Creativity: The fine art of risk taking

I love risk taking.

Well thought out risks.

Picasso was a huge risk taker.

He constantly challenged society and opened his life to artistic adventure.

Enraging critics by his incredibly creative fine art and unique perception on life.

This article is for anybody who wants to live a more creative life and develop the fine art of risk taking.

People often think my decisions are sometimes crazy, totally unconventional. But here’s the truth of the matter.

Point 1. Creativity is about taking risks and being unconventional.

Educated risks help our creativity flourish and provide a life of fulfilment.

Meaningful risks help us to feel passionate and alive again, as we realize our dreams.

At the time he created this painting, Picasso was filled with fury and inspired to produce the political artwork below titled ‘Guernica’, now a world famous anti-war statement. Incredibly unconventional for its time.

Picasso Guernica Creativity: The fine art of risk taking

‘Guernica‘ (1937) Pablo Picasso. Oil on canvas Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid 349 cm × 776 cm

Never before had an abstract painting been used to warn the world of the evil dangers of fascism. He took a political risk and confronted evil through original art .

Generally speaking, Picasso’s influence upon modern art was profound.

Point 2. Much of Picasso’s success comes from being a risk taker.

Most parents would prefer their child followed a safe mainstream occupation, with a predictable income and boring daily routine. Rather than becoming a risky unpredictable artist.

But the boring life is not for creative people .

Boredom is the antidote for creativity and risk taking.

When painting, I never really know how an abstract painting will turn out. It could be a disaster, or an astounding success.

But that’s true about life. Isn’t it?

Point 3. Life is a continual risk, just like creativity .

The only certainty on earth is change.

Most people think there is zero security following an art career.

But that’s simply not true.

Yes, there would be no security for a dentist to suddenly become an artist. That would be foolish.

But the ultimate security in life is only found when people become the person that God designed them to be. This builds confidence .

Point 4. There’s very little risk in being true to ourselves.

But there is great risk in trying to be someone we’re not. In fact, it’s very dangerous to a persons health and well being.

Here’s 5 things that can happen when people are not true to themselves…

1. People risk exhaustion & insomnia
2. People risk personal stress & unhappiness
3. People risk being consumed by unrelenting fear
4. People risk experiencing rejection & low self confidence.
5. People risk life becoming a tiresome struggle.

But taking the risk and being true to oneself means relaxation. Going with the natural flow of life, which is how I created the painting below. I love the ocean.

Ocean Depth painting by Simon Brushfield 882x1024 Creativity: The fine art of risk taking

‘Ocean Depth’ by Simon Brushfield (2010) Acrylic & Oil on paper 80cm x 100cm      (For Sale $2,200)

Here’s the main reason why some people see following their true love as a huge risk….

Point 5. Because, not many people understand who they really are.

Unfortunately, most people lack the courage to take a risk and follow their heart, doing what they love for 2 main reasons.

1. People don’t know what they’re meant to be doing.
2. Fear stops people from doing what they love.

Henri Matisse was an artist who epitomised being true to himself and following his heart.

He took the risk of being misunderstood by the majority of mainstream people.

Despite heavy criticism heaped upon his fine art, Matisse pursued an uncompromising path of beauty that most people of the time, didn’t understand.

Point 6. Matisse’s risk taking led him to become the ‘founding father of modern art’.

Matisse’s use of colour was extraordinary and his line work exceptional. His fine art had never been attempted before in the history of fine art.

The painting below caused great upheavel during the early 1900′s.

People were revolted by the weird colours and ugly distortion in ‘The Joy of Life”. The public were used to seeing more traditional and realistic scenes in paintings.

People didn’t need an imagination to appreciate an artists work in the olden days. It was a huge risk for Matisse. To step out from the mainstream comfort zone and receive the hostile abuse from common man.

But today, artists benefit in a myriad of ways from the influence of Matisse’s unique imagination.

The Joy of Life by Henri Matisse 1905 Oil on Canvas 175x241cm Creativity: The fine art of risk taking

‘The Joy of Life’ by Henri Matisse (1905) Oil on Canvas 175 x 241cm The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania, USA

I certainly don’t want to get to the end of my life and think, “I should have taken more risks and done what I love.”

Whilst we’re alive, there’s still an opportunity to take those important risks.

