creative Inspiration) which was published in 2003 and started training coaches in 2004.

PTB: Are you an artist yourself (I use the word generically: writer, musician, actor, dancer...); and was it your experience as such that led you into this endeavor?

JB: Yes. I write poetry, articles, books, plays and captions for the watercolor illustrations I do. My second book, The Awe-manac: A Daily Dose of Wonder has over 400 of my illustrations in it. I'm also a multi-media performer and storyteller and am now working on animating my illustrations. My love for the creative process in all its forms and expressions leads me into this endeavor; but being an artist myself, I know first hand what it's like to be blocked and what it's like to flow effortlessly into the timeless bliss of this higher human sphere of being able to be a creator.

I believe we are all artists of being alive. We have a palette of thoughts to choose from daily that paints what our existence looks like and feels like.

PTB: You have an impressive number of special qualifications and degrees. To what extent are these important and necessary to your work?

JB: I think the summation of my training and experience as an occupational therapist specializing in psychology, Masters Degree graduate in Educational Media and Instructional Design, a program director, a marketing consultant, a certified instructor in Guided Imageries has all led to being able to design and teach Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching. But the most important part has been my passion and my unrelenting need to share all that I have learned and experienced.

PTB: Given those qualifications, to what extent does your work with artists involve "therapy"--for want of a better word--or personal counseling, as opposed to professional counseling?

JB: What I do is not counseling at all, it's coaching, consulting, and facilitating strengths. The people we accept for creativity coaching are coming from a predominantly healthy place; they are blocked by procrastination, typical fears, perfectionism, overwhelm, low self-confidence, self-sabotage and in some cases the mild depression that comes from feeling frustrated about not finding the time or manner with which to engage in their creativity.

In Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching we focus more on strengths than weaknesses. We trigger people's resources and rarely go back to the past except to identify patterns, origins of negative self-talk, experiences that created detours AND to summon past success experiences so that fuel can be used in the present.

PTB: What rewards do you look for from your work? Which of these mean the most to you?

JB: I don't feel like I look for rewards. I feel like I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do and the rewards arrive on their own. Hearing people say that their life has changed because they are learning how to use tools that shift them from victim to creative champion is prosperity in and of itself. Just talking about the creative process with another person is a form of bliss to me because it is such a juicy and exalted part of our existence.

PTB: What can an artist expect to gain from working with you? Are you concerned to help them with greater exposure?

JB: Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching gives artists the tools they need to overcome all of the creative blocks they experience and to be aware of where they are already soaring but are unable to see it.

There are ten Kaizen-Muse Tools and since 2004 we have received so many letters and emails about how these tools have returned people to their own authenticity, have helped them foil procrastination and perfectionism, dissolved overwhelm and self-sabotage and helped them discover their power and inspired genius in an often unpredictable and chaotic process.

Greater exposure comes as a result of what we do but our main concern is that they enjoy the process and use the tools in a way that feels intuitively right. Too much emphasis on exposure seems to add the pressure that blocks people. Joy in the process, play, awareness of creative dynamics, following intuition and letting go of rigid expectations about results seem to end up with a non-linear acquisition of success in more ways than was initially expected.

PTB: Do you have any thoughts about the burgeoning competition in this line of work?

JB: What other people are doing is really none of my business. Comparison in the creative process is unnecessary and can be toxic. There is enough business for all of us out there and if we are staying true to our own inspiration, it will be a beautiful balance of what the world needs. Others are moving beside me not ahead of me or instead of me. The world is a better place when people are in touch with their creative joy.

Amen to that! I too believe that the world is a better place when creative people have the freedom and the inner resources to get on with their work. Where would we be without the human imagination? We would certainly lack the technology that facilitates our work! The light bulb is more than a metaphor...

My warm thanks to Jill for generously taking me up on this. I hope you have learned as much from her as I have.

Visit for more biographical information on Jill and her work as well as information on her books The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard): 10 Guides to Creative Inspiration for Artists, Poets, Lovers and Other Mortals Wanting to Live a Dazzling Existence and The Awe-Manac: A Dose of Daily Wonder.