tumblr_lrmiq2X7Zp1qdu5ijo1_1280 It’s no secret that the conscious imagination can be a powerful driver of creativity. But what about the unconscious? Can ideas born from dreams and other forms of subconscious sources be equally powerful drivers of creativity? During the 1920’s and 30’s one group of international artists and writers centered in Paris believed this to be the case. They thought true creative freedom came not from the ego of the artist but from those elements just under conscious control. These artists called themselves Surrealists after a word invented by French modernist poet Apollinaire signifying the strange place between the real and the unreal.

Poet André Breton was the founder and leader (often dubbed Pope) of the Surrealist movement. It was he who established its definition and mission and acted as arbiter of its rules. He was famous for excommunicating members for not being sufficiently ‘surreal’ or a million other reasons. It was Breton who made the Surrealist movement possible.

André Breton, 1924.

André Breton, 1924.


The Surrealist movement had a number of precursors and influences that it sought to co-opt into its philosophy and output. The first was Dada. Dada was started in Zurich in 1916 at the height of the First World War and was a reaction to the madness into which the continent had descended. To protest this irrationality they utilized irrationality in their art in order to force society out of its coma. From Zurich, it spread to Berlin, Paris, and New York among other cities.


Paris Dadaists including Breton in fake facial hair.


These artists began to create art that was so radical that it shunned all previous forms of artistic expression and all other movements and concentrated on those such as sound poetry, provocative performance, collage, radical typography and graphic design, photography and photo-montage, experimental film, and object making. During and just after the war it was notable for anarchic spirit, its hatred of authority,  and its bravery in standing up to reactionary forces during a time when societies were much more homogeneous in their beliefs in traditions and trust in authority.

A reenactment of one of Hugo Ball’s early Dadaist performances in Zurich from 1916:


Dadaist assemblage: Kurt Schwitters, Revolving, 1919.

An example of Dadaist sound poetry. Raoul Hausmann,  kp' erioUM, 1919.

Dadaist sound poetry and typography: Raoul Hausmann, kp’ erioUM, 1919.

An example of Dadaist photomontage. Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany. 1919-1920

Dadaist photo-montage: Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany. 1919-1920.

BPL228866  Credit: L.H.O.O.Q., 1919 (colour litho) by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) ©Private Collection/ Photo © Boltin Picture Library/ The Bridgeman Art Library Nationality / copyright status: French / in copyright until 2039 PLEASE NOTE: This image is protected by the artist's copyright which needs to be cleared by you. If you require assistance in clearing permission we will be pleased to help you.

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919.

By the early 1920’s, Dada was running out of steam and to some in the Parisian Avant-Garde its Nihilism had become counterproductive. Breton was first drawn into the Dada movement. But during the early 1920’s, he decided he wanted to move towards an idealistic vision and back to art from what the Dadaists had called ‘anti-art.’ He became interested in dreams and to believe that the only way to real freedom was through a revolution of the mind to free it from its conscious constraints.

Surrealist expression through manifestos, literature, and visual art was a method to make this possible. As opposed to the Dadaists who tried to work against art, culture, and taste, to destroy the remnants of the stuffy and nationalistic nineteenth century mentality once and for all, the Surrealists really were idealists and they thought they could change the world through art and literature through high-minded expression and radical politics. It was in a way a Romantic movement and though very different in almost every other way, recalled in its marriage of a sensuous and emotional art with socialism in the Arts and Crafts movement and the Pre-Raphealites of the previous century.

The Arts and Crafts movement: frontispiece to William Morris's News from Nowhere, designed by Charles March Gere in 1893.

The Arts and Crafts movement: frontispiece to William Morris’s News from Nowhere, designed by Charles March Gere in 1893.

A Pre-Raphealite painting: John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-52.

A Pre-Raphealite painting: John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-52.


The Surrealists in a dream state surrounding Hidden Woman (1929), painting by René Magritte, cover of Second Manifesto of Surrealism, 1932. The text reads, ‘ I Do Not See the [Woman] Hidden in the Forest.’

Much of the forms of art invented or developed by Dadaists such as collage, assemblage and experimental film were co-opted by Surrealism. Additionally, many who had worked in the Dadaist mode such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara, Paul Eluard, and Francis Picabia became important members of the new movement.


Sigmund Freud.


Surrealism would not be possible without the insights and work of Sigmund Freud. Although Freud cared very little for Modernism or for Breton and his movement, the Surrealists worshiped him as the man who’s discovery of the unconscious and developments in the therapeutic benefits of dream analysis had made their art possible.

However, Freud’s belief that the unconscious could tell us a lot about ourselves yet it needed to be suppressed for the individual and civilization to function was lost on or ignored by the Surrealists. Instead they believed that the unconscious should be let loose from its moorings to free the individual from what they believed was the tyranny of civilization and consciousness that had made it possible.

They were anti-rationalists and stood in direct opposition to the philosophy of the Enlightenment with the importance it placed on an objective reality over the subjectivity of the inner mind. Freud was himself a rationalist and saw irrationality as a symptom of pathology not freedom from it. Nonetheless, Freud’s insights were very important to the Surrealists and formed the basis for a lot of their thinking.


Art of the mentally ill.

In their search for the irrational and the unconscious they also showed an interest in the art of children and the insane. Because neither group was locked up in the straitjacket of modern adulthood and its concentration on the rational, they were able to be completely free and express their unconscious as they wished. They of course did not take in to account  either the suffering of the mentally ill or the nascent science of childhood development. As with Freud, they idealized the parts of the unconscious they wanted to and discarded the rest.

Additionally, the Surrealists were interested in the work of amateur artists like Henri Rousseau who created magical worlds while being naïve and unpolished in their style. They thought the amateur was able to tap into something that was lost when an artist began to hone his or her skills. In this way, Surrealists wanted to get back to basics and even though much of their paintings in particular were polished and technically proficient, they admired art that seemed to go back to basics.


Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910.


One of the more perplexing influences on Surrealism was Communism. Many members of the Surrealist movement were avowed Communists. Breton himself was a Trotskyite and later became friends with Leon Trotsky in Mexico shortly before his assassination there. Trotsky himself, also had a hand in writing elements of the Second Manifesto of Surrealism in the early 1930’s, the treatise that made the Communist influence explicit. Poet Max Jacob went even further, becoming a strident Stalinist during this time.