So I encourage you to take whatever risk is necessary to experience total fulfilment in life.

Final Point: Taking risks is essential to living a creative life full of excitement, curiosity and wonder.

Do what you love.

But prepare yourself. You will be guaranteed to meet two teachers along the path. Success and Failure.

Take the risk.

It’s worth the journey.

Here’s what I predict will happen.

You will fall in love again.

© Copyright Simon Brushfield – Creativity: Fine art of risk taking

Abstract Art: How to understand the value of modern art

This creative article will help you understand the origins of abstract art.

It will give you greater confidence to evaluate and feel comfortable understanding weird modern art.

Below, I broadly outline the development of abstract art and conclude with reflections and examples on how abstract art relates specifically to our modern era.

But here’s the main point of the article….

Point 1. Abstract art helps create freedom for people by challenging conventional thinking.

fountain 1917 866x1024 Abstract Art: How to understand the value of modern art

‘Fountain’ sculpture created in 1917 by Marcel Duchamp. The work presented an enormous challenge to conventional thinking about what exactly is art?

In our instantly accessible modern era, digital photography is taken for granted. It’s difficult to imagine in previous generations photography once didn’t exist.

Painting and drawing was once the only way to capture and record real life. People believed the best art must look real.

Point 2. Therefore, master artists like Rembrandt or Rubens were greatly admired in high Renaissance society.

The intricate detail of horses in battle and aristocratic portraits of noble kings and queens were only accessible by the wealthy class. The gap between the rich and poor was enormous.

In contrast to the instantly accessible digital photography of today, creating a realistic painting during the Renaissance was extremely time consuming and very expensive.

But the industrial revolution and modernist thinking changed everything.

Photography developed. And the printing press too. Suddenly factories were able to print and distribute images and information on a wide scale.

The poor became more educated.

A middle class developed and commodities were produced on mass scale. Goods became less expensive.

Point 3. Modernism encouraged the spread of new ideas, freedom of thought and extensive commercial progress.

With new modern ways of thinking, abstract art began to flourish too.

It offered greater freedom for innovative artists like Picasso. Abstract art is common today, however it wasn’t always a popular way of thinking.

Early abstract artists encountered great difficulty breaking through the public mindset. People had grown comfortable with paintings that looked real.

Point 4. The traditional mindset is always resistant to change.

One famous modernist piece of abstract art by Marcel Duchamp was painted in 1912 and titled ‘Nude descending the staircase’ pictured below. I love the painting but at the time….

It caused great controversy.

Marcel Duchamp   Nude Descending a Staircase Abstract Art: How to understand the value of modern art

‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ (1912) by Marcel Duchamp. Oil on Canvas 147 cm × 89.2 cm Philidelphia Museum of Art

The painting and the artist are famous for encountering massive opposition and public outcry, so much so, that Marcel Duchamp removed his painting from the wall midway through the exhibition.

He later focussed upon playing chess abandoning the art world all together.

One New York Times critic disdainfully wrote the painting looked like ‘an explosion in a shingle factory’ hence the reference to factories – a concept dominant in the minds of people living during the industrial revolution.

However, there is an element of truth to the critic’s comment. It’s no coincidence that Duchamp’s painting contains visual elements similar to the rhythmic repetitive nature of a machine in operation.

Point 5. The mass production of industrial life was changing the way people perceived themselves.

During the industrial, or shall we say modernist era, three towering figures of modern art arose.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) Picasso and Duchamp who helped define a new visual direction and entirely new way of thinking, gave validity to the liberating ideas underpinning abstract art.

The history of art provides a long list of artists who changed public thinking altering the dominant status quo in society.

Art is a culturally acceptable vehicle for change.

Duchamp, Picasso and Matisse were often ridiculed for challenging conventional thinking. Their emerging abstract style of paintings, were frighteningly bold for the time and excessively unrealistic.

Point 6. Artists have long played the role of provoking society, being the instigators of change and challenging conventional thinking.

Innovative paintings were difficult for the public to accept as genuine artwork during the 1900’s. Once again, new ideas from visionary artists had provoked mainstream society’s traditional comfortable mindset about what indeed was art?

