23 February, 2007

The Caged Tiger :: A Lecture on Creative Ferocity

Intro: When I first started teaching Art & Design, I came across many talented students, but I noticed something was missing. For many of them, a spark was needed or a little gasoline was needed to be added to the fire. Assignments seemed to be executed halfway. An "It's good enough", type of attitude. People were just going through the motions. Whatever it was, it was a concern and its my duty as an instructor to address this. Below is the lecture I developed to get people to try harder, but first, a quick recap of my background so you know where I'm coming from.

Many of the students within the college of Art and Design at SJSU come from the surrounding neighborhoods. We're in the middle. We don't have lots of money, but what we do have is desire, determination and we were hard workers. When we put our pieces up for critique, I had the mindset that it was my duty to blow everybody out of the water...period. I had to beat you, and mine had to be the best. Every week, I'm going to get better and you may win at times, but you are going to get the best work from me every time.

I had to do this because I had no choice. I didn't want to go backwards and I had to prove to the doubters (sometimes these were people I loved) and to prove to them that they were wrong...you know what I'm talking about. There's always someone to bring you down. Some doubter, I heard comments like, "Why do you want to be an artist for, they don't make any money. You should be an engineer, lawyer or doctor."

First of all...
"Don't tell me I can't do something, if I know what I have chosen to do has always been a part of who I am." I would never say this to their face, but its what I was thinking. Yes, it hurt, but if these people didn't say those words, I probably wouldn't be where I'm at in life. Comments like that are placed in your path to motivate you because you remember them. The funny thing, is that those doubters will never know that they affected me in that way.

The lecture below was created to motivate students in the hopes that they too could think about the attitude necessary for success in school and in the real world. So far...I think it works. For many, its an eye opener. The world is tough and there are many talented and experienced individuals...my hope for you is that it makes you bold and that it gives you courage.


The "Caged Tiger"
A Lecture on Creative Ferocity
Copyright ©2007 Randolf Dimalanta

Imagine, you are in art school and you've just labored over a design that took many days and weeks to complete. You've worked hard and you keep copies of master works on your wall to serve as inspiration and reference. You hold your piece up to the master artist's work on your wall, there is no comparison and you realize that ... you're NOT that good and you've got a looooong way to go.

On top of that, when you take your piece in for critique, your instructor tells you everything that is wrong with it..."change this, change that, this is off, what are you doing in this area over here, these colors are off?"

It keeps going and going... and on top of that....you compare your work to others in the class and everyone's piece is better than yours.

You then feel frustrated and angry, because nothing that you do is ever good enough. You know in your heart where you need to be, but you can't get there. You are anxious, impatient and uneasy. Life is too slow...


Now...take all that aggression, all that anger, frustration, impatience...and relax. Very quietly, contain those feelings in a slow deep breath.

This strong emotion that you feel is the heart of the "Caged Tiger".

Imagine a large angry tiger locked up in a small cage, relentlessly pacing back and forth, silently watching. The tiger at this point, is pure energy that is restrained, and it waits and waits. You can tell by looking at it in the eye, that the tiger is dangerous and if given the opportunity, when that cage door is opened, that many people around the cage will know about it, almost like a ticking time bomb.

In art school, the times that an instructor gives you an assignment, are the times when that cage door is opened!

With every assignment that is given to you, you are fierce, you don't give up, you make this your best work and you out do yourself. You take that assignment and you run as hard as fast as you can towards the touchdown. Blow everybody out of the water when it comes time for critique and let them deal with the fact that you have just provided some good old fashioned reckoning.

This was the attitude I had going in going to school and I remember that in many of my classes, there were many caged tigers. I keep in touch with them still. Having a class full of these types was intimidating, but it actually motivated you to do better in class. It was awesome and to this day, those classes stand as one my best life experiences.

Now that you know what a Caged Tiger is, you will be able to identify them in your class. The interesting thing is that they appear humble and quiet at times, but don't let the quiet demeanor fool you. They are watchful, ready at all times and cannot wait for that cage to be opened. They let their work speak for itself and they usually help others in class who are struggling too.

After this lecture, I tell students that when they graduate, they might have to compete against someone like me for a job. "What are you gonna do", I ask. "When you go up against a guy like me, who is more experienced and maybe even more talented than you?" A serious question, but its a fact that designers right out of college have to deal with.

I'm experienced, I got talent, I know it, I know how to use it, and I got an armed samurai and a caged tiger behind me who are willing to do whatever it takes to beat you (The samurai lecture is another story and will be posted shortly). They will help me stay up many nights in a row and they will help me prepare for the task at hand. Next thing you know, without you knowing, I would have snagged your job from under your feet. What are you going to do then?

But I'm not going to do that to you...you're lucky I'm on your team. "I got your back" as they say in my neighborhood, and as long as I'm here, I will be one of your biggest supporters.

One day you will compete with someone of exceptional caliber. Its a scary thought but, there are people like that everywhere. They have more skill and experience than you coming out of school and they're hungry. You're going to need an edge. This story I shared with you is your edge and I hope it levels the playing field when you compete.

I hope great things come your way and that you continue to do the great work. You have absolutely nothing to lose except maybe sleep, but even that's overrated. That's what weekends are for. As I write this, the soundtrack to "Conan the Barbarian" is playing (thanks Cindy) and I'm looking at the clock and its 4:40 am. I'm not worried about sleep because I know that many have requested this and that it be posted online. So here you are.

- Randolf


  1. hi Randolph

    just wanted to say that after reading your lecture i sure feel lucky to have you in my team! thanks for the inspiring thoughts and faboulus lectures!

  2. holy crap... thats the shit. live is of that. what that is