Breton with Trotsky and Communist mural painter Diego Rivera in Mexico, 1930’s.

The turn towards Communism was no doubt multifaceted in nature, however it seems strange looking back as Marxists were interested in a purely objective and materialist reality, while Surrealism embraced the opposite. Additionally, the Soviet Union, beginning during those early years of Stalinism in the 20’s, became increasingly hostile towards the Avant-Garde. Some artists were forced to change to new national propaganda style of Socialist Realism, which celebrated great Communists, national leaders, and the people in a traditional way. Others left, were jailed, or even killed.


An example of Social Realism, the state-mandated style of the Soviet Union and other Communist regimes. Alexander Gerasimov, Stalin and Voroshilov in the Kremlin, 1938.

The state and realistic content in art were what Surrealism was rebelling against, so what accounts for this contradiction? Like with the Freud influence, it is clear that the Surrealists cherry-picked those elements of the Communist doctrine that fit their own philosophy, but intentionally ignored those that didn’t. For instance, the Surrealists embraced the fact that Communism like Surrealism was intended to be an international revolutionary movement while ignoring its censorship (or worse) of artists and writers within the Soviet Union.

Both saw the Bourgeoisie and Capitalism as being responsible for World War I and Communism for helping to end it through the 1917 revolution that took Russia out of the war. They  also were perhaps influenced by the Communist revolts that occurred in Germany around 1919 after the German defeat and the overthrow of the Kaiser. There is also the fact that many on the far-left during the early twentieth century embraced Communism as a new and exciting form of government. They also saw Capitalism as the status quo which they wished to overthrow and Communism provided seemingly the best mechanism to do this.

The Spartacist Uprising, a Communist revolt following the fall of the Kaiser, 1919.

The Spartacist Uprising, a Communist revolt in Berlin following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1919.

Not all Surrealists were Communists, however. Salvador Dali for instance, embraced his strong Catholic roots and Fascism, in particular the Franco regime in his home country of Spain who the Communists backed by Stalin had fought in a bloody civil war.


Avowed fascist Salvador Dali meeting with the dictator of Spain, Generalisimo Francisco Franco.

Forms of Expression:

Surrealist Games and Literature:

Surrealism was like Dada in that it was playful in spirit yet deadly serious about that playfulness. The most notable form of this was the Surrealist games that various members of the movement, most notably Breton, devised as ways of inserting the unconscious into everyday experience. These games came in various forms and involved different ways of tapping into the unconscious from passing a paper around adding elements to a story or picture without seeing what came before it (known popularly as ‘Exquisite Corpse’) to The Dadaist Poem, ie: putting pieces of cut up newsprint text in a bag and writing poetry by pulling the words out in a random order, to automatic writing. They allowed a new way into the creative process that avoided the conscious mind and decision making. They were also interested in seances and the occult, as the realm of spirits did not behave in a rational manner and therefore could be another point of unconscious contact.

An early example of the exquisite corpse created by some of the Surrealists, 1920.

An early example of the exquisite corpse created by some of the Surrealists, 1920.

Surrealist literature came out of several previous literary movements in France and elsewhere including Symbolism, the absurdest poetry of the Comte de Lautréamont, the dreamlike visions of Arthur Rimbaud, the modernist poetry collages of Apollinaire, the extremity and violence of Antonin Artaud’s plays and the works of the Marquis De Sade, the irrationality and energy of Futurist and Dadaist sound poetry, and the wild plays and poetry of Jean Cocteau. All these influences combined along with an interest in chance in the work of poets and writers such as Breton, Paul Eluard, and Max Jacob. They created in words something very similar to what Surrealists artists later created in images.

Artist Max Ernst proved that you didn’t need words to create works of Surrealist literature. Ernst constructed elaborate, bizarre, and uncanny ‘novels’ made out of collages of nineteenth century book and magazine illustrations that he created by cutting and reassembling and then printing from this hybrid of the original plates on which they were printed creating bizarre and frightening worlds.

Max Ernst, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, 1930.

Max Ernst, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, 1930.


There were two main strands of Surrealist painting. One was to create a vision of a dreamworld through the combination of a realistic painting style and juxtapositions of strange objects. This strand saw its precedents in the strange meeting of objects in The Comte De Lautremont’s prose poem Maldoror and in the ‘metaphysical’ paintings of Giorgio Di Chirico.

Giorgio De Chirico, The Song of Love, 1914.

Giorgio De Chirico, The Song of Love, 1914.

The two most famous artists of this style were René Magritte and Salvador Dali. Magritte’s art was as much about language as it was about images. His paintings seemed real but always made you question what you saw. A giant apple would take up an entire room, dark buildings lit like it was nighttime would sit below a blue daylight sky, hundreds of business men would fall from the sky like rain, and a miniature steam-powered train would come flying out of a fireplace. A pipe would be labeled with the statement “This is not a pipe.”


René Magritte, The Empire of Lights, 1950-54.

Rene Magritte, The Listening Room, 1952.

René Magritte, The Listening Room, 1952.

Rene Magritte, Infinite Gratitude, 1963.

René Magritte, Infinite Gratitude, 1963.

Rene Magritte, The Invention of Life, 1928.

René Magritte, The Invention of Life, 1928.

Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1948.

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe), 1928-29.

Magritte’s paintings were of the slippery place were reality meets fantasy and language loses its meaning. Magritte is one of the most famous and beloved of the Surrealists because his art was fun (though sometimes violent or scary) and it was either easily understood or wonderfully enigmatic as a visual pun or joke or as a mysterious moment where the world began to stop making sense.

The smoothness and realism of his Flemish-influenced Belgian style meant that his art took on an extra surreal quality. What you were seeing didn’t seem possible yet looked as real as anything you could encounter in life.

Salvador Dali is the most famous of the Surrealists. His images are immensely popular because even in their strangeness and dark character they seem to somehow relate to us directly through our own dreams and nightmares.

The famous image of the melting clock in The Persistence of Memory is one of the iconic images of modern art precisely because it seems at once funny and unsettling. Dali’s paintings depict what seem to be realistic worlds, strange as they may be but also appear to be slightly out of control. Like the melting watches they are full of references to time slipping away, to disillusion and decay, to mortality.

