Art, Craft, and the “Rocky” road to Black Panther

One great working definition of things like “Art” and “Craft” that all synchronize with a view of human existence in a useful way.


“Art” is Self-expression.   If a two-year old Jason has a creative urge, reaches into the potty and smears feces on the way…points at it proudly and says “look!” That is art.


“Craft” is the language that allows you to COMMUNICATE that creative urge to others.   You perform, the audience reacts.  It is like a language.  You are in Mexico, you want to say “that tree is beautiful” but simply don’t know how to say “El árbol es hermoso” you will be reduced to gestures and imprecise communication.


Every artistic discipline has craft. And the more difficult the technology of the discipline is to master, the harder it is for the creative “spark” to pass that gate.


Remember the four steps of learning?


  1. Unconscious incompetence (you don’t know bicycles exist)
  2. Conscious incompetence (you know they exist, and that you cannot ride one)
  3. Conscious competence (you can ride one if you focus all your attention)
  4. Unconscious competence (“look Ma!   No hands!”)


Stage #4 is where you have to be to express an emotion in your chosen art.  So what makes that possible?


  1. A clear idea of the specific tasks ahead.
  2. A role model of a successful person who started as close as possible to your own position, and got as close as possible to your chosen end point.
  3. An understanding of process. What does a person do between “here” and “there”?  The Hero’s Journey is wonderful for this.
  4. A flock of overwhelming emotional motivations, without which you won’t make it through the “dark night of the soul.”
  5. A model of humanity to understand how to organize your inner world to traverse the steps of the HJ.



Step #4 should provide the “creative spark,” the impulse.   There should be something you are trying to express in your work. A perspective, a dream, a nightmare, a fear, a love, a passion.


That passion not only gets you up in the morning, and powers you through the bad times, but is the thing that your readers really want from your work.


“Make me FEEL” they say. Now, you might simply have enough craft to manipulate them, but you will never do your best work if your heart and mind and physical energy are not in alignment.


This can be risky.   It can often feel that if we speak our truth, if we reveal ourselves, the world will not reward us.  In fact, it is easy to believe that the world will specifically reject us unless we do what everyone else does.


The problem with that is that “what everyone else does” is a “red” ocean.  A big audience, yes. But an ocean filled with fish that is also full of sharks.


You have to find a “blue ocean”, a sub-set of that larger group, where there aren’t so many sharks feeding on the same tuna.  And the way to do that is to find your voice, your special gift, your unique contribution to the world.


Then with craft, you learn to convey that essence within your heart so that people can feel it.


Ever watch the “Rocky” movies?   You have there a perfect example.  And in Afrofuturism Month, I think it important to acknowledge Sylvester Stallone.  Because of Stallone, Ryan Coogler was able to make “Creed”, which brought him to Disney’s attention, and led to Black Panther.  Sly?  I love you, man.

Let’s look at Stallone’s journey to help us understand how passion works.

Stallone was a struggling actor who decided to create his own project. He took his desire (to express himself, to succeed in his art) and created a visual metaphor of a boxer who longed to find love (express himself emotionally) and prove he’s not “just another bum from the block.”

Quote:   “I took my story and injected it into the body of Rocky Balboa because no one, I felt, would be interested in listening to or watching or reading a story about a down-and-out, struggling actor/writer. It just didn’t conjure up waves of empathy, even from me and I was sure it wouldn’t do it from an audience either.


He was inspired to write it watching Chuck Wepner, an unknown pug, fight the world’s greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali.  Went home and wrote that script in something like three days.


What did he see?  Someone desperate to prove himself, to say “I’m here!” to the world.   Took that, joined it to his own hunger for success, created a story.


Over the next year he submitted the script to dozens of producers, and was turned down by all of them.


What kept him going?   A dream. A vision of what his life could be. Desperation.  And desperation. By the time he sold it, he had about 100 bucks in the bank, and had sold his car and his DOG  to keep going.


He was offered over eight hundred thousand dollars for the script, by producers who wanted it for stars like Robert Redford. Stallone refused. He saw himself in that role, knew it would make him.  The producers finally agreed if he would keep writing for free (it went through eight more drafts) and the studio agreed if the entire thing could be made for a million dollars.  Overages came out of the producers’ pockets.


Winkler and Chartoff mortgaged their houses to raise the extra hundred thousand dollars needed to complete the movie.  Why would they do that?


Because an unknown actor had infected them with his passion.


And the rest is history.  Belief.  Emotional power. A clear goal.


What is YOUR passion?  Is it personal? Cultural?   Philosophical?  Political? What change do you want to make in your life?  In the world?


THAT will be your creative impulse. Add to that the craft to communicate it, and you have something special, something precious.  But you will need a clear vision (the outcome) and enough emotion behind it to drive you through the dark nights, and a commitment to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to succeed with honor.


I have personal, familial, social, philosophical, and spiritual reasons to do what I do.   That cascade of emotions means I never have any lack of motivations to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to succeed.


Never.  I can literally stop at any moment in anything I’m doing, and know a dozen different reasons I’m doing it.   When you have that kind of inner fire, nothing can stop you except death.


That’s what I want for those of you who believe in a just world. Who believe in the unity of mankind.


The snakes and monsters have their hunger for raw meat and chaos.  They wake up in the morning looking for things to bite.


The heroes have to know what they are fighting for, and who, and why.  Only then does it matter what tools and strategies they will use.



Be a hero in the adventure of your lifetime.





(and by the way…after Stallone was paid, he bought his dog back.  That was “Bupkis” who appears with him in the movie!)



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