Category Archives: Discussions

Shot Analysis: A Jungle Book Sequence Part 5

We continue our analysis of scenes 13 to 16 in the fifth and final installment of our look at Disney’s The Jungle Book.

Scene 13, 14 & 15: A Lesson in Simplicity

At first glace these shots seem rather ordinary but I think that’s the entire point; they are meant to be easily understood. Baloo is making a rather basic request of Mowgli and is talking to him in as simple a manner as possible. There is quite a bit of twinned posing and action here but it’s beautifully disguised when possible. Notice how Baloo’s overacted “scare me” pose is almost childish, but that’s very likely the feeling Frank wanted. Often times as animators we get caught up trying to be original or even wanting to show off our creativity or skill, but at the end of the day, the performance to be delivered must be one of appropriateness — true to the moment and to the characters.

In the following scene, I like the choices Frank makes here with Mowgli. First, his eyes open and connect with Baloo, then he grinds out an intense emotional effort with weak bodily power and meek vocals:

In this next shot, simplicity is at play again. Held moments are crucial here; it lets you absorb the moment that Baloo has just experienced and relays his feelings about it. Notice how apathetic his expressions are. He barely budges upon hearing Mowgli’s modest squeek. In exact and uncomplicated order, he blinks, shakes his head, moves up, and then, in an almost frozen state of disbelief, let’s out the words that confirm everything that he feels about the display just witnessed. No overacting here.

After that held moment, which helps set up the contrast, he bolts directly into action. Notice there’s no pre-anticipation necessary since he’s already in a high position. From a straight and stable position, he bounces immediately into dynamic and emotional form as we return to asymmetry before match-cutting into the wide shot:

Scene 16: A lesson in Posing with Attitude

When it comes to posing, we often think of amazing draftsmen like Bill Tytla or Glen Keane — powerhouse animators that create domineering characters — but sometimes great attitudes can come from posing that just fits the character and isn’t overdone. Here, we see Frank Thomas display some actively interesting poses of Baloo that still match his profile. Remember he’s a chill, lovable guy, whose gonna temporarily go into “real bear” mode for the sake of “demonstration.” He sounds scary and the growl is very real, but the poses that lead up to the final expression are anything but dynamic or frightening — they simply fit.

In conclusion of this lengthy five part analysis, the big point I want to make here is this: don’t be so quick to pretend to know or judge a shot or any piece of art. Take the time to see what’s going on, both on the surface and between the frames. Only in this way, do we get the chance to get inside the mind of the creator. Masterworks such as these from Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston are gold and studying them, or the works of any master, gives us a glimmer of hope that maybe some of that shine will make its way onto our own work.

Beauty

Abstract painter Cecily Brown is the current rock star of the modernist, big city painting scene. The intense flowing colors and large scale sensuality of her work both titillate and draw in viewer participation.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ― Marcus Aurelius

In a society obsessed and dominated by image, it’s easy to forget what real beauty truly is, and more importantly, our ability to actually see it. As artists, beauty is something we’re always striving after — first, for inspiration and subsequently in the process and outcome of our work. How it’s defined may depend as much on personal taste as the context in which it is found. In order to create it we must know how to recognize it, both in the places around us and within ourselves.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ― Confucius

This is why it’s so important to focus on the positive, to look deep and wide for anything and everything that has even the remotest possibility of inspiring us and in turn, give meaning to our pursuits. Why does a man travel long and hard up into the Himalayas, into the dark, into the cold, exposed to a very real threat to his existence? The journey is sure to be arduous, with much time in near isolation, facing pain, difficulty and doubt .

Kyle Maynard is the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. His story and life is incredibly beautiful and inspiring.

Why be any kind of adventurer or artist when success is dependent on so much that is beyond our control? Because both the experience and the outcome are sure to surprise us. Or to borrow from the words of the Blind Seer, in Joel and Ethan Coen’s  “O’ Brother Where Art Thou“:

“You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first… first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a… a cow… on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”

O’ Brother Where Art Thou, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is hugely entertaining comedy loosely based off Homer’s Greek Classic, The Odyssey.