The Joy of Life by Henri Matisse 1905 Oil on Canvas 175x241cm Abstract Art: How to understand the value of modern art

‘The Joy of Life’ by Henri Matisse (1905) Oil on Canvas 175 x 241cm

The shape and form of Matisse’s paintings conveyed emotional force. Heavily influenced by traditional paintings, Matisse was also inspired by his contemporaries Gaugin, Cezanne and Van Gogh who also used colour excessively.

Point 7. Matisse’s use of colour astounded people. He is considered one of the founding fathers of modern art.

Never before had a painter been so pure, unrealistic and imaginative in his approach to colour. He quickly became known for his radical position and always displayed signs of quiet rebelliousness throughout his career.

Matisse was in constant search for freedom.

His life might be interpreted as a continual struggle to break free. Eliminating barriers of constraint. A pattern typified by the history of modern art. Matisse once said,

“An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success…” – Henri Matisse

Breaking from traditions of the past, Henri Matisse led an art movement called the ‘Fauves’ in 1905. Meaning ‘the wild beasts’. This title referred to the group’s use of extreme emotionalism, vivid colours and distorted shapes.

Predictably, the Fauves first exhibition brought a hostile public response. One critic wrote, ‘A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public’

Matisse Les Toits de Collioure 1905 Abstract Art: How to understand the value of modern art

‘Les Toits de Collioure’ by Henri Matisse (1905) Oil on canvas 59.5 cm × 73 cm Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Point 8. When artists express a vision  people have never seen before, great opposition and vehement criticism often follows.

Here’s 3 things I love most about abstract art.

Firstly, in every sense, abstract art is liberating. Unpredictable and uncontrollable, it challenges people to think differently on a variety of levels. Especially, questioning the concept of commercial value.

People struggle to understand why someone would pay millions of dollars, for what looks like child’s artwork at kindergarten?

Henri Matisse | Patitcha souriante (Patitcha smiling) 1947 | Purchased 1993 with funds from the International Exhibitions Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Henri Matisse 1947/Succession H Matisse/Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011

Matisse understood how people thought in his day, but he didn’t allow it to stifle the creative ideas and purity of art he pursued.

Power 9. Matisse understood the power and longevity of an idea, to overcome restrictions created by mainstream narrow-mindedness.

I love creating abstract paintings. And can never predict results. There is freedom in relaxing and ‘going with the flow.’ Allowing the paint control the direction of the artwork.

During this process, the subconscious mind is free to depict what needs to be expressed.

There have been many paintings and drawings I have created whereby an image has emerged I had no conscious control in bringing to life. As an artist, this is fascinating to observe.

The most famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung once taught, the subconscious mind expresses deeply intuitive, often important messages to people through archetypes and dreams. Likewise, Matisse emphasized the importance of intuition and instinct in the creative process.

Similar to abstract art, the subconscious mind creates abstracted fragmented messages unfamiliar to the conscious mind and difficult to process through logical conventional thinking. Salvador Dali expressed this phenomena in his surrealist paintings.

Abstract art accommodates for the unpredictability and irrationality of the human mind.

Point 10. Matisse believed he was not in control of the creative process. But that colour and form dictated the painting themselves.

The second thing I love about abstract art is the variety of responses it evokes from viewers. Some people simply love the shapes. Other people are touched by an emotional reaction to the colours .

Still others have very personal interpretations of the subject matter, discovering specific meaning to their inner lives. One doesn’t have to be a highly intelligent or well educated person to enjoy abstract art. It’s accessible to everyone on every level.

Abstract art offers unique value to individuals. It respects and encourages diversity. Honouring people’s different perspectives.

The Peninsula 1024x835 Abstract Art: How to understand the value of modern art

‘The Peninsula’ by Simon Brushfield (2010) oil & acrylic on canvas, 2m x 1.8m (Sold: Private Collection)

In the painting above I was commissioned by an Australian art collector, who wanted a large abstract piece for his lounge room.

Like Matisse, the painting contains a mix of realistic and unrealistic emotive colours and imaginative subject matter symbolic of the owner’s personal background and happy childhood by the sea.

Point 11. Unlike mathematics, in abstract art there are no right or wrongs.