Dali’s works also evoke feelings of shame, violence, lust, paranoia, and nightmares. They speak to us because they are universal in a way. Unlike Magritte’s straightforward yet highly intellectual dreamscapes, Dali’s images seem to come directly out of the Id. They are the remnants of the reptile brain bubbling to the surface like out of a fever dream.  Despite Dali’s ego, atrocious political beliefs, and extreme pretension his art still speaks to us because it taps into our own unconscious desires and fears in a way few artists besides perhaps Goya were able to before.

Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931.

Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931.

Salvador Dali, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War, 1936.

Salvador Dali, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War, 1936.

Salvador Dali, The Great Masturbator, 1929.

Salvador Dali, The Great Masturbator, 1929.

Salvador Dali, The Face of War, 1940.

Salvador Dali, The Face of War, 1940.

Salvador Dali, The Metamorphosis of Narcisssus,

Salvador Dali, The Metamorphosis of Narcisssus, 1937.

The other strand in painting was one of abstraction. It was interested in chance and in the lack of premeditation in the painted subject or in the juxtaposition of abstraction and realistic imagery. The most famous artist of this trajectory of Surrealism was Joan Miró. Like Dali, Miró was a Spaniard (more precisely a Catalan) and his early work is injected with the spirit of his native country. The yellow plains and blue skies, the rich soil, the heat. They combined a somewhat abstracted world with a completely abstract one in the same image.

Juan Miro, Carnaval de Arlequín, 1924-1925.

Joan Miró, Carnaval de Arlequín, 1924-1925.

Joan Miro, Catalan Landscape (The Hunter), 1923-24.

Joan Miró, Catalan Landscape (The Hunter), 1923-24.

Later Miró would go on to move to towards total abstraction, using elements that might allude to reality yet were hard to decipher. He painted on the backs of canvases adding new and interesting textures to his images. They seem childlike and playful and do not have the kind of dread or violence found in either Magritte or Dali’s work. They also come from an even more elemental place that evoke the curiosity of children’s drawings or the mystery of the cosmos. Miró was one of the few artists who was actually able to transcend Surrealism because his vision was so inclusive. It was fun, unlike the work of many of the Surrealists that could be so serious that they verged on self-parody.

Check out Part II of this article coming next week, featuring other forms of Surrealist expression including photography and film and more great images and video.

Joan Miró, Morning Star, 1940.

Salvador Dali, Woman and Bird in the Night, 1971-75.

Joan Miró, Woman and Bird in the Night, 1971-75.

Joan Miro's Studio, Mallorca, Spain.

Miró’s Studio, Mallorca, Spain.

Isamu Noguchi; 1929Isamu Noguchi is one of the most important and underrated sculptors of the twentieth century. He was the product of two separate worlds, spending his life and work trying to reconcile his Japanese and Western heritage and influences. He also spent  much of his life traveling across the world while creating public artworks that redefined sculpture and what it could do in a very real sense. Today, you can go to many countries and see important and riveting artworks by Noguchi and be in some sense brought into the serene and appealing world he created.

Here are three of Noguchi’s most famous and beautiful large-scale and public artworks and spaces:

1. The Noguchi Museum, Queens, NY


New York City is a major hub of modern and contemporary art. The city boasts such major collections as the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS1 the Guggenheim, The Whitney, The New Museum, The International Center of Photography, not to mention the modern art collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn and the Queens Museums annual and semi-annual art fairs, public spaces, and countless galleries.

There are, however, places a little off the beaten track, gems that people visiting New York really should check out. One of these is the Noguchi Museum, nestled in an industrial area of Long Island City in Queens. You wander into the unassuming building and are suddenly transported into another world, an oasis, of beautiful, simple, and austere sculptures, ranging in size and scope.

Moving through the space of the galleries, you feel calm, a meditative ease comes over you. The sculptures and the space seem to interact in a synergistic manner, perfectly imbuing each other with a kind of sublime energy. Suddenly, the idea most art critics thought was long dead, that art could be morally improving, doesn’t seem so far-fetched.


Noguchi wanted to create something that integrated the elements of form and space into a unified whole. The sculptures inhabit the space in such a way as to convey a sense of both delicacy and strength. There are all sizes of sculptures from small to large, as well as abstract models for landscape architecture projects and large works for public spaces, industrial and furniture design from radios to his famous tables and paper lamps, early figurative works to his groundbreaking late monumental works.

The outdoor courtyard conveys both a sense of a Japanese Zen garden with its strict simplicity and natural elements and of the neighborhood of Queens in which it sits. The Noguchi museum is a triumph by an artist who truly understood the importance of a work of art’s effect on the human psyche and wanted to share this gift with others. It is, in a way, the museum is Noguchi’s most all-encompassing work of art, perfectly integrating the artworks with the space they inhabit and having an actual positive psychological impact on its visitors.

Noguchi Museum garden

2. Sunken Garden for the Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, NY


For many, the idea of a work of art built as decoration by a corporation can seem a little perverse. And often, works that corporate entities put outside their headquarters are ugly, vainglorious, or a ‘decorative ashtray,’ as the late art critic Robert Hughes described one such work. But every once and a while you get a sculpture or installation which actually uplifts the space, making it more beautiful, and creating a kind of parentheses of calm in a bustling metropolis.


Noguchi’s Sunken Garden is one such work. Walking up to the bank via concrete steps, the space at first looks like a typical entrance to late twentieth century skyscraper, a kind of blank slate. But soon you see a giant hole cut out of the middle of the space. You are drawn to it to see what lies within the well-like structure and are suddenly brought face to face with an usual sight. A sunken Japanese Zen garden set within this corporate architectural structure, which is accompanied during the warm months by a flowing fountain. The artwork plays off of a series of emotional responses valuable in art and extremely potent: curiosity and surprise followed by delight.

The garden has a different feel from below ground level within the Chase building, where the garden is can be seen at human scale via windows completely surrounding the physical space. This combination of two completely different perspectives is part of what makes the work so successful. It is continuously unfolding, different from every angle and at every season of the year. Like much of Noguchi’s work, it has a kind of spiritual element, simultaneously calming and re-energizing its viewers.