Beauty, and thus art, is needed, for many reasons: to entice, to enrapture, to open up our ability and will to expose ourselves to the novel, the unusual, and the unknown. Only art has to the power to overcome our rational yet often times obstructive minds:

“The use of myth, parable, fable, allegory or metaphor has a long history in wisdom literature… Allegory has a way of bypassing the strictly analytical mind and showing correspondences between universals and particulars in a way that a logical exposition and literal interpretation never could. It uses the constraints of stories in time and space to point to truths which exist outside them; the realm of doing to illuminate the realm of being.” — David A. Beardsley

In many ways,  art has been the very first form of allegory, a way to tell truths. It’s perhaps the oldest form of communication between generations — passing along tools for survival, history, tradition and culture. Through art, we tell stories of our adventures and of who we are. And to this day, it’s still more powerful than science despite the latter’s monumental advancements. The motivational power of numbers is limited, but that of image and emotion is boundless.

Akira Kurasawa knows the power of images. Few directors today have the understanding and control of movement that he had. His films can convey the most dynamic energy or the most sincere and rich complexities of the human heart.

“Art has a limitless power of converting the human soul—a power which the Greeks called psychagogia. For art alone possesses the two essentials of educational influence—universal significance and immediate appeal.” — Werner Jaeger

However, without beauty (and the appreciation of beauty) art loses its true power.  Real art is personal. It can be strange or unexplainable but it doesn’t have to be grand or sophisticated. The nature of all art is that it’s unique, possible only thru the hands of its sole creator executed at a particular place at a precise point in time. This is what makes each work of art stand alone in history — it’s one of a kind. Where as technology (and it’s mass reproductive capability) loses is luster quickly, art’s staying power grows.

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” — Edgar Allan Poe

The color vibrancy and bountiful fleshiness of Chaim Soutine’s work is a  big inspiration to my own. Like all great artists, he was completely unique in his expression and execution. And limited acceptance of his artistry during his life time never stopped him from seeing and creating beauty.

Hence the need for an optimistic mind and a big heart. A strong mind is a productive mind — it focuses on creation rather than criticism, complaint or condemnation. No serious artist can afford to spend time on that which is not useful. We cannot worry about what people think, only what has yet to transpire.

“…if  I paint what you know, then I will simply bore you, the repetition from me to you. If I paint what I know, it will be boring to myself. Therefore I paint what I don’t know.” — Franz Kline

To do so, we need to pay attention. There is beauty everywhere but it helps to surround ourselves with what we love: great books, fun films, moving music, gorgeous artworks, wonderful people. Artists should love nature, museums and architecture but also find joy and wonder in the the tiniest of things — things that most people pass by every single day without thought or acknowledgment. We cannot be so aloof.

A wonderful moment from Sam Mendes’ gorgeous film, American Beauty.

Again, it comes down to fulfillment. How do we want to spend our time? In search of beauty, occupied with learning, absorbing, creating and gratefully appreciating this wonderful thing call life? Or in passivity, waiting for things to happen to us, in the accumulation and consumption of things and activities that serve impatience or pride — all of which have limited impact or staying power? I think the answer is obvious whether by logic or emotion. Seeing and creating go hand in hand in the virtuous cycle that comes with being a true craftsman.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ― Anne Frank

Insecurity

“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention” says Sean Penn’s character in Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty — a  beautifully shot character adventure that contains some wonderfully profound moments.

“Free man is by necessity insecure; thinking man by necessity uncertain.” — Erich Fromm

We live in strangely disturbing times. We have so much material comfort yet live with more anxiety and less realized time than ever in human history. We’re working harder and longer hours again. We seek constant attention and stimulus. Even our children run and play on scheduled time.

James Borgman’s wonderfully satirical editorial cartoon sums up how society is robbing even that very precious time we have as children.

How is this possible in a post-feudal world where we’re no longer subject to a caste system or burdened by obvious racial and gender inequality*? Where technology supplies us with a wealth of free information and much improved standards of living? Where we have political freedom and equal opportunity in a supposedly economic meritocracy? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that this “earned” system also naturally implies that in failing to have success (at least on society’s terms) we’re weak, lazy or incompetent and fully deserve our failure and misfortune. Even under the gross assumption that the system is free from fraud and corruption, it leaves out people less fortunate or have skills that aren’t “marketable” — that is, those whose abilities have no obvious economic viability. How can individuals left out of the game possibly feel secure? How can they possibly attain happiness?

Status anxiety. This documentary by School of Life creator Alain de Botton aptly describes the state of our consciousness in modern times.

