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Chuck Close on Courage

I was recently thinking about why it is so hard to cultivate the habit of making art; whether it be words, images, or photography. I came to the conclusion that it should be as simple as cultivating two qualities: courage and discipline. So of course the next step was to google, “How to be more courageous.” And this relevant quote by Chuck Close came up (from WSJ Magazine):

“I don’t actually think you have to have courage as an artist. It can certainly make things easier. But one of my best friends is not courageous, and he makes great art. It’s about anxiety, nervousness, neuroses. So art can be about anything. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and do most things without a degree of courage. It takes a certain arrogance to make art. You have to feel that you have something to make and that anyone else is going to want to look at it. So that’s important. If you’re scared to death, I don’t know why the hell you’d go into art. But I don’t usually talk about courage. It’s a layperson’s word—they think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that; I don’t have the courage to do that.’ It’s like how I don’t talk about inspiration, either, because I don’t believe you should worry about inspiration. You just get up and get to work.

So maybe it’s not courage that I need. Instead, I need to be more arrogant.

arrogant: having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities: he’s arrogant and opinionated | a typically arrogant assumption.

Yikes. That to me sounds much harder than learning to be more courageous. I was imagining courage building to be as simple as performing a few scary tasks each day – say, starting a conversation with a stranger, or cold calling a business to sell my web design services. But exaggerating the sense of my own abilities? I’m much more likely to understate my abilities.

And of course he’s right. You may need courage to show people your art. But arrogance is what you need to cultivate your art. Cultivating your art takes time, and discipline. In order to work on something each day, you have to have a sense that there is something important there, something worth cultivating.

I tried googling “how to be more arrogant.” A much less fruitful search. The life coaches are staying away from that one. What you do find are plenty of articles about how not to be arrogant. It’s a distasteful trait. Except for one life coach! Here’s Tara Sophia Mohr, and #5 out of her “10 Rules for Brilliant Women:”

Be an arrogant idiot. Please, just be a little more of an arrogant idiot. You know those guys around the office who share their opinions without thinking, who rally everyone around their big, (often unformed) ideas? Be more like them. Even if just a bit. You can afford to move a few inches in that direction.

So maybe it’s a male/female thing – women are too nice to be arrogant. I can certainly see that being true in myself. Some suggest it’s the testosterone that makes the “guys around the office” naturally arrogant, and if this is true, well then… biology is not on my side.

But I think it might be best to concentrate on the last part of the quote. Close says he doesn’t talk about words like “courage” or even “inspiration.” Instead, “You just get up and get to work.” I like that. It’s a simple directive. In the meantime, I will continue to think about how I can be more arrogant.

Here are two “studies” inspired by Chuck Close:

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