3. Expo ’70 Fountains, Osaka, Japan


Japan, the birthplace of Noguchi’s father and the sculptor’s spiritual homeland, boasts several important public artworks by the sculptor including Two Bridges for Peace Park in memory of the Hiroshima bombing. But the somberness he conveys on one extreme in the bridges could be matched by the sense of fun and excitement he created in other works.


For example, Noguchi designed and created many public parks that used sculptural elements in the designs of playgrounds and landscape architecture. The other area Noguchi explored with enthusiasm was fountains, as seen in the Chase sunken garden, but he also found new and innovative uses for fountains outside of how they had traditionally been conceived.

The Expo ’70 fountains in Osaka Japan are probably the most rich and beautiful example of this experimentation as well as of the sense of childlike excitement and fun that Noguchi was capable of injecting into his works. Noguchi says that he tackled the project with an interest in literally upturning the idea that of what a fountain had traditionally been conceived of, meaning a physical structure that propelled  water upwards. Instead, he created towers that would propel water downwards from a great height of 100 feet, giving the sense of a kind of waterfall.


In addition, water would be manipulated in new ways, spraying, rotating, and swirling. As he put it, the water also ‘disappeared and reappeared as mist.’ The concept of a fountain gave Noguchi the opportunity to play with the natural element of water while exploring ideas of kinetics in sculpture in new ways and inventing a new kind of space for viewers to inhabit.


The Importance of Noguchi:

Noguchi’s importance as a creator of large scale sculptural works should not be underestimated. He used his works as a way to redefine form and space in new and interesting ways while at the same time bringing in elements of both Western and Eastern sculpture, architecture, and landscape design. His works, while managing to be both understated and apolitical, bring joy and peace to a lot of people around the world. That is no small feat.



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Recently, I decided to revisit one of the books that made me want to write about creativity, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. I wasn’t disappointed.

Daily Rituals delves into the process and lifestyles of many important figures, not just in visual art but in literature, music, choreography, film and even philosophy. The book takes each of these artists and thinkers and then goes into great and fascinating detail about their daily routines: how they structured their day, when and how they ate, worked, and played.  As the author puts it, “All of them found the time to get their work done. But there is an infinite variation on how they structured their lives to do so.” The book proves that there are many ways to success in creative disciplines and is captivating as well as inspiring.

When to Work and How Much:

While it is the variety of the experiences recounted in Daily Rituals that really engages the reader, there are some practices that these creators have in common. The majority of them started work in the morning, mostly between the hours of eight and ten and then worked until lunch. W.H. Auden went so far to state that “Only the Hitlers of the world work at night; no honest artist does.” The novelist Günter Grass also believes only writing during the day was the only way to go because as he says “it comes too easily.”

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden

This is not true of everyone of course. The short story writer Ann Beattie can only write between the hours of 12:00 and 3:00 AM. The playwright Tom Stoppard says, “I never work in the mornings unless I’m in real trouble.”

There is of course another issue that many creative people have to deal with. How do you do your thing if you also have a 9-5 job? Toni Morrison, for instance, worked at first in the evening after each day at her job in publishing, but had switched to early mornings by the 1990’s saying she lacked intelligence and wit after dark.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

The poet Wallace Stevens balanced a successful career as an insurance lawyer with his poetry, which he would compose while walking to work. Currey quotes him as saying that a job, “introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life. I am just as free as I want to be and have nothing to worry about money.”

One aspect of routine that varies drastically among all the figures in this book is how much to work. Some kept long hours, like Voltaire who worked eighteen to twenty hours a day or Karl Marx who labored from when the British Library opened in the morning at 9:00 until well into the night.  Most worked between two and five hours a day, the limit it seems for the intensity it takes to concentrate on creative projects. Gertrude Stein put in as little as ½ hour, explaining that even that little work every day would add up to a lot after a year.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

The Importance of Routine:

One writer who really understood the value of routine was the German author Thomas Mann. As Currey reports it, he was up and ready to go by 9:00 AM. Then he would steal himself away in his study, completely shutting himself off from everyone including his family. He would limit himself to composing his fiction until noon which would force him to take his work slowly and carefully. Then he could attend to other matters in the afternoon. This kind of regimented schedule worked well for him and allowed him to progress at a relatively consistent rate.


Thomas Mann

Others were able to get work done despite their relaxed attitudes. Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, reportedly lay in bed and chatted with his mother well into the morning. His writing took him a long time as well. During the writing of Bovary, Flaubert only wrote two pages week, taking nearly five years to complete the novel.

Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert

The Urge to Create:

Patricia Highsmith, author of such classics as The Talented Mr. Ripley (one of my favorite film adaptations) and Strangers on a Train, saw writing as a compulsion. Not working led to unhappiness.“’There is no real life except for working, that is to say in the imagination,’ she wrote in her journal. Fortunately she was rarely short of inspiration; she had ideas, she said, like rats have orgasms.”

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith wasn’t the only person to need to work to be happy. As Freud put it, “I cannot imagine life without work as really comfortable.” But he also understood the value of relaxation. He would take three month vacations with his family during the summer.

Environment and Distraction:

Freud’s onetime friend and later bitter rival in the psychoanalytic community, Carl Jung, also is described by Currey as being a ‘workaholic.’ At the same time Jung demanded something else that is important for the creative disposition: the right kind of environment. He built a home for himself called Bollingen Tower, which contained only the essentials needed to do his work: no electricity, phone, or even running water. This allowed Jung a simple existence, one that he could fill with his psychoanalytic writing, but also with physical labor which he loved.

Carl Jung in his study room _cropped

Carl Jung

Not everyone can work in a conventional environment. As Anne Rice mentions in the book, for some limiting distractions is essential if you want to get anything done. For others, like illustrator and author Maira Kalman, just the ‘right amount’ of distraction, cleaning, ironing, taking a walk.


Anne Rice

It is interesting to note just how many creative people discussed in this book took long walks and napped during the day. Apparently these activities, considered time-wasting and frivolous by many over-worked Americans, are quite beneficial to the creative mind.

The Struggle for Discipline:

The urge to create, that drive to express is something that comes up again and again in Currey’s book. Not everybody works that way however. Many struggle to find the work ethic to keep a routine going. Sometimes attempts at a rigid and defined discipline could falter even for the most productive of figures. Take the case of Benjamin Franklin who worked out a very calculated and considered routine for himself.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

“The plan worked, up to a point. After following the course several times in a row, he found it necessary to go through the course just one in a year, and then one every few years. But the virtue of order—‘Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time”—appears to have eluded his grasp.”