But even those of us who can apparently “survive” in this system can’t seem to attain any sort of sustained happiness because this monetarily-driven and machine-like system has, in less than a full century, completely penetrated and altered our way of thinking and living as sentient beings. For example, we’re all now defined by not who we are, but what we do for work and what we have. The very first words after the introduction of names often comes our occupation; “I’m a doctor” or “I’m an animator.” We don’t say that we’re Irish or come from Africa or that we’re a “father” or a “sister,” or that we like to cook or do pottery. We describe ourselves as we would describe machines — this is an oven or that is a stereo — that is, by their productive purpose. We take every element of our humanity out of how we identify ourselves. We are so rushed that everything including our interactions with ourselves and others is based on economy rather than significance.

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” —Stephen Covey

Now work is clearly important. We need work to survive and allow us to create, contribute and connect to the world around us. But when it becomes merely a means of production, it loses its greater value. We forget that work is only a means of expressing our individuality and our societal contribution. Goals of economic production on the other hand, are mostly about efficiency, effectiveness and maximizing profit margins. That is fine for the owners of capital (investors) or incentive-linked managers who often have no intimate knowledge or connection to either the end product (widgets) or the people involved (widget makers) but it does alter the state of the worker. When valued only for productive capacity, it’s not difficult for an employee to feel exploited, disconnected and disoriented from the entire purpose of work. If not careful, workers will also begin to alienate themselves from the process and view themselves as mere widget makers evaluated with the same measuring stick —namely by the consistency, quantity and turnover time of their work.

Are humans merely just stand-ins until machines can completely do all the work that we need? In Hefei China, robots both cook and deliver food, replacing both line cooks and wait staff. Image from Business Insider.

Is it no wonder image and material possession have so much pull on our psyche? In a fully-accepted capitalistic universe, our productive capacity (work/career status) becomes tied to our sense of security and general worth as human beings. If we’re not productive or marketable, we’re not considered successful or even worthy. It’s tough to be different or left out.

“Any deviation from the pattern, any criticism, arouses fear and insecurity; one is always dependent on the approval of others…The sense of guilt, which some generations ago pervaded the life of man with reference to sin, has been replaced by a sense of uneasiness and inadequacy with regard to being different.” — Erich Fromm

It is Friedrich Nietzsche who famously said that God is dead and perhaps he is right. But in the absence of God (or spirituality) we created a new god. And today, that god is technology — technology that runs hand and hand with the corporate machine. We not only wonder at its brilliance but depend on its growth and mindlessly accept its dominance. We don’t dare doubt its cold, scientific rationale.

Most people aren’t aware that many hedge funds (which manage private money and that of pensions funds) are heavily run by machines. Almost 30% of stock trading within such portfolios are done at incalculable speeds by Quants (mathematical experts) using algorithmic super computers (i.e. trades made without human intervention). Image from the Wall Street Journal

While we humans are not machines and think that we’re masters of our own invention, we’re now entering an era where it’s possible that we won’t have full control of where technology might head. More and more we work with machines rather than tell machines what to do. We don’t doubt or blame a system not well designed for humanity but blame human beings for being inadequately trained to adapt to its systems or its ever-changing demands. When we blindly or passively accept a system that places financial profit over social development and environmental preservation we become alienated from the entire process of work. Things become abstractions —  interpreted in terms of numbers, rather than as concrete items or people. What happens to respect, trust or empathy? Is that new guy a potential tennis partner or another hire that is here to take our job? Is that an old woman with bad hands in front us in the grocery checkout or another thing in the way of our getting on with our much hurried day?

We must be willing to ask the ultimate question: are we here to make a world that’s a better place to live (i.e. to attain greater happiness) or one that simply produces more things faster? (i.e. to attain greater profit).

“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” — Alan Watts

We are endlessly told by the business community and their like-minded pundits that any intervention or regulation of the capitalistic machine  — like supporting reasonable biological needs such as food, shelter and healthcare — is a danger to our society, that it will lead to economic ruin. We are told that we (society) can’t afford to lose time, that slowing down means having no ambition and that material progress must continue. We assume that heightened output equates to ultimate advancement of civilization.

Faster doesn’t guarantee success. From the Warner Bros’ cartoon Tortoise wins by a Hare by Tex Avery.