Henri Matisse wanted to express hope through the purity and power of colour. He acknowledged difficulties encountered in life and saw art as a means of bringing hope and happiness into a troubled world. He once said,

“What I dream of is an art of balance, purity, and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter….a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue” – Henri Matisse

I love Matisse’s paintings because his artwork displays courage, a fierce determination and skilful ability to break into new territory, leaving behind a legacy of artistic and personal freedom for others to enjoy.

Point 12. Modern art epitomises the human spirit and its passionate desire to experience greater levels of  freedom.

From my perspective, the Matisse legacy encourages people to live life to the fullest. In bright, beautiful colour. Even through difficulties, criticisms and vehement opposition. To expand upon conventional thinking in a persons life, increases their freedom. Modern art helps people to expand horizons. Thereby, improving the quality of lives.

This is priceless.

Henri Matisse was an intuitive artist who accepted gracefully the challenging consequences of living, loving and thinking in new ways. Allowing nothing to halt his creative progress. He once said,

“He who loves, flies, runs and rejoices; he is free and nothing holds him back.” – Henri Matisse

These ideals are expressed in his sentimental painting at the beginning of this article, titled ‘The Joy of Life.’ Henri Matisse lived and worked during a time of great change, historians term ‘Modernism.’ An era heavily influenced by the industrial revolution.

Similarly, we live in a time of significant change, characterised by the information age. Historians have broadly labelled our era ‘Postmodernism’.

The abstract painting below is a visual interpretation of my postmodernist life.

Postmodernism 791x1024 Abstract Art: How to understand the value of modern art

‘Postmodernism’ by Simon Brushfield (2011) Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 80cm x 60cm (framed)

I would love to hear your thoughts on abstract art and/or living in our postmodernist era. Remember there are no right or wrongs, but I would appreciate a conversation with you. So please leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Valuable Lessons I Learnt in Art School

This art post features the creative lessons I learnt in art school.

People often ask me ‘how long did that painting take to create’?

Sometimes quietly thinking to themselves, ‘my child could do that’. Art challenges people. Especially, conceptual art. But art school taught me most of all, to challenge the way people think.

Because mostly, they need it.

Behind this question ‘how long did that take’ is a quiet cynicism about artists. Even famous artists like Matisse, who’s paintings and drawings are sold for multi-millions of dollars, are criticised for their simplicity.

Henri Matisse | Patitcha souriante (Patitcha smiling) 1947 | Purchased 1993 with funds from the International Exhibitions Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Henri Matisse 1947/Succession H Matisse/Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011

Depending upon the person, I respond to the question ‘how long did it take?’ tongue in cheek, with either of two answers ‘5 minutes’ or ‘40 years’.

The paintings in the video below were bought for healthy prices in 2002, by a high profile school in Australia named Xavier College. The institution wasn’t concerned how long my paintings took to paint, nor did they say about my simplistic paintings ‘my child could do that’.


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Valuable Lesson 1. Genuine art collectors or art buying institutions collect painting’s they love, artwork that means something to the buyer. Customers connect to an artistic concept.

Sometimes my abstract art looks simple, but the customer buys the concept and the meaning behind the painting. They also trust my artistic judgment and authority from decades as an artist.

Strangely enough, conceptual thinking often brings the artist in a full circle, back to simplicity. Hence, the comment ‘my child could do that’. I agree that some modern art is mindless, but what people mostly see is a simplified solution disregarding the creative thinking behind the final result.

Like most professions, the complexities of a problem and the hours of deep reflection or chaotic confusion to reach clarity in a final piece, is mostly hidden from the layperson.

Valuable Lesson 2: Experienced artists and philosophers will tell you, achieving simplicity is a complicated process.

For my tertiary education, I was fortunate enough to live in an old mining town, attending the University of Ballarat. I lived in an old miners cottage with my beloved great aunt Glen and completed my Bachelor of Visual Arts.

At university I studied all the great masters of Art & Design. I was fascinated by the practice and history of Art. It was a very interesting period of my life. I was a curious 18 year old art student, living with my 80 year old eccentric aunt.

It was an experience I fondly remember, a world of extreme contrasts where my creative thinking flourished. Thankfully, I was forced to integrate two weird extremes in my life.

One extreme was my wayward free thinking creative friends, on the other extreme, was my very conservatively and celebate Catholic auntie, who had devoted her life entirely to Jesus.

Valuable Lesson 3: Integrating extremes in life, enhances your creativity and makes life more interesting.