What’s great about this passage is that it acknowledges a struggle that many of us have with creative projects: that of staying focused, staying on track, seeing our work through. Many of us (myself included) are great at coming up with a plan but when it comes to accomplishing our goals we have trouble. We falter, sometimes we even fail.

Another great example of someone who constantly struggled with a consistent work ethic was William James. The philosopher who was obsessed with the ideas of routines and believed, whole-heartedly, that one needed to regiment time, focus, and be decisive, was an epic procrastinator.

As Currey relates, “James kept no regular schedule, was chronically indecisive and lived a disorderly, unsettled life.” He was obsessed with routines but was not able to enact the sorts of routines he recommended to others.


William James

Another famous example of a terminal procrastinator was the creator of the first English dictionary, Samuel Johnson. He had a great deal of difficulty rising in the morning and mostly worked at night after returning from taverns.

Bad Habits:

Rituals can be detrimental as well as beneficial in life as in creation. A constant theme in the book is that of the ritual of drink. It is something that has been tied to both the act of creativity and the social life of creative types for centuries. Sometimes it is a positive force. Some writers, for instance, see it as a way to loosen up their minds, to get ideas flowing. But it can be taken too far.

The Post-Impressionist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec basically drank himself to death. His hard-hitting lifestyle which allowed him to depict the Paris cabarets and brothels which he loved, along with the late nights and constant alcohol consumption that came with them, would kill him at the age of only thirty-six.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Fiction writer John Cheever too had a drinking problem managing to hide it for much of his adult life, eventually spending more time drinking than writing. He also, during the early part of his career, had quite a famously unconventional way of working, getting dressed like he was going to the office and then riding the apartment elevator down to the basement, undressing, and beginning to write.

Jackson Pollock too was notorious for his self-destructive habits, including drinking, that would eventually kill him in a drunk driving accident. It is interesting then that his most productive period occurred when he moved with his wife to Long Island, far from the New York alcohol-soaked art world.


Jackson Pollock

Why Creatives Have Routines:

There are many myths about creative people: that they are undisciplined, that what they do takes little skill or effort, that they are lazy. The most important success of Currey’s book is to prove that these are indeed untrue. Though many creative people have unconventional lifestyles, most need a strong work ethic to get anything done at all. Writing a book, painting, directing a film: these all take a great deal of work and so one needs to manage ones time wisely.

Most creatives eat, sleep, work, and play at regular times. Many work during the day. Some who live crazy bohemian lifestyles burn out quickly and get little done, and many of those who have difficulty with creative discipline struggle in order enact routines in their life and work. But even those things that may seem like procrastination can be helpful. Naps, walks, and drinking that may come across as luxuries to some are often beneficial in creative work.

In the end,  Daily Rituals is essential reading for anyone who is interested in creativity. It is an revealing and enlightening account of what it is to be a creative person and can act as a kind of blueprint for creatives to get some stability in order to do their best work.

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Charles and Ray Eames were more than just designers. One of the visual art’s most famous and influential married couples, they redefined much of the world we now surround ourselves. They also touched multiple disciplines, leaving their mark on architecture, furniture design, interior design, exhibition design, toy design, fine art, photography, and film. They saw themselves as educators and they were definitely innovators.

Despite the many types of applied art they had a part of Charles Eames saw himself as an architect first and foremost, while Ray self-described as a painter (although she didn’t really paint much). Like Alexander Calder, they took a playful attitude toward their work in a mission to make work and fun a harmonious unity. They were incredibly successful throughout their career and helped to redefine how people understand information and how it could be displayed. In short, they were two of the most important figures of the last century.

The Eameses are most known for their chairs, many of the designs of which can still be found in corporate offices throughout the world. They were among the first designers to use the new materials plywood and fiberglass in their chair designs. They were also a part of a new movement of designers in the forties and fifties who were turning away from modernism’s fetish for the machine and towards simple organic and natural forms. The styles of chairs they developed for the Herman Miller company would become their trademark and made the career of the Eameses for thirty years afterward. The beauty and functionality of these designs speaks to Eameses’ concern for both aesthetic and technical quality and the pursuit of a central idea which they would work through as they developed their process.

Three of the most popular and innovative Eames chair designs:




The Eameses were not only designers, of course. They made influential experimental films as well as those for educational purposes, their most famous being Powers of Ten, made for IBM and still used in many classrooms today. They designed huge film installations including a beautiful (if such a word is appropriate) propaganda film for the US to be shown in Russia during the height of the Cold War and one on new technology for The New York World’s Fair in 1964.

Both of these were multi-screen projections and pushed the boundaries of what was technologically possible at the time. The Eameses were also the first to use cartoons as a tool for corporate public relations. Charles was able to get the kind of support and freedom from clients for these projects and others which was rare at the time and even rarer now. It was mainly because they knew they were going to get a quality product and that it would be revolutionary in some way, pushing their brand in new and interesting directions.

Powers of Ten:

Glimpses of the USA, American National Exhibition, Moscow:

7_Glimpses of AmericaThe Information Machine at the IBM Pavillion, New York World’s Fair:


One area of the Eameses’ work that is often overlooked is the importance of their influence on exhibition design, part of their over-arching mission to find new and creative ways to educate the public. Coming out of the new development of design which mandated a multimedia, exciting, almost over-the-top approach to presenting information, the Eameses began to incorporate in pictures, films, sound, text, and technology to their exhibition projects. They famously designed the successful Mathematica exhibition that can still be found today and many small exhibitions for IBM. The goal was to offer a complex vision that viewers could submerge themselves into and take what they wanted away with them. Their exhibitions were incredibly inclusive although sometimes problematically over-flowing with objects and information, what they proudly described as “information overload.”

Mathematica Exhibition:


Part of what made the Eameses so unique as well as so successful was their approach to process. They did not believe inspiration, stating that hard work was the only way to have consistency in creative pursuits. They believed whole-heartedly that you start with a bunch of bad ideas and work slowly towards a working solution. Depsite their innovative solutions to problems, they believed innovation was the last thing a designer should resort to. One motto was always to design by doing. Another was “to make the best for the most for the least.”

