“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”
― Seneca, Philosopher

As another year comes to a close and another begins, we all must take the time to reflect as well as to prepare.

Time moves so swiftly doesn’t it? Even without counting the minutes of the day or the days of the week, it consistently moves forward, regardless of what you do with your life and what thoughts and feelings occur within you. This is precisely the reason why we must continue to remind and encourage ourselves (and others) to live presently – to create and experience moments that matter.

French artist, Jean Dubuffet seen here at work. Dubuffet is famous for his radical and graphic style of painting that he felt was a more authentic and humanistic approach to creation.

When I look back at the last 18 months or so, I can logically say that’s it’s been at least an eventful if not a trying year; I lost a dear friend, received a health scare, had a fire (which cost me half my home, most of my art, and rattled my marriage), and I had to move not once, but three times. Even my daily routine of visual creation and the writing of the blog lost its consistency. Yet, despite all that, all I can feel is gratitude.

The Firebird by Marc Chagall. Whenever I see a Chagall, it feels like love.

Why? Because at the end of the day I’m still here. And so many of the people I care and think about are also still here. The opportunity to create and learn and share continues to exist each moment, and as an artist — in fact, as a human being — this is all that matters. We must welcome all experience (even those that may seem painful at the time) because we don’t know which one will turn us on.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Philosopher

Without difficulty, we don’t get to experience the events and emotions that challenge us to be better. We don’t get to see things that would’ve never appeared otherwise, nor would we meet those all important people who change our lives. Sometimes disruption, misfortune and unanswered prayers are blessings in disguise.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust, Writer

Green Wheat Fields, Auvers by Vincent Van Gogh. What we plant, we reap. Good conditions — positive thoughts, good people, and serene environments — make for a good life.

In fact, the disruptions to my life became opportunities to reinvent myself and think outside of the box. It forced me to bear down again, make tough decisions, and take positive action.  The result was that my art took on a new stylistic direction and my perspective of the universe grew both broader and deeper. If I had chosen the alternative — to sit helplessly, whining and complaining — I would’ve gone no where, or even worse, backwards. It’s far to easy to be consumed with past regret or worry for the future. Even the smartest person in the world cannot tell us what will happen next, not even in the short term. History has proven that prediction is as useless as complaint and condemnation. We must stay away from arrogant or negative thinking which can come from any source, both self-serving and benevolent.

“Every day, stand guard at the door of your mind.” — Jim Rohn, Motivational Speaker

As creative people, we can’t afford to waste our time with envy, competition, and non-constructive criticism. Such passive approach to living is antithetical to the art of creating. To be consumed in that world invites the potential for exponential negativity and judgement. Sure, real violence and injustice exists but we must park the bad elements of life into an area that can be managed. Our focus must be on the positive and the actionable. We must be persistent and patient.

Italian composer Ennio Morricone  is always working at his craft and continues to do so right into his eighties. Despite a magnificent career — one which consists of composing over 500 scores including for films such as The Mission, Cinema Paradiso, The Untouchables, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and many others — he only won his first Oscar for Best Original Score (for Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight) last year at the ripe old age of 87. Yet he has always remained productive, humble and grateful.

“There isn’t a great soundtrack without a great movie that inspires it.” — Ennio Morricone, Composer

Artists need to look within themselves, while engaging in the world outside of themselves. We invite, interpret and respond — all of which are beautiful and enriching actions. This is where our self-expression comes from. And upon the execution and delivery of our ideas and feelings, we experience not mere happiness — a short term state of being which can be easily achieved via various artificial means —but real joy and fulfillment.  What could possibly be better than being caught up in the creative process?

The artist that lives fully in the moment, continually observing, both within and outside of himself, who is constantly learning and discovering, and ultimately productive is one that lives with absolute truth, joy and wisdom. Everything else is bonus.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


Muhammad Ali dodges a punch from Sonny Liston in his 1965 match for the heavyweight title of the world. In any fight, the punches are real. Fighters dodge and roll with them but they can’t run away from them because they’ll keep coming. In the same way in life, we can’t run away from our fears.

In all honesty, I don’t feel quite qualified to talk about worry. Because I’ve by no means conquered it. Far from it actually. I’ve been a worrier most of my life. I have to fight it each and everyday, taking all my will and courage just to survive the interrogation of my mind and the assault it takes on my body and my soul. The moment I became conscious as an wholly independent person left all alone in this universe, worry was born. And once born, like Pandora’s box, it can’t be unborn or put back to where it was hiding. And the strength of its power! It can overwhelm us in the most terrible and influential ways, anywhere, anytime.

“The rule for all terrors is to head straight into them.” — Alan Watts

The opposite of worry is optimism. The two are like oil and water. We have to choose between them. Yet most people choose to swim in oil instead of water. Doing art, or anything creative, is an act of faith, like taking a drink from the ocean of fresh opportunity and diving into the vastness of our dreams. That body of water is both inviting, exciting and scary. But it’s far easier and safer to cover ourselves in oil and just sit back on the beach. The thing is, we often forget that over-caution and pessimism are some of the greatest diseases of attitude.*

When Picasso introduced Cubism in the early 1900’s people were aghast by what they saw. They didn’t understand it. It was the first great departure in the history of art from seeing things in natural perspective and light. The only way to make history is to dive in, head first.