But of course, this struggle between economic growth and personal growth ultimately ends up hurting creative advancement and humanity as a whole. The strive for security prevents creatives from exploring outside of the box, where the greatest discoveries are made.  Financial gain has rarely been the true driving force of innovation. It has always been about need and passion.  A streamline corporate system on the other hand, demands consistency and conformity. It requires us to continually adapt to a technologically-advanced and robotic world, one that requires all of us to diligently go to our jobs on time, adapt to the tools in the system, obediently perform at an accelerated pace of effectiveness and produce consistently uniform products —products which we are to mindlessly and endlessly acquire, consume and replace (especially during “after-work” hours). It is most astounding that any creature, never mind supposedly intelligent beings, would stand even a week of living in such an abstract state of pointlessness. I am ceaselessly amazed at our species’ capacity to accept contradictory and irrational ways of thinking. That said, all of us (myself included) are susceptible and have been guilty as charged.

Control. Polish illustrator Pawel Kuczynski’s uses art to make a satirical statement of our times.

But for artists, this is unacceptable even at the slightest levels. A socio-economic system that requires continuous production and consumption depends on humanity to turn away from free-thinking independence, the very ingredients to creative output. Mass manufacturing means mass conformity not only in production but also in consumption because deviance in taste isn’t conducive to maximum profits. Is it any wonder everyone watches the same movies, eats the same food and wear the same clothes everywhere? Everyone and every company is looking for shortcuts. When we work for the sole reason of acquiring money, work loses itself as meaningful activity and no amount of coercion or managerial “pep” talk will cure the employed artist of his disinterest caused by immense time and quota pressures. I still remember once hearing a prominent CEO complain about animation “lacking soul” while his company ran one of the highest of production quotas in the industry. The level of ignorance can be astounding.

But when we do truly creative work we are deeply fulfilled and contribute to greater impact. And there are ways of doing things differently. I remember talking to a friend of mine whose business in Amsterdam employed all his staff, including the cashiers, with legally-binding two-year contracts. He noted it provided him with more freedom (since he didn’t have to be always present to manage them) while giving his own employees autonomy and a sense of importance. He also noted it limited the need for expensive continual training and allowed him to retain a knowledgeable and committed work force all the while delivering greater customer service for his clientele. Business need not be incoherent with human dignity and individual expression. This is important because how we work often permeates our entire being and way of living and not just during work hours.

” (For the craftsman) There is no ulterior motive in work other than the product being made and the processes of its creation. The details of daily work are meaningful because they are not detached in the worker’s mind from the product of the work. The worker is free to control his own working actions. The craftsman is thus able to learn from his work; and to use and develop his capacities and skills in its prosecution. There is no split of the work and play, or work and culture. The craftsmans’ way of livelihood determines and infuses his entire mode of living.” — C.W. Mills

One thing I’ve always loved about Glen Keane’s work was his dedication to the process. How and why he did things mattered as much as what he was doing. Image from Glen’s last short film Duet.

Now clearly, we  cannot change a global system of mindless work and consumption overnight but we can learn to accept a higher purpose to our existence; to advance our humanity by first restoring it, then continuing to create an environment in which it can flourish.  And we do that by learning to live with insecurity both in our work and in everything else in our lives. We can accept struggle and carry on with optimism and faith. We can take it one step at a time while giving full attention to how we do things.

“…we cannot feel secure about anything. Our thoughts and insights are at best partial truths, mixed with a  great deal of error, not to speak of the unnecessary misinformation about life and society to which we are exposed almost from the day of birth. Our life and health are subject to accidents beyond our control. If we make a decision, we can never be certain of the outcome; any decision implies a risk in the true sense of the word.  We can never be certain of the outcome of our best efforts. The result always depends on many factors which transcend our capacity of control. Just as a sensitive and alive person cannot avoid being sad, he cannot avoid feeling insecure. The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself, is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity, without panic and fear.” — Erich Fromm

*I’m referring to those of us not residing in third-world countries.

Adversity

Director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump is a colorful story of a character who, guided by the principles of faith, perseverance and simplicity, keeps moving forward regardless of expectations or circumstances.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C.S. Lewis

As many of you are no doubt aware, this blog has faced its longest hiatus since its very inception. But it has happened for good reason; a recent personal disaster has literally brought all my routines and activities completely to a halt. Due to a freak incident, I’ve lost most of my home, belongings and, worst of all, my art. Like a stake through the heart, the pain that accompanies the sudden shock lingers, leaving one to question things, almost everything.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” — Henry David Thoreau

As someone who is no stranger to despair — having endured immeasurable pain with numerous medical procedures and significant loss of family members and the dearest of friends  — one would think that I would be used to it, but it always hurts, no matter what. Such is the definition of pain.

