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Inspiration is for Amateurs

Posted by Julia Stewart

"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up." I heard Chuck Close say this the other night on a PBS interview. It pricked my ears, because inspiration is a big part of what I do as a coach. It's for amateurs? But the more he talked, the more I agreed with him. Listening to Close took me back to my years of training in the arts. 

I remember Chuck Close from my days as an art student in the early 70's. He was a real "art star" back then. Painted giant portraits of his friends, which he calls "heads", in the photo-realist style that was popular then. I never like them. They were too photographic. More like giant mug shots than art. (I was more a a Philip Perlstein fan.)

Close is a semi-quadriplegic, now. He has just enough movement in his arms that he can strap a paint brush to his hand and still paint. He's still doing heads, but they're more subjective, more painterly.Now I like them! He talked about how slowly time passes, now that he is wheelchair bound. He can't do many of the things he enjoys, like play with his kids or walk on the beach. Time passes quickly, only when he is painting.

The interviewer asked whether he was still inspired by his work. He shrugged and smiled, "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up." And yet, he is doing great work. What does he mean? 

When we're doing great work, we usually begin with a sense of inspiration that propels us through the first few steps (often the toughest ones). If we're lucky, inspiration will show up again and again, but it doesn't appear everyday. If we're dilettantes, we'll only play when we're inspired, but if we're professionals, if we want to grow into mature artists, we keep showing up, regardless.

If you know me well, then you've probably heard my rant about coaching being more of an art than a science. I'm all for research, but not if we're going to clone ourselves into "positive psychologists". The world needs what coaching uniquely has to give. Thomas Leonard was an artist. (He would have gotten along great with Close.)

So being a professional, whether as a coach or an artist, means just showing up, day after day, decade after decade, and growing and maturing, no matter what. If you prefer to remain an amateur, just show up when you're inspired.

Copyright, Julia Stewart, 2005

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