We all know that life is hard and being an artist seems that much harder (or at least riskier). To many, choosing art is crazy escapism  — an ode to utopia taken on by idealists, dreamers and lazy drifters unwilling to deal with reality. Shouldn’t we all be lawyers, accountants, and doctors, or something else that’s practical and coherent with the current economic trends? There’s a reason why every parent wishes such careers for their children — safety. Worry and pessimism are often disguised as reality or reason.

“The man who spends his entire life turning the wheels of industry so that he has neither the time nor energy to occupy himself with any other needs of his human organism is by far a greater escapist than the one who has developed his art. For the man who develops his art does make adjustments to his physical needs. He understands that man must have bread to live, while the other cannot understand that you cannot live by bread alone.” — Mark Rothko

As mentioned in previous writings, creativity is in our blood. And for those whose concentration of this potent element is strong, there is no choice but to move forward artistically, security be damned. But that doesn’t stop of us from worrying.

The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat captured an anxiety particular to his person and the times that he lived. Worry and depression took the artist’s life way too early but his art lives on. This 1982 painting recently sold for a crazy figure (exceeding $100 million).

When we worry, we forget about the process. We live outside of the not just the moment but that of the experience. Even though 90% of all fears never become reality, most of us still spend a large portion of our time there, completely preoccupied with the unknown future — the imaginative “what-ifs” of life.

“Don’t major in minor things” — Jim Rohn

Sigourney Weaver stars as Ellen Ripley, in Ridley Scott’s brilliant 1979 sci-fi thriller, Alien, which was shot mostly in the dark. We’re all frightened by what we can’t see.

In truth, most fears are illusions. They’re often dramatized pictures and scenarios our busy little minds come up with when given the opportunity. In a sense the mind is like dog with a lot of energy. If we don’t tell it what to do or play with it, it’ll go nuts. And an unhappy dog makes for a big mess to clean up afterwards. A mind gone wild can cause even bigger trouble because it can habitualize whatever it does — that is, it can become addicted to worrying. If anxiety is love’s greatest enemy, then worry is its number one killer.

“Don’t worry, worry brings fear, and fear is crippling.” — Earl Nightingale

Worry takes its roots from fear. Although we can’t be naive about it, especially being artists, we must always keep in mind to counter it with optimism and faith. If we can keep worry and fear isolated as a relatively small and minor component of our lives, then there is room to be happy, and room to grow. A preoccupation with fear and worry stops all creative and pragmatic action.  We must make better use of our imaginative capacities.

“Art is such an action. It is a kindred form of action to idealism.” — Mark Rothko

A lot of people don’t understand Mark Rothko’s paintings. But seen in person, you’ll realize they aren’t about “something.” Rather they are an experience — deep human emotions conveyed with paint and canvas.

But most people have it backwards. They think they will be happy (optimistic) when worry disappears. What they’re really saying is they’ll choose to take positive action AFTER it’s safe to do so. Most people choose to delay doing what they want till their retirement even though mortality rates accelerate dramatically after retirement. In fact, most people live less than 10 more years after they retire. Not an inspiring reality considering we’ve spent over half of our lives saving up for this “glorious” period — one which is often accompanied by the loss of health, life-partners and friends.

“Carpe diem.” — Horace, Roman Poet

Another common example of such a disturbing philosophy is when people say they’ll give to charity (either time or money) AFTER they’ve struck it rich. It’s a mindset that’s incredibly dis-empowering, and ultimately, completely fruitless. In fact, worries and fears don’t disappear when external circumstances change. Instead, they get replaced by new worries, or come back as old ones in disguise.

So to counter our worries, we often choose to get busy. But we shouldn’t necessarily count all action as good action.

“Don’t confuse movement with progress… what you need is discipline and consistency.”— Denzel Washington

The magnificent Denzel Washington plays the courageous Private Trip, the American slave turned soldier in Glory, Edward Zwick’s powerful film about prejudice and war.

The work and action we take must be that of focused action.  Disciplined action. Constructive action that aligns us with worthy goals. Dreams without specific goals leads to aimlessness. Goals without commitment and consistency leads to delusion. All too often we’re caught up in the busyness of life, not doing anything of consequence. Most jobs are being done in such fashion. Sometimes it’s the fault of the job, but more often than not, it’s the fault of the attitude of the person doing the work. Our attitude — the narrative we give ourselves— is what gives any action meaning. Quality activity begins with a quality mind, one of attention, focus and earnestness. Joy comes from this place in the mind.

Yorkshire, by David Hockney. Hockney’s art is always filled with a sense of security and joy. He chose himself and the results speak loudly of what he wanted to say. He’s often viewed as England’s greatest visual artist.

So we mustn’t  worry too much. No one knows the future. We need to be aware of reality but not let our (or other’s) limited perceptions of the universe contaminate our minds. If we’re focused, prepared and dedicated to our dreams and principles, all else will take care of itself. History has shown time and time again, how wrong most public/popular opinions have been been. Be it art, science or economics most everyone has it wrong almost all of the time. The only way to approach life is optimistically. Otherwise we’ll be paralyzed by fear. Our direction determines our destination.

“I have always believed that art should be a deep pleasure. I think there is a contradiction in an art of total despair, because the very fact that the art is made seems to contradict despair.” — David Hockney

*paraphrased from Jim Rohn’s Seven Diseases of Attitude.