Stimulating Our Inner Artist

Mona Simpson’s eulogy of her brother, Steve Jobs, went viral last weekend. This is my very favorite part, as printed in The New York Times’:

“In the last year of his life, [Steve] studied a book of paintings by Mark Rothko, an artist he hadn’t known about before, thinking of what could inspire people on the walls of a future Apple campus.”

I am admittedly obsessed with others’ creativity. It sparks my own. It makes me want to light a fire under others. How fitting that I get to do so via writing and life coaching. And how exciting and dare I say validating to hear of a visionary like Jobs opening up to Rothko in the last year of his life, knowing if it inspires him it might inspire those around him.


I happen to read this the same day I was in Chicago and saw Cloud Gate for the first time. For those who haven’t seen this amazing sculpture in Millennium Park, it is like an enormous bean-shaped mirror made of stainless steel and polished to a shine with no visible seams. Because of its sheer scope, I couldn’t do justice to it with words or even a photo. You have to be there to experience how on one side it reflects trees whose leaves are turning a purplish red and cloudy blue sky and silvery skyscrapers, and on the other, or at an angle, it’s a completely different view.

As I sat and stared at what artist Anish Kapoor had created, I kept thinking, why? Why that shape? Where does the concept for a ‘gate’ originate?

“What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline ... so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work,” Kapoor said, according to Wikipedia. “And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one’s reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around.”

What is also notable about this project is there were many who, after seeing Kapoor’s plan, did not think it could be done. He wouldn’t have it. My research into Kapoor led me to a 2010 article about the wealthiest living artists – he is one along with names like Jasper Johns and Julian Schnabel – and his then $62.7 million fortune earned through his art.

While my overarching point is not about money, per se, it adds an enticing piece to the story of creativity and potential success in all its forms.

From Cloud Gate it was a stroll to the Art Institute of Chicago and, yes, even the chance to see a Rothko, some Jasper Johns, and a David Hockney that captured a chilling slice of life. Stimulating all.

But what struck me on this trip more than ever is that one doesn’t need to be a ‘noted’ artist to fully tap into that creative spark. The chef who Saturday night concocted a delicious tomato and white bean soup and served it with a long and luscious bruschetta of chopped tomatoes and feta perched across the bowl is an artist. The pride-filled driver who took the time to show us lit-up Chicago via Lake Shore Drive is an artist.

It made me think about clients or people in my social media networks who have expressed anxiety around putting themselves out there, not knowing what to say because, really, does anyone care what they have to say? Crafting and expressing does require you to suspend that notion that your life or your way of living or seeing things is boring or insignificant.

Since Facebook’s last big change, I’ve noticed a surge of clever or silly greeting card-type placards or photos of signs with messages that people post as status updates. Perhaps it has something to do with the size of wall images increasing, but the idea of sending out pre-conceived messages appeals to an awful lot of people. I couldn’t wrap my head around it at first, but I have a theory now.

It’s a tool for creativity, particularly for those who are shy about expressing. They can showcase some personality or conviction without what they see as major creative risk. It may seem like a small thing, but I’d like to think it’s more of a step en route to a bigger goal -- finding the courage to express one’s own original thoughts. I’ve heard people say they envy those who can just put a status update or Tweet out there without over thinking it or laboring to perfect it.

Is this you? If it is, why not adapt a strategic plan that goes something like this: I will find a fun or poignant pre-conceived message to put out there once a day. After I get comfortable with that, maybe in a few weeks, I commit to crafting one original update or Tweet for every non-original one I post. They will not be promos for a book or class or product I’m selling, but might be a link to an article I particularly liked and would recommend. Or perhaps a quote I came across in something I’m reading (as opposed to going to BrainyQuote and regurgitating one).

This would add up to a more balanced, compelling, and consistent personality coming from you or your business. You, as creator of something, as artist.

There are so many places this can be applied, personally and professionally. Be open to the stimulating, the provocative. Seek it out. Drink it in. Let it buoy you.

Steve Jobs wasn’t expecting to hang art at Apple headquarters and prompt his people to go home and paint layered rectangles a la Rothko. He was sparked and he wanted to ignite and sustain something more in his already jazzed and gifted employees, artists all.

Mona Simpson, writer and eulogist for her brother, is an artist. And, Jobs, well, why state the obvious?

This column was conceived on an iPad.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to