The Right Questions


Dora. Pablo Picasso is one of the most magnificent artists in history because he did things exclusively his own way managing to hold onto his immeasurable curiosity and playfulness till the day he died.

The painter goes through states of fullness and evacuation. That is the whole secret of art … a painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions.” – Pablo Picasso

As human beings in a world so hurried and obsessed with success and accomplishment, we tend towards focusing constantly on the what, when or where.

All too often we think that if only we knew exactly what to do or when and where to do it, we’d eliminate all our problems, diminish our struggles, and achieve our dreams. Unfortunately, this is often a fallacy. Experience shows that the what, when and where of art is rather elusive, despite its alluring quality of appearing so very measurable. Art is, both inconveniently and thankfully, utterly immeasurable.

“… drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They determine nothing. They place us, as does music in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined. They are a kind of metaphor…” – Odilon Redon

We all want to do the right thing. We want tangible solutions. Action that is seen as productive, assured and achievable. If we know the way, we’d solve the problem. If we acquire the knowledge, we’d know what to do. But how common it is that we know what to do, but still can’t seem to do it? (Like eating well, learning new skills or giving back to society?) Why can’t we carry through with our hopes/visions or do what the books tell us? Why can’t we alleviate our pain? Because knowledge alone does not equate to understanding.


From Terada’s Black Marker series. Masterful creator Katsuya Terada is one of the most prolific artists in the Manga/Anime world.

The unpredictable, dynamic and transient nature of the world makes the question of what, when or where, not only impractical but insolvable.  Trying to determine exactly the right solution exactly at the right time is a fool’s game. And since any art worth doing, is something new and fresh, attempting to use a fixed method or technique is an act of futility. Doing art implies directly that we must explore the unknown and do so completely on our own . And having any fixed time line or hopefulness of any expected outcome is bound to disappoint. We can only focus on the action at hand and take our chances. Mistakes and failure are not just part of the journey, but the essential component for any kind of advancement.  We can’t make art any other way.

“My advice to you is to venture, meet some other difficulties, be a real student. Real students go out of beaten paths, whether beaten by themselves or by others, and have adventure with the unknown… it is only the real student who dares to take a chance, who has a real good time in life.” – Robert Henri


Dumbo. The work of Bill Tytla still stands out despite the dominance of 3D computer technology. Weight is much more than just a “physical” thing.

Sometimes we think that timing is the answer. We think that with “good timing” things will fall our way regardless of whether we’re any good or if we’ve put in the time or not. It’s all too common to hear non-performers bemoan their upbringing or lack of good fortune. The ability to predict the future is the hardest, most impossible thing to do. Life cannot be timed. If it could be, everyone would be doing it, and then no one would want to. So don’t beget the lack of good timing in your life, or your long and seemingly tortuous path towards success.  Take a breath and enjoy your journey, no matter how difficult, no matter how much patience it requires from you. It’s actually good to be reminded that anything worth doing tends to take a long time. The universe has its own agenda – one entirely independent of your desires, but not independent of your actions.

“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those that go on anyway.” – Robert Henri


Lily Pads. Does anyone know or care to know how long it took Monet to create this painting? Good work is done with complete disregard of how long it “should” take. If the work needs to be done, take the time to do it and do it right.

Unique problems require unique individual solutions. Creative challenges change continually and dynamically. The scale, scope or timing of your adventures is an entirely exclusive proposition for you to experience – and how wonderful is that! Trying to escape that experience but wanting a predetermined outcome is like trying to grab water with your hands.


The Scornful Woman. Despite living within a very short life span, Egon Schiele remains one of the most distinct artists in history. His work was uniquely and stylistically his own, reflecting his views, his desires and the life around him.

So what can we do if we can’t determine the clear “what” or “when”?  Since life does things on its own terms, our only choice lies in how we respond to the situation. We have to turn inwards.

“Be sure that your decisions are really made by yourself. Decisions made by yourself may be of a nature very unexpected. In other words, very few people know what they want, very few people know what they think. Many think and do not know it and many thinking they are thinking and are not thinking. Self-education is no easy proposition.” – Robert Henri


Pocahontas. Whether it be animation or storyboards (as seen above), Glen Keane’s powerful work is always loaded with direction and intent.

So instead of asking what or when, we need to be asking why and how – questions that are intensely personal. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why does this task need to be accomplished and what does it mean to you? Why is your character moving this way or that way? Why make this choice over that one? If we know why we’re doing something, the solutions or range of solutions will present itself naturally. Far too many people avoid the question of why and yet seem remarkably stunned to arrive at solutions that bear no significance to the task at hand. What good is building a beautiful window if what was needed was a door?

In terms of how we go about solving our creative problems, we can only say to ourselves that we do the job with integrity and sincerity of effort. We must focus on doing things the right way rather than just finding the right techniques. It’s why professionals always take the same preparatory steps when they address a challenge. They plan, research, test, explore and execute. The best people don’t take short cuts and always give full account of their efforts.

More than in any other vocation, being an artist means always starting from nothing. Our work as artists is courageous and scary. There is no brief that comes along with it, no problem solving that’s given as a task… An artist’s work is almost entirely inquiry based and self-regulated – Teresita Fernández

So when you struggle, and you’re tempted to find the easy solution, know this:  there is NO quick or easy solution. They can be simple, or complex, but never thoughtless or careless.


Rough animation keys of Hook and Smee from Disney’s Peter Pan. Frank Thomas always knew why his characters moved and looked the way they did. Extensive research and exploration into the why and how his animation should work gave his art purpose, appeal and relatability.

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and do it with love, integrity and honest effort. That is all that the creative world asks of you and all that you can promise to deliver. Then let the results speak for themselves.

“Men either get to know what they want, and go after it, or some other persons tell them what they want and drive them after it. – Robert Henri.