The Eameses took pride in their understanding of the fundamentals of Modernism: the form of an object was always solidly rooted in its function. They believed wholeheartedly in the utopian concept of good design as a tool for improving life and thought that technology was beneficial and would lead to social progress. At the same time they did not disregard the past, looking to it for guidance. They not only tried to revolutionize design but also designing and its relationship to daily life. They wanted to collapse the distance between working and fun, to make them one and the same seamless experience. Life would become rewarding because of work. Charles was famous for putting it succinctly: “Take your pleasure seriously.”

The Eames office in Venice California was its own kind of playful environment, covered over with art and decoration, both finished and in progress. It was often compared to a circus (something which Charles was obsessed with). It was constantly changing form and mutating. When the Eameses were making a film the whole office would transform into a set and then transform back the next day. This playful atmosphere was echoed by many of the objects they created. They were obsessed with making toys for children and adults, masks, and decorative objects which lined the walls of their office. They saw toys as a creative way to teach design principles and craftsmanship and used decoration as a means enlivening their world with brilliant color and shape.

Eames toy blocks:


Detail of the Eames Office, Venice Beach, California:


This playful, colorful atmosphere could also be found in their home in Pacific Palisades, which they designed themselves. It would become the blueprint of the postwar Modernist home, precisely by moving away from the sterility and rigidness of prewar architecture.  It was lively and colorful unlike the metallic monochrome of 20’s and 30’s modern houses.The visual culture of the world was very important to them and surrounding themselves with art objects and knick-knacks of all descriptions provided them a potent environment for creativity in both their work and home life.

Exterior and interior of the Eames House, Pacific Palisades, California:



The partnership between the Eameses was strong and lasting, despite at least one infidelity by Charles. It is essentially what made them such a successful professional couple. They had an odd kind of symbiosis. Charles took the lead on projects for the most part. He was seen as the face of the studio, was the one who talked to clients, appeared in interviews, and ran the business. His interest in all things visual came primarily from the idea that structure was what was essential to all visual art practices and that the same skills could be applied to various disciplines. He could be stingy about giving credit, running the office like a Renaissance studio where he saw the designers as apprentices, there to learn and assist the master. While he was arrogant in some ways he was humble in others. He didn’t want to call himself an ‘artist,’ stating that it was embarrassing, like calling oneself a ‘genius.’

The Eameses at work on one of their exhibition designs:


Despite his de facto position as the official communicator for the firm, he was not always very good at it. He was not clear in his explanations in interviews or talks, would ramble and wander around the subject, sometimes unable to express anything at all. Despite his difficulties in communicating through words, Charles was excellent at communicating through imagery and was a visionary of communication technology. He was fascinated by the computer and made it a central focus of much of the firm’s design and educational work during the sixties and seventies. IBM became the Eameses’ most important client.

Charles Eames with IBM clients at the Mathematica Exhibition:


It is important to point out Ray’s importance as she was often unfairly seen as minor in the collaboration, mostly due to retrograde fifties sexual politics that still taint the conversation about women in the arts. This was not helped by her own shyness in and resistance to talk much about her own role in interviews. The truth was she was very hurt by those who diminished her abilities or the work that she had done. Without her input and assistance, the designs would’ve never been what they became. She had a particularly strong role as a tempering influence, as the person who would keep the designers focused on the “big idea” when they were too concentrated on the details. Nonetheless, she was an extreme perfectionist about her work and put incredible amounts of attention into the detail aspects of projects. Paradoxically, her extreme perfectionism did often get in the way, sometimes crippling her ability to finish work on a project.

Ray Eames working on one of her decorative ‘toy’ objects:


Ray had been trained under Hans Hoffman, an early abstract European painter who came to New York and helped push American painting towards the Abstract Expressionist heyday of the 1940’s and 1950’s. She used her training to great effect, not so much in painting of which she didn’t do much, but in her use of decoration and injecting of color into the Eameses’ work. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she was at least partially responsible for the abundance of color in midcentury American design objects.

She was also responsible for the look of the many Eames chair advertising photographs for new models, images with a very distinctive look. As the years went on her overall role decreased as Charles’ interests began to move more towards an obsession with technology and math, of which Ray never really had a grasp or much interest. Her influence decreased also due to Charles’ relationship with their male corporate clientele and the affair he had with another female designer. Their relationship recovered and after his death when she took over running the office. She finally had to close it some years after and died ten years to the day after her husband.

Hans Hofmann with students:


It’s hard to imagine the look of midcentury America without the Eameses. Watch an episode of Mad Men or a movie from that time set in a business office or luxurious modern home and you’ll likely something designed by either them or one of their countless imitators. Not only that but their presence as creators can still be felt. Walk into practically any office building or airport waiting room and there will be something created by or inspired by the Eames. Go into an IKEA and see their influence in many of the objects for sale. I am even sitting in an Eames office chair as I type this!

An Eames chair advertising photo conceived by Ray Eames:


Design was not the only thing they changed forever. The way we receive information today in advertising, educational films, public relations messages, and exhibitions, especially those on science and history, owes something to the Eameses’ influence. They contributed immensely to America’s interest in and eventual obsession with the computer. Even the toys children play now might be much less sophisticated had it not been for the Eameses. Yet they are less well known to the general public then figures whose work had far less practical application for or import on our everyday lives since. Perhaps that’s the way they would’ve preferred it. Their work speaks first and it has become essential to our daily experience. What more could any creative person ask?



Alexander Calder made play the major theme of his art. Over the course of more than fifty years, he worked harder than most in the pursuit of the creation of his own universe, invented a whole new genre, an art of moving sculpture known as ‘mobiles,’ and made works on an unsurpassed scale. But he was also an incredibly interesting character, a man who had a childlike view of life which translated seamlessly into his work.

Calder had sculpture in his blood. His father was also a sculptor and many of his ancestors had been stone masons. He was not that interested in becoming an artist at firs however. He loved to work with his hands and went on to go to school to become an engineer. He didn’t do well in the program and decided to become an artist after all.


Alexander Calder with two of his wire portraits.

