Take a Hint from Degas:  Creative Efficiency

Art does not expand, it repeats itself.

-Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Stop Reinventing the Wheel!

A confession:  I struggle to not reinvent the wheel.

When it comes to my workshops and speeches, I’m often starting over from scratch in some way. There are probably a few layers to this.

All the way from poor organization to the need to be original and current.


Trusting that what I’ve done before is valuable, worthwhile, good enough maybe even brilliant.


degasEdgar_Germain_Hilaire_Degas_004My advice: Take a hint from Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas was what I see as “creatively efficient.” That’s what I want to be too.

(Spoiler Alert: This might change your perspective of art)

Years ago, at a Degas Exhibit, I noticed there were similar images in his pictures.  Then I read that he would trace  images to copy his own art and use it again and again.

Wow, who knew? I sure didn’t. He’d actually use the tracings to add to different pictures, and (this is the part I loved) reverse the image.  He’d turn over a drawing and rub it onto a fresh page,  juxtaposing the images for greater impact.

Certainly history has proven that the way he went at his Art didn’t detract from his success.

My first thought:

Does this really count as art? I bet lots of people could do great work if they just traced or reused what they did well. It seemed like cheating.

Second thought:

Brilliant! Duh… doing over and over again what you do really well = Mastery

This is Mastery.

Mastery is one of the desires of my heart.

And the desire reminds me of a time I attended an Art Show with my daughter. I was talking about something I’d just painted. She said “Cool, Mom, but all you paint is hearts.” I said “Yes, I know,” feeling a little discouraged. Then we came to the next set of paintings on the wall of the Gallery, and guess what?

They were all of the same subject, only presented in slightly different ways.

That began a deeper discussion. I reminded my daughter that many of the great painters painted the same thing over and over again. Degas has an extensive collection of ballet dancers.  Monet is famous for his paintings of water lilies and haystacks. Van Gogh is known for his paintings of sunflowers.

It may appear to be the same thing over and over again but each image is different.

Different light.

Different movement.

Different experience.

Different interpretation.

A different moment in time.

Yes, in a way the same. But still different.

Moral of the story:  Don’t beat yourself for not being original!

How can you be creatively efficient and move toward Mastery?

3 takeaways:

1. What have you done that you can use again?

2. What can you use in a different way? Flip it over, turn it around and get a fresh view.

3. How can you add or combine your previous work in a way that creates something new?

My own struggle for creative efficiency has certainly lessened.

What about you? Is there a way you can repurpose or build on your previous work and success?”

I’d love to hear what you discover.


Digging deeper and discovering how to mine the gold of who you are and what you’re already doing really well Is what I love to do with clients. Contact me with an inquiry if you’d like to dig and discover together.


Sometimes we see, hear or do something that changes our lives forever.  

Monet’s ”Water lilies” was one of those pivotal life experiences for me.  I was 12 when I first saw them at the Art Institute in Chicago.  They transported me into a world of color and depth that fed my soul and felt like home.

monet water-lilies-1919-2

That visit sparked a life-long interest in Monet and his work. He was a man who took a challenge put before him, discovering a gift and a joy that would be part of his life forever.  Later, he founded the French Impressionism movement.  His life’s work and this particular style of expression inspired and influenced artists of his time and those that followed.

Currently, I’m reading Claude Monet’s biography.

I find it fascinating that he — who I associate with big beautiful ‘get lost’ in color artwork — actually started out with charcoal caricatures.

Story has it In 1856 Eugene Boudin invited him to come paint with him outside at 5 a.m.  Startled by this request, Claude laughs and responds,

“Why that early hour is unreasonable!!”

(my sentiments also).  Boudin responds, “Of course it is unreasonable!” He then tells Monet he’ll bring everything he needs — all the supplies, the easel, everything — all he needs to do is show up.

Eventually, he puts it as an outright challenge.  Boudin became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints as well as “en plein air” (outdoor) techniques for painting.

Thankfully for me, and much of the world, Claude Monet accepted that challenge. Once he got started, he never turned back and his new discovery and passion made him famous.  Wow! Thank goodness. I couldn’t imagine a world without Monet.

But what struck me about this story was Monet’s categorization of Boudin’s request as “Unreasonable.”

The definition of Unreasonable is “exceeding the bounds of reason or moderation, not guided by or based on good sense.”

Whether or not Claude actually said this, it started me thinking. What if he’d not taken the challenge? What if he’d let something stop him from getting up at O’too-early that morning?

How many wonderful things do we have because of those who have done unreasonable things?

Inventor’s sleepless nights, scientists exploring theories that others think are crazy.  Writers and artists battling their inner demons of an unnamed resistance – and  pursuing their creative inspiration and producing a completed work.  Entrepreneurs taking risks and being willing to fail, fail or succeed in front of everyone. Someone might think those things were unreasonable.

3 Take-aways from Monet:

1.  Take A Challenge.  There’s something in us that rises to a challenge.  It calls upon our superpowers, taps into a part of us that’s sleeping, and literally (and figuratively) wakes us up.  What can you present to yourself as a challenge to help you move forward toward your passion?  Maybe it’s simply the challenge of discovering  your passion?  If you’re stuck for ideas, start with a small challenge, like waking up 10 minutes earlier. Or if you’re ready for a big challenge, take a trip around the world.

2.  Be Equipped.   Boudin was equipped, thus so was Monet.  You need to have the ‘equipment’ and tools to succeed.  What do you need to equip yourself with for success in accomplishing your challenge? What resources do you need? Money? Time? People? Technology? Make a list!

3.  Try  “unreasonable” things.  This one is a biggie.

What can you do that might be a little unreasonable but could also be constructive in expressing your gifts?

Share your thoughts in a comment below – I’d love to cheer you on.

Just like Monet, if you answer the challenge, You might be surprised at the outcome — and history might be glad you did, too!