Listen To Your Work

“The paint is talking to you. The brush is talking to you. The canvas is talking to you. Your job is to listen to what it is saying, to follow it where it takes you, and to share what you find with others.”

—To my daughter

One morning while I was writing, my daughter sat down next to me to paint. She was making a painting for her mother and I that she did not want either of us to see until it was finished. Suddenly, she stopped painting and got very quiet.

I asked her what was wrong and she told me that her painting was ruined. Curious, I looked at what she was making and saw a big blue paint spot where she had dropped the brush on the canvas. She was quite upset because, knowing she could not undo her mistake, now the painting would never be what she wanted it to be.

After consoling her a bit, I went on to explain that mistakes are an essential component of the creative process. Sometimes the canvas, the paint, or the brush take us in a direction that is quite different from our original intention. When this happens, good artists start over, but great artists keep going.

Great artists are curious. They follow the art on the path it leads them down. They may start with an idea, but they are also open to the possibility of discovery along the way. By following the mistake, they may discover something new, exciting, and beautiful, and this process of discovery is half of the fun.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo Self Defense Academy where he teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.

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