When he began his career, he worked primarily in wire, sculpting portraits and images of animals that resembled abstract line drawings but in three-dimensions. He could create whole exhibition on the spot with just wire and some pliers. He was always interested in sculptural materials uncommon or unknown to the genre including scrap iron, found stones, broken glass, even mercury. He was capable of building sculptures on almost any scale from gargantuan behemoths to tiny fragile works.


“Romulus and Remus,” 1928.


Detail of “Calder’s Circus,” 1926-31.

Early on, during the 1920′s, Calder began making extended trips to Paris. Here he became a part of the booming art scene. At this time, he built a fully-functional miniature circus out of wire and refuse. He performed the circus for art-world friends who came to see it on a regular basis. The circus highlighted his lifelong fascination with toys and childlike objects and was an early example of a moving sculpture.

Shortly after the notoriety of his circus, Calder began to experiment with abstract moving sculptures. He went to the studio of Piet Mondrian and was amazed at the sense of motion that could be conveyed through abstract shapes. Calder’s early moving works were controlled by motors. Marcel Duchamp called them ‘mobiles’ and the name stuck. From this point, he was obsessed with the cosmos and it became a major theme of many of his sculptors. During an early Paris exhibition of Calder’s mechanical mobiles, physicist Albert Einstein visited and was reportedly fascinated by one of the sculptures, A Universe, and stared at it for forty minutes.


“A Universe,” 1934.

After building a few of these mechanized works Calder decided to move to works that would be based out of a more natural idea of chance instead of out of mechanical predetermination. Chance allowed for infinite movement and combinations between elements within the work. Movement was thus dictated by other natural forces such as air currents in a room or wind outside. He wanted to get rid of symmetry in order to create more tension and visual interest. Many of his artworks involve color, but color was secondary to shape and movement, mostly acting as a differentiation mechanism between different elements of the sculptures.


“Red, Blue & Black Cascade,” 1974.


“Vertical Foliage,” 1941.

Despite their references to the mechanics of the universe, Calder’s works were not overly serious but playful and childlike.  They approached existence as someone viewing it from the naïve eye of a child, with a child’s attitude of fun. Perhaps that is why the mobile has become such a favorite toy for babies and young children. The sculptures were simple. They were the thing in itself. Nothing lay beyond the works besides his interest in nature through allusions, materials, and natural forms.


“Fish,” 1944.

In addition to mobiles, Calder invented a type of sculpture ironically dubbed ‘stabiles.’ Although these sculptures did not move, they seemed to imply a sense of movement through their design. They were often very large but appeared quite light as though they were liable to float off at any minute. Stabiles recalled architecture in their concrete yet airy design, for instance the solidly buttressed medieval cathedrals of France.


“Le Grande Vitesse,” 1969.

Sculpture was not the only genre Calder worked in. He painted, created stage sets, designed illustrations and wallpaper, tapestries and rugs, children’s toys and jewelry. He never stopped creating, working every day, and made or manufactured a reported 16,000 works.

Calder worked primarily in assembling sculptures from wire and scrap metal. He didn’t like carving because he often grew impatient. When creating one of his large-scale sculptures, he would start with a small model made of aluminum, which he would alter freely. When he had finished the model he would bring it to workers who would fabricate it on a larger scale. He would then make particular alterations he thought would improve the final sculpture.


“Untitled II,” 1965.

Calder’s studio was notoriously messy,  with wire, metal, refuse, tools, sculptures, and papers everywhere. He designed everything that went into his house including cooking tools and decoration. He even made alterations to his cars. In this way he created his own world, shaping it with his hands. This extended to friends and relatives as well. He spent a lot of his time fixing up their houses for them.


Calder’s studio.

Calder was incredibly unpretentious about his sculptures.  He never called his them works of art, preferring the term objects. When asked who he intended his sculptures for, he replied that he didn’t do it for anyone in particular. He worked and that was all. When asked if he liked his contemporaries, he responded “yes, but they are all idiots.” When he was asked if he liked the Louvre, he responded “the courtyard is nice. It is well tarred.”

Calder had quite a gregarious and silly personality and was physically big, especially in later years, like a friendly bear. He spoke simply and plainly. He ate and drank excessively. He didn’t care for decorum and dressed in informal wool shirts for every social function. He was also extremely generous, giving gifts of art to many of his friends and acquaintances.

Despite his simplicity and over-the-top personality, Calder was in no way stupid. He understood the importance of his work at a very basic level and spoke and wrote about it with great depth and articulateness. He was also usually paying attention even when it seemed he was not. He took naps on Parisian bistro tables but was only half asleep. He was able to pick up the conversations around him and upon awakening could pick them up in the middle.


“Bird,” 1952.

Alexander Calder was an important artist because he brought a certain playful energy, lack of pretension, and reverence for nature into modernism at time when many modern artists were often quite pretentious and over-serious about their work and no longer considered nature an acceptable subject matter for art. It is amazing that Calder was able to use synthetic materials to create such natural primordial forms, so full of spontaneity, and that had the facility to create such joy in those that viewed them. It is also fascinating how his own personality and attitude towards life was aligned with the work he created, making the two basically inseparable.

Calder’s work is so iconic that it led  the term ‘mobile’ which has become to become a ubiquitous part of everyday life outside the realm of art. His sculptures are immediately and universally recognizable as his own. How many artists can claim that kind of revolutionary inventiveness, that kind of cultural clout, or staying power? Calder is a great oasis, a break in the desert of super-pretentious over-intellectual modern art. In this way, he is an invaluable figure and not one to be discounted or downplayed in importance.

Standing Mobile 1937 by Alexander Calder 1898-1976

“Untitled,” 1937.


Frank Lloyd Wright was a complex individual to understand. He was celebrated as a genius architect, which he undoubtedly was, but he was also an incredibly multi-layered and flawed individual.

Wright is undeniably on the top of the list of the great architects of history. He designed some of the greatest buildings of the twentieth century including Fallingwater, The Guggenheim Museum, The Imperial Hotel, the Johnson Wax Office Building, and his groundbreaking Prairie Style and Usonian houses. His buildings were an attractive organic-looking alternative to the boxiness of conventional Modernism. He used natural materials, preserved ornament, and hand-craft in construction. He emphasized the horizontal over he vertical, against the grain of the growth of skyscraper oriented cities, which he detested.

Imperial Hotel Tokyo

Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, 1923.