Yet, as part of a human species conditioned to deal with adversity, I (we) must carry on, hoping to learn from the past rather than live in it.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

There is often no specific rhyme or reason for events or predicaments (especially tragic or unjust ones), which is why we’re so often confused about what to do or how to react to unexpected (or even expected) difficulty. But at some point as artists, we begin to realize that this quagmire of drama, distress and seeming unfairness is what gives our work the fertile ground on which to spring forth our ideas, our drive and our talents. It gives us meaning and a story to build on. It’s the reason why mythology is as relevant today as it has been throughout human history — its parables serve to guide us on how to live. In such light, setbacks become springboards to jump towards greater and more meaningful heights. Like the animation principle of anticipation, before we can go up, we must first go down.

Prometheus Bound by Peter-Paul Rubens. The symbolism behind the myth of Prometheus is profound. A Titan God entrusted with the task of forming man out of clay, he defies Zeus by giving mortals the gift of creative fire to help end human misery and suffering. Although he is punished by being tied to a rock and having an eagle eat at his liver, he remains for eternity man’s greatest friend .

When I teach, I often hear from my students about their troubles both creative and personal. I remind them that their unique challenges (which are tied directly to their unfulfilled talents) are what make them who they are and how they handle those challenges will ultimately determine the success of their art and the meaning in their lives. We need to take comfort in the fact that what we think about and how we think about it matters because our lives and our artistry is heavily dependent on the narrative that we choose for ourselves. What the world thinks, matters much less.

“There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.” — Napoleon

Whenever we’re faced with serious challenge and pain, we are forced in the loudest and grandest way possible to respond — and that is the key word respond — as opposed to react. Response is conscious choice. Reaction, on the other hand, is thoughtless and absent of the benefit that time, perspective and contemplation brings to the table. It’s why it’s so beneficial to just slow things down and keeping things simple. Our lives today are far too complicated. The benefits of a globally and electronically connected world has brought with it the obsession with time, expectation and material focus. It’s all too easy to lose ourselves into surface living and losing all sense of presence.

Drawing by Maurice Sendak. When was the last time you looked deeply into someone’s eyes? Or listen to every word that is spoken? Have you forgotten what the surface of objects really feel like in your hand? Or the smell of the ocean? The true taste of things unadulterated?

Pain is a reminder to stop. I learned this a while a go when I was left disabled after a multitude of operations in a short period of eight months. It took a long time to get back to being functional and even longer to understand the purpose of the suffering that I had to endure. The mere material loss from recent events is just another reminder to me to remain humble and respectful of the ways of this universe. We actually gain “ourselves” when we lose “things.” We become wiser. But it’s so easy to forget that. Only setbacks have the power to make us look within ourselves, and then, with a greater and stronger heart, to look outside of ourselves to connect with the greater universe. It’s one of the reasons why this blog was formed in the first place.

Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less. — James Baldwin

The story of Rocky, written by and starring Sylvestor Stallone is one of my favorite American stories. It’s a classic tale of redemption, resilience and the power of the will. It reminds us that when we get knocked down, we must always get back up.

I don’t wish for pain or suffering — no one in their right mind would — but I no longer dread it. If my right arm hurts, I’ll use my left. If I lose another loved one, I’ll bring his/her spirit with me to new relationships. Art lost can be created anew. Life is, after all, a continued process of renewal. We cannot let the pettiness of life or, more accurately, our petty view of life get in the way of our art or our becoming.

“We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know we live in a contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it.  Our task as men is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.”  — Albert Camus

 

Commitment & Consistency

A page from the notebooks of Jean Francois Champollion, the French Scholar who devoted his entire life to deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“Without commitment, you’ll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish.” — Denzel Washington

COMMITMENT:

Definition:
1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
2. an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.

In other words, commitment is determination and dedication made tangible after hours upon hours of deep thought and emotion. It is all that brewed desire, love and caring for someone, something or some cause  personally shaped into something real thru defined action. Setting a goal is a commitment.

A page out of the notebook of artist Paul Klee exploring color, themes and theory. Klee made over 4000 drawings in over 10 years worth of notebooks.

“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear. ” — Sammy Davis, Jr.

