Signs of a Passionate Artist
…by Suzanne Falter-Barnes
A few years back, I had the great fortune to spend the day at the
Vermont recording studio of a jazz musician named Chuck Eller. Chuck
recorded my Discover Your Soul Purpose meditation CD, and
offered to provide some background piano music as well.
From the beginning, I knew the meditations needed some kind of
scoring, but exactly what and how eluded me. There are no entries in
the phone book for “Composer – Mystical, Healing, Background Stuff”.
Furthermore, I had no idea how I was going to \’direct\’ such a musician.
(“More … creative. No! More … uh … uh … inspiring?”) The whole
thing was loose enough to be almost frightening.
Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and the meter was running.
Enter Chuck. From the moment he sat down to play, things rolled
magically. I\’d say, “OK, Chuck, in this part they have to be in a
wildflower field.” He\’d think for a minute, and then just start playing
the most quintessential wildflower music you\’ve ever heard. Then I\’d
say, “Now this part is warmer — like The Waltons.” And suddenly we\’d
be rocking on the front porch with John-boy and Grandpa.
Chuck was able to play these musical inserts totally
spontaneously (nothing was composed in advance.) And he ended at just
the right spot almost every single time, without even knowing how long
the music should be. He did this a remarkable 23 times!
The best part was listening to Chuck fool around on the piano
between each recording we made, as he probed around for good musical
ideas. We began to fade into the background as he went deeper and
deeper into his creative trance. Almost sheepishly, he finally looked
up and said, “You know, I could just do this all day.”
Working with Chuck got me thinking about how accessible his
\’creative channel\’ was for him — and how many people we call geniuses
share this trait, along with some other distinct qualities. Just for
fun, I thought I\’d catalog some of those characteristics that belong to
geniuses … qualities many of us share in varying degrees. (By the way,
these hallmarks can apply to geniuses across the board in business,
science, etc.. I\’m simply using artistic geniuses here to illustrate my
1. The Creative Channel is on all the time. They simply have to tune in, and boom — they\’re off in that wonderful, rich creative place where inspiration lives.
2. They feel things deeply … and need to express it. I notice this
particularly around my friends who are actors … their emotions run so
freely and powerfully, that they feel everything twice as intensely.
Furthermore, they let you know it.
3. They have natural empathy. Geniuses tend to know how you\’d feel
at any given moment, so they have a need to give away their feelings.
An interviewer once asked Broadway composer Steven Sondheim if he could
write a song about anything, and he replied, no – but that he could
write about anyone, as long as he knew who the character is.
4. They find beauty in unlikely places the rest of us miss. I\’m
thinking of the 19th century French artists Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet
who found enduring beauty in common haystacks and down at the heels
prostitutes. True geniuses love the bittersweet, the forgotten, the
5. They\’re not afraid to cry. The creative genius knows that
tears are the juice of life, whether they are tears of happiness,
despair or simply deep relating.
6. They\’re different and often pay a price for it. Creative
geniuses often have childhoods marked with ridicule or isolation. And
those tough times can continue right on through adulthood, though
modern times have made such non-conformity more acceptable. I\’m
thinking of people like Oscar Wilde, Frida Khalo, Orson Welles, Michael
Jackson, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Andy Warhol.
7. They are brave. Many a genius is trained by social ostracism
to be brave and strong in standing up for their work. They know their
work is valid despite what the crowd says, and they stick by it
steadfastly. And public opinions can sway, often long after the
artist\’s death. Think of Vincent Van Gogh, who only sold two paintings
in his entire lifetime.
8. They are prolific. Typically, creative geniuses are always
creating. It\’s simply what they do. Cole Porter, for instance, wrote
more than 800 songs. And he wrote them wherever he went: on luxury
cruise decks, or weekend jaunts to the country. Porter, who was
notoriously stoic, said he finished one of his songs while waiting for
rescue, after his legs had been crushed by a horse.
9. They simply can\’t do a half-baked job. Think about the
artists you love … even a guy like Michelangelo. He was so committed
to his work, he\’d literally sleep with it. All to get to the edge of
10. They love their work deeply. Michelangelo, who never
married, said: “I already have a wife who is to much for me; one who
keeps me unceasingly struggling on. It is my art, and my works are my