How Daniel McClendon went from realist to visionary

This past summer I wandered into Daniel McClendon’s studio gallery curious . . . and emerged electrified. 

It wasn’t just the space. A 105-year old industrial building that he retrofitted as a gallery space on the periphery of Asheville, North Carolina.

It was the work itself. His work is a blast in your face explosion. You feel the life in it even as you’re trying to figure it out.

His story is as good as it gets about reinvention. 

Daniel was a realist for years . . . it came to a halt the way many things do, anemically. He’d lost the love for the work. He could feel he needed to do something different but didn’t know what. Whatever force had been in his art earlier had drained from it.

This impasse led him to quitting painting altogether. The juice wasn’t there anymore. He could no longer continue in the same trajectory.

Three months later, in bed one night, a new vision clutched at him all at once. Just like it did for Einstein, when Einstein gave up.

Here’s how Dan puts it:

“The idea was to just paint the thing itself. Paint only the parts I loved and forget the rest.”

The new work flew out of him. It was so raw and startlingly different from his staid work from before that he kept it hidden from others. But those who stumbled across it were as swept up with its power as I was when I came across it early this summer.

Pieces sold, word got out, the once-realist was now a power expressionist. Now he can’t keep up. He had to winnow down his galleries because sales were clipping along so robustly.

What is it about quitting a thing you love? Why do so many epiphanies come once you’ve stepped away from your obsession? 

It happened to Freeman Dyson when he became pivotal in unifying quantum mechanics and electrodynamics.. It can happen with you. 

This below-the-mind ability we have to tease out a vision worth living seems to require three elements: 

1. An addictive elusive struggle to attain something crucial to you

2. Giving up the struggle

3. Taking time away 
(while your mind sifts sifts sifts in background mode)

. . . . .

On quitting his life work . . . and the gestation period leading up to his insight:

“I don’t think it goes away. It’s in the back of your head. But you’re relaxed about it. All the pressure’s off.”

~ Daniel McClendon

For you 

Evan Griffith

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