Here’s some things to ponder on whether we’re committed or not to our cause:

a) Have we clarified in our minds exactly what it is we’re committing to? Are our goals unmistakably clear? Fuzzy commitments have fuzzy follow thru. We can’t hit a target we can’t see clearly.

b) Have we expressed that commitment OUT LOUD to people close or important to us? Because if we haven’t, we won’t be held accountable. The fear of letting others down is a great driver of forward motion. Signing up for classes or having a workout buddy are examples of getting others involved in our cause. I still remember for years going to the zoo drawing every weekend with my buddy; it was our mutual commitment to each other that ensured that we carried through with our goals.

c) Is the commitment bound to a time and date? Without a deadline, we will put it off. This is GUARANTEED. Our minds and bodies are biologically designed to work around urgency.

d) Are we 100% sure this is what we must do? Again, if we don’t have to do it, we won’t. Expect to be rejected, criticized, put down and ignored. Monetary compensation for our creativity is rarely just or stable. Becoming an artist is HARD. If we don’t want it enough, we’ll give up as soon as it gets painful.

e) Do you have faith in your cause? If we can convince ourselves that why we should do it and believe we can do it, we’ll take the dive. Without faith, it’s near impossible to take that very first step. We must trick ourselves if necessary because our minds can play endless games to talk us out of commitment.

The notebook of Thomas Edison shows the ideas on the famous light bulb, one of his numerous inventions in a six-decade long career dedicated to science.

CONSISTENCY:

Definition:
1. conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
2. the way in which a substance, typically a liquid, holds together; thickness or viscosity.

If commitment represents the drive to take action then consistency is the method for seeing that action thru. It’s what holds the whole thing together.

“The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your rituals.” — Anthony Robbins

Almost daily I ask myself why I do what I do. Why? Because the mind is always searching for an easier way. That’s its job — to conserve energy, to be safe, to protect the total being known as me. Try to lose weight and it’s almost guaranteed someone will offer us our most favorite and fattest treat. Want to save money and there will be an awesome sale on that gadget/car/shoe you’ve always wanted. That’s how the universe works. It wants to test how serious we really are and will do so continuously and relentlessly. Therefore, unless we have a solid routine or set of rituals that ensures that we take action no matter what, we will waver.

The notebook pages of Guillermo Del Toro’s show the originating ideas behind his 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, which he wrote and directed.

How to better our consistency? Here as some suggestions:

a) Design rituals that trigger immediate action. Alarm bells, booked appointments and schedules are helpful but ultimately we need to create physical and emotional triggers to get us going. Before I paint for example, I put on music and my painting smocks — the next steps are automatic.

b) We can also set up rituals that will help us bypass old habits and prevent self-sabotage. For the longest time, I would struggle with letting go a piece of work, going back to it again and again, and often ruining it altogether. Finally, I decided I’ve had of enough and made it a ritual to put away my art after my sessions ended. Not seeing it all time, it was out of sight, out of mind and ultimately out of reach for me to do any damage.

c) Take action regularly. Remember to sharpen the saw. Studies have shown, in athletic development for example, that both the skills and strength gained from daily training can be lost if more than 2 days have passed between training sessions. It’s no wonder all the great athletes, painters and writers commit to their craft pretty much every single day.

d) Be mindful of your other activities. The time spent on activities outside of your new commitment heavily influence your ability to carry out your goals. Wake at the same time, eat at the same time, work at the same time. It doesn’t matter what time, just pick one for each set of activities. Separately devoting time and energy specifically for your goal (i.e. giving it optimal conditions to make it work) will increase your odds of success.

e) Chart and track performance of those daily goals.  There’s nothing like seeing it on paper right in front of us. With a record of achievements (no matter how small) staring us in the face we will be inspired and gain greater confidence.

The notebooks of artist Frida Kahlo show an illustrated diary filled with poems and conceptual designs for future works of art as well as all her personal musings about pain, loneliness and suffering. (Khalo was seriously incapacitated in the last years of her life.)

Now, perhaps you’re getting tired of hearing about all this “hard work” I’ve been spewing about on this blog. All this “just to be an artist” you wonder? Why do so much? Why suffer? Well, let us not be so ungrateful. Creativity is a gift. And although making art requires tons of hard work and ingenuity that’s not always recognized, we must still always do our best. We must completely use up the few gifts blessed upon us. In fact, our jobs as artists — as human beings —  is to maximize our abilities so as to contribute to our communities and to the world at large. Fairness is irrelevant. Most of the greatest contributors to art, science, philosophy and literature were dismissed during their lifetimes. But life would be so much worse without their efforts and sacrifices. I always like to remind myself this: What you give, you leave behind. What you keep for yourself, you take to the grave where it’ll die and disappear forever.

Here is a rather intense yet insightful speech from University of Toronto Professor, Jordan Peterson on challenge and suffering: