"The essence of success" by Sienna Patti.
November 29, 2011
Sienna Patti of Sienna Gallery offered her "essence of success" during the Forging Communities Symposium. She challenged everyone in the audience to reach further with a vision larger than the day before. Her lecture was emotionally charged and visibly heartfelt.
Sienna Patti said, "You are not asking enough of yourself and we, the others, are not asking enough of you."
Her words were inspirational.
Below is an excerpt of her lecture from the "What Does Success Look Like?" panel. Thank you to Sienna Patti for allowing me to use her words on ASK Harriete.
Growing up, one of my family’s closest friends was Eric Carle.
I spent hours every week making colorful collages from the papers on his desk. It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood his impact beyond my life.
He had created one of the world’s most famous children’s books and was a beloved author, hugged tightly by blushing librarians everywhere. Millions of children recite his words in school, mimic his artwork, fall asleep at night listening to his words, even grown women use his books as inspirational examples. Eric Carle himself is an actual certified national treasure.
He has a picture in his home office of himself and Mr. Rogers working on late-night crafty projects. Life is great. All is right in the world.
One day I stopped in to visit Eric in his studio only to have him tell me to wait downstairs, that he wanted to go for a ride. I have NEVER cleaned my car faster. After all, he is a famous master of his craft, or at least, some people think so and here he is, reduced to riding around in my Ford Topaz.
He got in the car and we were off. His eponymous museum, the first museum of picture book art in the country, was just being built a few miles away. We would go there, he had to get out of his studio. He said he was depressed. He couldn’t get any work done. He had been feeling this way for months. He didn't like his last book. Maybe he would make a different kind next. Maybe one in black and white.
I was sort of horrified, it felt too personal and he was, after all, a grown-up (I was still young enough then to think that this sort of stuff went away when you “got it all figured out”). He sighed. It would pass, it just sucked. At 80 years old, he trusted his ability to get to the next good place. And he would. But this very difficult part still happened, even after 60 years of work.
This, to me, seems to be the success part - the getting up and moving onwards and upwards.
And the essence of success seems to be in the process, the living and continuing, the space in between.
Caterpillar larvae hatch and then generally stick together for most of their development. There are significant benefits to synchronizing such activities in terms of growth rate and overall survival.
But how does such a large group ‘decide’ when to forage or become active? Synchronization is imperative in order to maintain the integrity of the entire group; however, initiation of such events often depends on the actions of individuals.
In some group-living organisms, it has been demonstrated that ‘key’ individuals are more likely to assume a leadership role. Research on schooling fish, zebra finches, and baboons has demonstrated that certain ‘bold’ or ‘dominant’ individuals, the largest, the loudest, are most often the ones to initiate a group-level activity.
In other kinds of group living, organisms exhibit ‘spontaneous’ or ‘temporary’ leaders depending on the energetic status of individuals. Hungry individuals above all others have been demonstrated to initiate bouts of movement and foraging in a diverse array of organisms from meerkats to fish. Members of the group follow along because there are significant costs to being left behind.
Group activities become synchronized through social facilitation – the individuals following simply match their behaviors to those of others in the group. This is true for caterpillars, their movement is initiated by the individuals with the greatest energetic need – the VERY HUNGRIEST CATERPILLARS.
Are you hungry? Along the lines of "show me the money", this is not a new idea and has been part of our vocabulary for a long time. A friend of mine was once fired for specifically not being "hungry enough". We often describe desire as a "thirst".
What you want or are hungry for will change. At different periods of your life, elements of success will be defined differently. Success is the constant pursuit of your vision even and especially when you fail or others around you slow down.
Be ambitious. There is hope in this! As Emily Dickinson writes, “Finite to fail, but infinite to venture.”
And certainly the answer you find today may not work tomorrow. Success is a journey and has multiple peaks, not one ultimate pinnacle. The joy in the Boston Red Sox win was about the journey - this is what makes it so great. It is a constant pursuit, the constant exploration, the desire to take risks, and the willingness to crap it all up and begin again. And again. And again.
The hope, of course, is that sometimes this will happen. But it might not… hmmm… but it could!
What are we afraid of? I want to see more of you reaching further, being ATHLETIC with your work. Failing bigger. Waking up each day, hungrier to pursue your vision and that your vision be larger than the day before.
There is a malaise in this field. You are not asking enough of yourself and we, the others, are not asking enough of you. I am specifically speaking to the artists here: be hungrier, find your ambition.
Challenge yourself to make stronger, smarter work.
Raise your standards or at least redefine them. Don't compare yourself and your achievements to the artist sitting next to you or standing up here but instead to Michelangelo or Kahlo or Duchamp. To the work you made the day before.
There are many excuses- I hear them all the time, and while I understand, I don't care. I don't mean this in a callous way - I need understanding too. But none of that has anything to do with your work, after all, isn't success always sweeter when coupled with insurmountable odds?
In the end, the only real limits are the ones we make ourselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson “To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation. This is to have succeeded.”
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will. – Vince Lombardi”
This post was updated on February 16, 2022, to provide current links.