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let's talk about that art thing...

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Last week, I heard a story that's being told about all the art & writing I'd done for my former company. That all along it was a family style. That we sat around the kitchen table & developed it together. That I basically took my sons' artwork & copied it & made a business out of it...

It's absurd to me. That my sons would copy my style of drawing & watercolor & writing & say that it is their own art...

The best explanation I know for what it means to be an artist is a story about an elder who was a Japanese National Treasure. He was known for the transcendent beauty of his brush painting. The parents of a young boy with a gift for drawing brought him to meet the older artist. They showed him the work. They had him talk with the boy. Later, they asked, Is our son an artist? The man answered, Who knows? He has talent. But I have no idea if he's an artist until he's done the work it takes. How long will that be? the parents asked. Five years? Ten? The artist smiled. Perhaps fifty. If he finds something only he can do...

Fifty years. I've been doing art for forty years. So, I'm still ten years out. But I'm far enough in that I see why it takes that long.  Because somewhere in there, you see that the technique has nothing to do with art. Oh, make no mistake - technique matters. But it's not the most important thing. No, the important thing is getting all the things that aren't you out of the way, so you can find the thing that only you can do...

So, we come to today's story. 

I can remember the exact day in my studio in Berkeley when it happened. When the gratitude & gift of doing the work that's turned into a lifetime came over me. When I said, Yes. I will do what it takes to do the thing only I can do. When I knew I was ready for a whole new life.

That path I set out on then has given me the world. Friendship & love & magic & wonder I will never ever have words for...

Turns out the 'yes' was the easy part. After that, it took years of training & discovering & shaping words & drawing & paint & stone & wood & seeing what came alive when I made things & what didn't. The people who walked beside me for that & the ones who didn't. The ways of being I had to leave behind so I could absorb the world differently. Slowly, without knowing this is how it happens, I became me. The me that is doing something that's like flying, that's something that only I can do...

So, when someone imitates my work, my words, my colors, my forms & calls themselves an artist, even if those someones are my own children, I can't help but hear the words of the older Japanese artist. Oh no, you are not artists yet. Perhaps in fifty years if you love it enough to do the work. Perhaps in fifty years if you find something only you can do.

Because why wouldn't I wish that kind of life for them? For all of you?

with love,

To read Fia's response to this striving for mediocrity (creating boundaries: part 2)...

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  • Ugh! Just learning of these chapters of your story. I know light emerges from darkness, but I am shocked and heartbroken. Stunned. I am sorry for your pain. Your words inspire, celebrate, and soothe us all, and we pass them along in the stories we co-write in this world. Thank you for your example of authentic life. You’ve always been a sort of Mr. Rodgers to me that way. I wish you much peace, love, and creative expression in the time ahead. We are with you.

    Lisa Verni on
  • I feel saddened to hear of the circumstances. I saw an explanation on Facebook today explaining the recent changes – mentioning Flying Edna… having followed your work for 35 years (& as a JFK alum ☺️) I am glad to have been able to locate your new work and trust the future will be bright. Wishing you peace and success in every regard.

    Holly Hand on
  • I, too, am frustrated and angry on your behalf and for artists around the world who have their work imitated and stolen or who simply have their work “used without permission.” Thank you for all that you do to teach and model and nurture and grow our spirits and those of your sons. Your story today is a beautiful teaching tale that I will treasure and use in my own life and share with my clients, too. Blessings to you and your sons on your journeys.

    Tamara Suttle on
  • Dear Brian, Reading this message made me angry on your behalf all over again. But I want to cheer your beautiful spirit for turning your anger into a correcting wish for your sons. So I turned my own anger into sadness that your sons don’t understand that your art is yours alone.

    Cheryl Gaston on

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