Riding Butterflies: 25 Insights on the Art of Extraordinary Creativity {Quotable Wisdom}

“Ride the Butterflies” by Marty Whitmore, commissioned for Jonathan Fields’ “Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance”

 

Creating extraordinary work takes great sweat and tears and inspiration. Sometimes it just takes letting go and going deeper — deeper into the heart of your spirit; what your spirit cries out for, your inner muse calls you to create.

Creating extraordinary art demands overcoming the resistance — learning, as Jonathan Fields wrote in his new book, “to harness and ride rather than hunt and kill the butterflies that live in the gut of every person who strives to create something extraordinary from nothing.”

Harnessing this flow is at the heart of all great work — and truly extraordinary creative expression has the very real power to change the world.

Here are 25 insights from exceptional creators on the art of great work…


1. Steven Pressfield: On overcoming le resistance…

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

2. Seth Godin: On what is art…

It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human. Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.

3. George Bernard Shaw: On genius…

A man of genius is not a man who sees more than other men do. On the contrary, it is very often found that he is absentminded and observes much less than other people…. Why is it that the public have such an exaggerated respect for him—after he is dead? The reason is that the man of genius understands the importance of the few things he sees.

4. Elizabeth Gilbert: On the source of genius…

Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished, with somebody else. And, you know, if we think about it this way it starts to change everything….

5. Austin Kleon: On stealing your inspiration…

Your job is to collect ideas. The best way to collect ideas is to read. Read, read, read, read, read. Read the newspaper. Read the weather. Read the signs on the road. Read the faces of strangers. The more you read, the more you can choose to be influenced by…. Steal things and save them for later. Carry around a sketchpad. Write in your books. Tear things out of magazines and collage them in your scrapbook.

Steal like an artist.

6. J.K. Rowling: On the power of imagination…

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. (Harvard commencement address 2008).

7. Arthur Schopenhauer:  On true art vs. philosophy…

The poet presents the imagination with images from life and human characters and situations, sets them all in motion and leaves it to the beholder to let these images take his thoughts as far as his mental powers will permit. This is why he is able to engage men of the most differing capabilities, indeed fools and sages together. The philosopher, on the other hand, presents not life itself but the finished thoughts which he has abstracted from it and then demands that the reader should think precisely as, and precisely as far as, he himself thinks. That is why his public is so small.

8. Albert Einstein: On setting your mind free…

When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.

9. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: On style and simplicity…

Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are the more necessary it is to be plain.

10. Hunter S. Thompson: On creative fuel…

The greatest mania of all is passion: and I am a natural slave to passion: the balance between my brain and my soul and my body is as wild and delicate as the skin of a Ming vase.

11. Gwen Bell: On taking time out to be present…

So, I started napping in college. But it was really as an antidote to the way I was pushing myself. A reward. Nap to be able to push myself a little harder. Now, I take professional naps. I nap almost daily. It’s the secret weapon I keep tucked in my back pocket.

12. Danielle LaPorte:  On creating psychic space…

And here’s the thing with being “in touch” with thousands of people everyday: it can fuck with your head, not in a Howard Hughes go-looney kind of way, but in a “there are a whole lotta of people in my living room, and my bed, and my car-kind of way.” [….] If I have more psychic space, I can write more, and write mo’ better. And THAT’s where I want my vocation to go. All good things (like affluence) will come from honouring that core desire. (Quicky clarity on that: affluence = fluid ideas + influencing positive happenings + cash flow.)

13. Joss Stone: On pushing the edges and not worrying about the others…

 I always used to wonder: wow, would I be able to do this type of music or that type of music? Would it sound good? Now that I’ve stepped out of the groove/soul box a bit, I think, wow, that kind of sounds cool. What else could I do? I don’t want to be the type of person that stays stagnant in a safe world. I want to do things that scare me…. Not everyone’s going to like everything I do, but I’ve kind of gotten over the whole caring thing… It’s like, if you like it, cool! If not, that’s cool too. Either way: I’m going to make another one.

14. Shaun McNiff: On trusting the process…

When asked for advice on painting, Claude Monet told people not to fear mistakes. The discipline of art requires constant experimentation, wherein errors are harbingers of original ideas because they introduce new directions for expression. The mistake is outside the intended course of action, and it may present something that we never saw before, something unexpected and contradictory, something that may be put to use.

