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Advice for artists & writers from Olympics sculptor, Rosa Serra

Last week, over on my other blog, CollazoProjects, I wrote about the experience of meeting the artist Rosa Serra in her home and studio in Catalunya.

Rosa Serra at her home in Catalunya. Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo.

Rosa Serra at her home in Catalunya. Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo.

I left out one of the most significant aspects of my time with Serra, though, as I was saving it for this blog.

If you read the other post, you’ll learn that Serra neither expected nor aspired to become the sculptor of the Olympics. She happened to know the then-President of the International Olympic Committee, and it was this connection that resulted in Serra’s being offered a commission that some artists had probably spent their careers hoping to land. When she was asked if she’d be interested in taking on the role (which would be created especially for her), she admitted that she knew very little about sports. Yet, she didn’t hesitate to respond to the invitation in the affirmative.

I was just on the cusp of turning 34 when I sat at Serra’s knee, listening to her tell me part of her life story. I had been struggling with some professional dilemmas that Serra had seemingly confronted, so I took the opportunity to ask her advice. First, was pretty much every opportunity in an artist’s or writer’s career ultimately the outcome of luck (as in: Right place, right time, right connections)? When I had luck–and I’d had plenty of it–I was just fine with this possibility. When I didn’t–and I’d had my fair share of bad runs and plateaus, too–I felt that the influence of luck had far too much control.

Serra dismissed the notion of luck completely. “It wasn’t luck,” she said, referring to the IOC’s offer that she become the sculptor of the Olympics. The commission was not a mere coincidence, but the result of several long processes: first, of course, gaining the very skills and honing the talents of being a sculptor, and then, positioning herself for opportunities and greatness. Continually being open to new relationships and possibilities, she said, was what resulted in the commission, not luck, which suggests complete passivity.

I’d also been troubled, on more than one occasion, by dilemmas related to commissions. In my ideal professional life, I’d never have to even consider taking on a commission for a project that didn’t–at least at first glance–seem to interest me. Serra, in her lovely, non-judgmental way, helped reframe this problem, too. Taking the Olympics commission, she said, was one of the best professional decisions she had ever made. It was precisely because she wasn’t interested in sports and didn’t know much about them that she was able to throw herself into learning about them and, in the process, develop aspects of her craft that had previously been both unknown and inaccessible to her. Taking commissions, she explained, compel us to grow, and unless there’s a moral or ethical reason that would caution us against doing so, they can be significant professional and personal experiences.

Decades later, if you look at Serra’s work (which is on display at IOC headquarters and is catalogued in the book Suite Olympique), you’ll see that her decisions paid off, not just for her, but for anyone who has the opportunity to view her masterful sculptures.

What professional dilemmas are you struggling with? Who has offered you advice that’s worth sharing? Tell us in the comments.

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