All the same, there was definitely a dark side to Frank Lloyd Wright. This is what makes his legacy so complex. He told many lies and made many exaggerations about his own history. He wanted to live up to his own expectations in the minds of others and himself, even if he didn’t in reality. Shame was an emotion he didn’t take much stock in and he was a master of egotism.  He called himself the greatest architect who ever lived and believed it. He believed morality was flexible and the creative life meant no fixed notion of it. The construction of a biography was as much a creative act for him as designing buildings. He left his wife and children for his mistress (who was tragically murdered by their servant). Despite its importance as an important training center in mid-century architecture, he created an almost cult-like atmosphere in his apprenticeship program at Taliesen, the home he had designed for himself, and discouraged his apprentices from joining the war effort during World War II. He denied  having any influences, claiming that all of the ideas he had came out of his own head, something he himself contradicted in his own writings. He even claimed that he had invented Modernism, a style that he often discounted as irrelevant but later incorporated  into his own.


Johnson Wax Headquarters, Racine, Wisconsin,1936.

Being as arrogant as he was may have been detrimental personally but it gave him the kind of professional drive to weather the bad times and take as much advantage as possible of the good. His career lasted from the 1890’s until his death in 1959 and many of his greatest buildings were completed in the last ten years of his life. During times of setback, Wright would act as if he was flush with clients in order to actually attract clients. He even lied to clients to about projects designed by his mentor, Louis Sullivan, claiming that he had designed the buildings himself.

Despite his shortcuts, Wright did have a tireless work ethic. He was a skilled architect as well as an equally skilled draughtsman and engineer. He would work for 3-4 days at a stretch making drawings for a single project. Wright stated boastfully that he could shake buildings out of his sleeve, that he could rebuild the whole country if he wanted to. At the same time he sometimes procrastinated to force himself to finish a project at the last minute. For his most famous house, Fallingwater, Wright waited until his client, Edgar Kaufman Jr., was driving to his office to even get started on drawing the project, all the while telling Kaufman that the plans were ready. In the end, he finished designing the project in twenty-six hours and was able to complete the plans with incredible skill and finesse before the client arrived. He would often lose himself in his work in this way, completing projects with incredible speed.


Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 1935.

It has been remarked, however, that there were many problems with his constructions, design flaws that led to issues such as leaky roofs and sagging cantilevers. Since he dashed off so many projects at such an incredible pace, it was argued that he didn’t pay attention to these and other important details. For some reason this didn’t seem to bother the man much. To complaints about leaks, for instance, he would tell the complainer to simply move their desk. He said that was what happened when you left a masterpiece out in the rain. Such blind indifference to errors in design shows Wright’s unshakable confidence and belief in his own ability as an architect and it also shows his interest in higher ideals than what he saw as trivial practicalities of building. Many of these problems have been alleviated by advances in modern technology, which shows how far ahead of their time his designs were even if they had major problems when they were created.

On other details, Wright was not indifferent but actually defensive and controlling. He would construct elaborate demonstrations to show what kinds of stresses his daring innovations could handle. He would often attempt to flip the client and architect relationship so it was as if the client was working for him. Much of this was because of his incredible charm. He was definitely a hustler. He dictated everything a client could have in their home down to the furniture, the china, and even what gown a hostess could wear to a dinner party. He even went so far as to go into houses when the owners were away and rearrange the furniture. He also manipulated clients into conforming to his vision, whatever the financial cost for them. Wright  was not only indifferent towards thrift when it came to architecture. He was a wild spender personally, ever in debt.


Robie House, Chicago, Illinois, 1910.


Living room from the Little House, Wayzata, Minnesota, 1912–14.

But Wright didn’t use his often dubious and manipulative powers merely for evil but for a sense of greater good. The hype that Wright created for himself through his writings and media appearances almost completely stands up in the face not only of the buildings he designed but by his very well conceptualized and delineated concept of architecture. He was a protégé of Louis Sullivan. Sullivan, an early innovator of the modern skyscraper, emphasized the importance of all parts of a building being a elements of an organic whole, and that any architectural or decorative detail on the exterior or in the interior of a building must be formally appropriate to its intended function. For Wright, these lessons were essential and he would apply them consistently to his own designs.

What was also imperative for Wright was the importance of Nature. Unlike the European Modernist architects who believed in a new formalism centered around a reverence for the rationality of the machine and the grid, in other words for synthetic modern forms, Wright took Nature for his grounding principles, inspiration, and materials. His buildings gestured metaphorically to the landscape, were built out of natural materials such as wood and stone (concrete and steel would come later), and often incorporated Nature itself in the form of hills, plants, rocks. and water, into the buildings themselves. He spent much time as a child among Unitarian relatives who revered the land as God’s creation and was interested in the works of Emerson who like Wright made Nature his religion.  He wanted to enlighten people with this natural formal sense and sense of space that he painstakingly demonstrated in his buildings.


Taliesin, south of Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1911.

He was also very interested in music, especially that of Beethoven, and believed it to be a natural force. He also claimed that music was constructed in a very similar way to architecture and tried to emulate the methods of composition used in music in designing his buildings. Nonetheless, he thought  that architecture was the supreme art-form and all others were subordinate to it. This can be seen most distinctly in his design for the Guggenheim Museum where Wright cared much more for ideals of the natural spiral design of the overall building than he did for its function of displaying art in a way that was most congenial to it. Wright didn’t care much for modern painting and sculpture. Although the Guggenheim is a beautiful building these opinions were reflected in the design as the building itself takes precedence over what it was designed for: the exhibition of artworks. In this way he we went against the credo instilled in him by Louis Sullivan, that form follows function.


Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, 1959.

The difficulty with Wright is how to define him. There were so many Wrights with so many different personalities, many conflicting. He combined an incalculable genius and skill with egotism, stubbornness, selfishness, and sometimes stupidity. But would he have been so bold, so inventive, so successful, and so persistent had he been a less ruthlessly ambitious man? It is hard to know. What makes him such a complex figure is that all these issues are tangled up together, impossible to separate. Creativity, while often a good thing, can come from dubious moral groundings in the individual who embodies it. Is it possible to be a great man without being a good man? In the end perhaps it is the end result that matters, the finished product that counts. Frank Lloyd Wright is still a hero to many and that is because the greatness of his works and his drive for greatness rise above the complex flaws of the man himself.