Monday, January 6, 2020

Diane Cook-Tench and learning from others.

Hello. It's my first post of 2020. And I like to think I have a lot to write about.

I’ve trained myself through the years to think in the written word. Even when I am just walking about the city, which I do so often--with dog or without, I think about how I would express what I am seeing, who I am interacting with, how I'm feeling, in words. 

I am thinking about the stories I hear and how to write them. When I actually sit down to the keyboard most of my sentences are already in my head. People often remark how fast I am as a writer. I'm not really fast until I start typing. Getting to typing takes me time.

(The other afternoon, walking by a small-dog run in Carl Schurz Park on the East River in the 80s, I heard a haggard woman yelling at her barking dog. “It’s 2020,” she barked.  “What did I tell you about acting like a Diva?" Before long, that will be story-fied.)

There’s so much around us. So much to see. As Yogi Berra said apocryphally, “You can see a lot just by observing.” If you want to think about Looking Up a bit more, click here.

I’m starting this year by observing how lucky I am to have “met” so many people through blogging. People I never ordinarily would have met given that I am about as outgoing as a stone. A buried stone.

One of those people I've encountered through the months and years is Diane Cook-Tench. She is now officially an
FFB--a Friend From Blogging.

Diane—though she’d deny this—is a fine writer. She’s also in The One Club’s “Educator’s Hall of Fame,” the Founding Director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s grad school, the Brandcenter, and the winner of over 100 national and international awards for her creative work including One Show pencils, Clios, and Lions from the Cannes Festivals.

I’ve known Diane’s name, and her work, since the 80s. About six months ago, we finally connected on LinkedIn. Then over our Christian-based year-end break, I read a column of Diane’s and then I read it a second time—just to be sure I really liked it. Then I wrote Diane a note, asking her if I could re-print it in this space.

I liked it that much and I was really glad she said yes.

Diane’s piece is called “Five Keys to Unlocking Your Creative Potential in 2020.” It's a pretty damn good way to start off the year.

Pull creativity from your surroundings and experiences.

We’re as creative as the things we absorb so it’s important to always make time to experience new and interesting things.

One of the most valued things today in this photoshopped and over-curated world is authenticity. Authenticity comes from deep within us. It’s what you’ve really experienced and what’s meaningful to you. If you give yourself the time to think and share what’s been an important reality in your life, your true self will shine through.

“In these toxic times, art can help us transform and give us a sense of purpose. This story begins with my seeing the Confederate monuments. What does it feel like if you are black and walking beneath this? We come from a beautiful, fractured situation. Let’s take these fractured pieces and put them back together.” Artist Kehinde Wiley, creator of Rumors of War.

This new monument, featuring a contemporary young black man in dreadlocks and ripped jeans is his answer to the monuments honoring the Confederate Generals. He witnessed them in person in 2016 when he came to Richmond, Virginia for the unveiling of a major exhibit of his paintings at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Kehinde first piece of sculpture used the monument of J.E.B. Stuart as a jumping-off place.

It may go down as his most impactful artwork to date? While his portraits featuring people like President Obama have created a lot of stir, Rumors of War, a public piece may influence further work across the world that honors people in new and meaningful ways. Public as it may be, it’s also inherently personal to Mr. Wiley.

--> Become a stronger listener.

Base what you’re sharing on a deep understanding of your audience.

Everyone in this shot loves something in particular, a musical group that comes together every Friday morning to perform in a local live show called Breakfast Cabaret. At first glance this may look like a group with little in common. Don’t assume anything about individuals until you get to know them and their preferences.

Listen and absorb what people want and believe. It’ll help you understand how to create meaningful communications with them. Draw them in with questions and response. Once you get the flow of conversation started, it becomes easier and you’ll learn what’s truly important to them.

Stay positive and focused on the future.

Creativity doesn’t rest and it’s often focused on how to improve something. The best innovators are those that don’t let a roadblock stop them. They also don’t focus on the past unless it’s how to make something better.

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.” --Maya Angelou

Consider taking a long weekend to focus on something that you’re passionate about. For me, it was creative writing at a retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. If all days began on a mountaintop with thoughtful intention, it would solve a lot of problems.

Make time for your vision and goals.

How many of us vow to improve our habits or create a new habit only to see it deserted before too many weeks have passed? Find a way to carve out time and a space that allows you to use your creativity, daily. Yes, this is hard and I have to confess that I’ve failed at this goal myself during certain periods.

What have I dropped too soon? Let’s start with the blog articles that I was determined to write regularly. Or the weekly painting I was sure I could accomplish. If I’d kept at both of these goals during the past decade, I’d have been more helpful to others and become a much better fine artist by now.

Ambitious goal-setting can lead to more failures than achievements. My failure in this area provides a lesson to myself to start smaller and focus on achieving less. Once we get the smaller habits started, we can think about enlarging them if that’s warranted.

Goals are important as is asking too much of yourself. Can you break the goal down into something smaller and easier to achieve? What plan can you make to celebrate the small successes? These practices will lead you to bigger accomplishments.


Believe in yourself and stay true to your vision.

In the long run, people are rewarded for the results they achieve with their work. People don’t remember if there are conflicts during its creation. By conflicts, I mean civil, professional disagreements.

There were times that sometimes produced conflicts over differing visions on shoots — especially when I was the 20-something art director working with a 40-something male film director or photographer.

If I didn’t feel comfortable about what was being filmed or photographed, I had to take myself off into a corner for a few minutes and quickly figure out the heart of this problem and what might fix it. Then, I might have to stay firm about what was needed to be revised even if an older creative professional didn’t share my vision or was more concerned about his businesses financial or other issues.

The very last thing you want to do is to end up with a final product that wasn’t created to your level of vision or accomplishment. That’s just disappointing. While all of us are disappointed with our projects at times, who doesn’t want to keep that disappointment to a minimum?

Keep moving yourself forward with your smart intentions. Creativity grows with practice and focus. Your creative muscle isn’t all that different from other muscles. Growth and strength simply come from focus and regular practice.

A heartfelt thanks to Diane for this wisdom and for letting me share it. If you feel like saying "hi," my guess is Diane would say "hi" back.

Thank you, Diane.

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