Making it Personal


Self-Portrait (after a bar fight). Many of Lucian Freud’s paintings can be so real as to be haunting or disturbing. But what all his paintings have in common is their vulnerability and attention to truth. It’s what makes him one of the greatest, most unique painters of our time.

“I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having the look of the sitter, being them.” — Lucian Freud

All art is personal.

It’s what differentiates the arts from the other, seemingly more noble studies, such as math or science. Numbers can’t connect like words, sounds or images can.

Only art can help us dive into the world outside ourselves, yet feel intimately connected to both.


Self-Portrait. The work of Francis Bacon is renowned for capturing the tortured psychological depths of human existence. His voice is so completely unique, with an interpretation of the world around him and his own tortured battles so intense, that they both entice and frighten the viewer.

In a conversation between creative giants Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, it was noted that surrealism is a word that’s been misinterpreted or even hijacked by the likes of the “Surrealists” such as Salvador Dalí or René Magritte, fellow artistic giants whose heavy, dream-like distortions of reality came to claim the word for their own and likely forever. Surrealism has since come to define a modern art movement concerned with reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience. But originally, surreal actually meant something that is “even more real than real” like when someone reacts to something so unbelievably intense as to say “that’s surreal!” — it comes from expressing the most direct, most complete feelings through the artist’s interpretation of the subject.

Yet all great art does this. This by default places art, and creativity for that matter, as the only vehicle that comes so honestly close to matching or even surpassing nature in order, beauty and wonder.


The Embrace. An artist’s work often reveals his views and relations with other people. This painting, by Gustav Klimt protégé Egon Schiele,  expresses the artistic and marital problems confronted by the artist at that particular juncture in his life.

Now, one might be inclined to say that working in animation (or any other commercial art form) that artists today have very few occasions to personalize their work. But they’re wrong — there is far more opportunity out there than they think — they only need to keep their minds wide open. All too often, we think of the work we do in the industry as overwhelmingly commercial, and at times it is, especially with regards to story and intent.


This fantastic Lion King logo, done for Disney’s musical based on the movie, is by Hans Bacher – a master of design and composition. When I met with Hans, who has been in the industry over 40 years, he was still as passionate and devoted to his craft as ever, always creating and always willing to share.

But there is a vast amount of art in the production of the behemoth that is animation — even if much of it remains unseen or misunderstood by the broader public. Each artist has the opportunity to find his say, to sneak in something that is true to himself and unique to his experiences. It can be found in the small crevices of a story sequence, or a beautiful play of color in the shadows observed and recollected from a morning walk. Animators have a bounty of opportunity to relay personal, social and emotional experience into an acting performance. After all, only work that is personal has any chance of really connecting with people. And all art, commercial or otherwise, is required to connect in order to make an impact. This justifies its existence (even if that audience is limited).


Secret message or hoax? Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper is as famous for its artistry as it is for the controversial interpretation of its message.  Renaissance artists were “stuck” with painting regal or religious imagery — royalty and churches were often the paying client — but that didn’t always stop them from using their imaginations and telling their own stories.

Every writer knows it’s a battle to say what he sees and feels in words. Truth is inherently difficult to capture. The painter’s fight is with his brush and palette never quite capturing exactly that essence which drives the work in the first place. He simply does his best to give into it all. Completely committed. Completely vulnerable.

“In finding this one object, I find a world. I think a great painting is a painting that funnels itself in and then funnels out, spreads out. I enter in a very focused way and then I go through it and way beyond it.” — Andrew Wyeth


Rejected by the modernist movement at the time, Andrew Wyeth’s realism has a haunting and durable quality to them. His paintings of his neighbor, Helga Testorff, were done over a period of 15 years forming a visual diary of transience and personal connection.

Sometimes art is the only way we have of relating to things and to each other, and that’s why it continues to be the best bet in finding out more about our ourselves and the universe. Art forces us to act, to live via observation, exploration and ultimately, creation. Or to quote

“Art and literature are tried on. Reading a book, seeing a painting or a play or a film: Such encounters are fueled by affect as well as intelligence. Much “fleshing out” happens here: We invest the art with our own feelings, but the art comes to live inside us, adding to our own repertoire. Art obliges us to “first-personalize” the world. Our commerce with art makes us fellow travelers: to other cultures, other values, other selves.”


Few artists have had the impact Orson Welles has on the medium of film. The vocabulary of his adaptation of William Skakespeare’s  Othello, is both thematically and visually stunning. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1952.

Numbers, calculations and graphs are imperatively objective – they need to be to have validity. They are meant to satisfy the logical left brain, to ensure a sense of security in the findings. The non-objective nature of art is chaotic and abstract, even nonsensical at times. It teases your emotions and puts the obsessive overthinking into a fit of confusion. The measurable attributes of science and math gives us stability and assurance, while the immeasurable qualities of art give us joy and grant us liberation. As a modern day human being, it’s a fine line getting the two to work well together so that we can have some sort of balance between order and freedom in our lives, and also find meaning to our existence. The choice of where that line meets is up to the artist himself. This is the beauty of art. One can draw inspiration from so many different places, and yet, only the individual can offer the final say and make that ultimate, all encompassing expression. This is the choice we make when we create.

So, don’t take “you” out of your work. The world needs your contribution even if it doesn’t know it yet.

“I have always said, or at least thought, that literary poetry in a painter is something special, and is neither illustration nor the translation of writing by form… sometimes people accuse me of being incomprehensible only because they look for an explicative side to my pictures which is not there.” — Paul Gauguin