15. Willem de Kooning: On getting back to basics…

What you do when you paint, you take a brush full of paint, get paint on the picture, and you have faith.

16. Leonardo da Vinci: On the greatest truth…

Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.

17. Chris Guillebeau:  On overcoming the pain of discipline…

Once you start recording information, you’ll likely find that ideas are not the problem. For most writers (or anyone doing most kinds of creative work), execution is the problem. Therefore, the framework I write from can be summarized in this quote from Jim Rohn:
“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment.”
In choosing to write, you must choose the pain of discipline. Good news: it’s not that painful, once you get used to it. You just have to make it more important than other things you could spend time on.

Make your art your obsession. Fall in love with it. Experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t give it your attention. Say no to other things so you can make art. Learn to view sacrifice as an investment.

18. Julia Cameron: On being bold and trusting the universe…

I have irreverent shorthand for this that I keep taped to my writing desk: Leap and the net will appear…

19. Barbara Hepworth: On staying the course…

Half-way through any work, one is often tempted to go off on a tangent. Once you have yielded, you will be tempted to yield again and again… Finally, you would only produce something hybrid….

20. Ernest Hemingway: On sticking through to the end…

The first draft of anything is always shit.

21. Sylvia White: On seeking approval…

Art is not something you can convince someone to like…no matter how much you talk about it or try to explain it. And yet… it is what almost every artist I have ever encountered wants to know, “What you think of my work?” And, if they haven’t asked me outright, I know they’re thinking it.  It amazes me, because when you stop to think about it, it doesn’t really matter what the response is.  Regardless of how anyone answers the question, it won’t change the fact that you make art, and it won’t change the art you make.

Do yourself a favor.  Give yourself a gift you deserve.  You’ve worked hard to allow yourself to be an artist, give yourself permission to enjoy it and don’t ask/don’t tell.

22. Steve Jobs: On surrounding yourself with exceptionally talented people…

One of the things that I’ve always felt is that most things in life, if you get something twice as good as average you’re doing phenomenally well…. Usually the best is about 30% better than average. Two to one’s a big delta. But what became really clear to me in my work life was that, for instance, Woz [Steve Wozniac] was 25 to 50 times better than average. And I found that there were these incredibly great people at doing certain things, and you couldn’t replace one of these people with 50 average people. They could just do stuff that no number of average people could do.

23. Oprah Winfrey: On letting go to the dance of life…

Allowing the truth of who you are—your spiritual self—to rule your life means you stop the struggle and learn to move with the flow of your life. As Eckhart [Tolle] says in A New Earth, ‘There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer, and you are the dance.’

The joy and vitality that come from being that dance are unmatched by any pleasure you can imagine. What it takes, I’ve learned, is being committed to experiencing life’s spiritual essence. And that, as I said in my conversation with Eckhart, is a decision you make daily: to be in the world but not of it.

24. Brian Clark: On stripping yourself of limiting beliefs…

Denying your own creativity is like denying you’re a human being. We’re all limitlessly creative, but only to the extent that we realize that we create our own limits with the way we think. If you tell yourself you’re not creative, it becomes true. Stop that.

In that sense, awakening your own creativity is similar to the path reported by those who seek spiritual enlightenment. You’re already enlightened, just like you’re already creative, but you have to strip away all of your delusions before you can see it. Acknowledge that you’re inherently creative, and then start tearing down the other barriers you’ve allowed to be created in your mind.

25. Hugh Macleod: On getting down to what matters…

Besides eating, drinking and screwing, Picasso didn’t do much else with his time, except make art…. My advice? Don’t worry about being an artist. Worry about getting the work made. If you’re any good, the rest will follow. Rock on.

 

For myself, the key is in clearing the mind and energy field to allow creative flow to merge with the work. From that point on it’s just about getting really inspired. Once you have that rush of clarity and inspiration, there’s really no limit to what you can accomplish.

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Post inspired by the brilliant 25 Insights on Becoming a Better Writer from the 99%.

I’m curious to know — what inspires you in creating extraordinary work? What insights have helped you harness and ride the butterflies?

Join the conversation on Google+

Live well, and please Retweet/Share with your gang… thanks for your support! — :)

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