Every evening I was instructed, by great aunt Glen to arrive home from university for 5pm dinner. This routine was a little odd, but fine by me. One night, I invited my girlfriend for dinner and introduced her to my great aunt.

Dinner went without any hitches, but then relaxing together in front of the television, I put my arm around my girlfriend. This brought a sharp rebuke from Glen and caused great embarrassment for my girlfriend.

On another occasion my great aunt Glen was rudely shocked by the nude drawings I’d created at university. ‘Oh Simon, the naked body should be kept hidden!’ Yet, the renaissance master artists proclaimed the human body was the pinnacle of natural perfection and beauty.

Here’s what I learned in ceramics class:

I loved this class, but it wasn’t my strength. What I discovered was that if the clay hadn’t dried out, it can always be reused and remodeled for another pot. In life we all make mistakes, we need to be patient with ourselves. Thankfully, we can scrap the old broken project and remodel our lives and create a better pot.

Valuable Lesson 4. Patience is essential in the creative process.

Sometimes during class, my clay pot would become lopsided and spin out of control on the wheel. I figured that was ok, the pot wasn’t meant to be. So I’d begin remolding the wet clay and start the process over. Miraculously, my next pot stayed symmetrical and was created perfectly.

The principle of patience in art is essential. If we are patient and persistent, the right artwork will somehow create itself, but it might take some time and many attempts before your creative universe is properly aligned.

Every drawing is beautiful in some way. Even a child’s drawing. You have probably heard the saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ well this holds true for art.

Here’s what I learnt in drawing class:

I was reasonably competent at drawing and I thought sometimes, I’d produced a beautiful drawing. During class we would have a nude model to draw and after a 30minute pose, I would quietly think to myself, I had just created a masterpiece.

Valuable Lesson 5: No matter how brilliant and talented you might be, there is always someone better than you.

But then I would proudly take a stroll around the studio to view my classmate’s drawings. Wow, there was so much talent in the room! So many beautiful drawings, it shocked and humbled me.

Especially this one girl named Fiona, she needed only to hold a piece of charcoal in her fingers and the paper would come alive with her wonderful artistic ability. I quickly came to understand…

Valuable Lesson 6: Because we are all so unique, competition is futile.

I have always looked at the great master drawings and been surprised by how simple the lines appear, especially for a master like Matisse. His drawings are incredibly basic, childlike but beautiful. Sophisticated in their simplicity.

I am quite confident to suggest it was his belief in his own lines that made other people believe too, that his artwork was exceptional. He wasn’t competing with anybody, just content to draw what he saw in life from his own unique interpretation and perspective.

6 Good reasons to be yourself and be radically unique

  1. Being yourself is the foundation of excellence.
  2. Plato the great philosopher said, ‘know thy self’.
  3. The bible says you’ve been created as Gods masterpiece.
  4. Being yourself creates joy for you and freedom for other people.
  5. Life is very short and people need the specialness you offer.
  6. There is peace and restfulness when you stop trying to be someone else.

Here’s what I learned in painting class:

Like most disciplines, theoretical rules learnt in the classroom are broken all the time. At university, I was amazed by my friend Fiona who’s paintings contained anything and everything she could find.

It was clear she was not operating according to the wishes of her teachers, friends, a gallery owner, or classmates. She used dirt, twigs, leaves, nail polish anything could be included into her mysterious paintings.

Fiona’s creativity was exceptionally unique. Every stroke of the paintbrush held incredible painterly quality. When she used color it was perfect, not too much, not too little, just the right amount.

She wore interesting clothes that expressed her unique personality and individual style. By being herself, unconcerned what others thought, she broke the fashion rules in unique and interesting ways.

Valuable Lesson 7: There are no rules in creativity enjoy your artistic freedom.

Sometimes, our lecturers at university would recommend mixing certain colors together because they were complimentary colors. My lecturers would disapprove of the wrong hues mixed together in a composition. But when Fiona mixed the colors, somehow the painting looked amazing.

As a senior lecturer teaching Art & Design, I am aware of the theoretical principles. However, I also strive to avoid teaching strict rules in creativity. What works for one person, may or may not work for the next person.

What was the most valuable things you learnt at College? I would love to hear your responses in the comments box below…