Frank Lloyd Wright Creates a List of the 10 Traits Every Aspiring Artist Needs

No fig­ure looms larg­er over Amer­i­can archi­tec­ture than Frank Lloyd Wright. From the ear­ly 1890s to the ear­ly 1920s he estab­lished him­self as the builder of dozens of strik­ing, styl­is­ti­cal­ly inno­v­a­tive pri­vate homes as well as pub­lic works like Chicago’s Mid­way Gar­dens and Toky­o’s Impe­r­i­al Hotel. But by the end of that peri­od his per­son­al life had already turned chaot­ic and even trag­ic, and in his pro­fes­sion­al life he saw his com­mis­sions dry up. Just when it looked like he might not leave much of a lega­cy at all, an idea came to him: why not start a school?

“Wright found­ed what he called the Tal­iesin Fel­low­ship in 1932, when his own finan­cial prospects were dis­mal, as they had been through­out much of the 1920s,” writes archi­tec­ture crit­ic Michael Kim­mel­man in the New York Review of Books. “Hav­ing seen the great Chica­go archi­tect Louis Sul­li­van, his for­mer boss, die in pover­ty not many years ear­li­er, Wright was fore­stalling his own prospec­tive obliv­ion.” Charg­ing a tuition of $675 (“raised to $1,100 in 1933, more than at Yale or Har­vard”), Wright designed a pro­gram “to indoc­tri­nate aspir­ing archi­tects in his gospel of organ­ic archi­tec­ture, for which they would do hours of dai­ly chores, plant crops, wash Wright’s laun­dry, and enter­tain him and his guests as well as one anoth­er in the evenings with musi­cals and ama­teur the­atri­cals.”

There at Tal­iesin, his epony­mous home-stu­dio, locat­ed in the appro­pri­ate­ly rur­al set­ting of Spring Green, Wis­con­sin, Wright sought to forge not just com­plete archi­tects, and not just com­plete artists, but com­plete human beings. He pro­posed, in Kim­mel­man’s words, “the cre­ation of a small, inde­pen­dent soci­ety made bet­ter through his archi­tec­ture.” He also drew up a list, lat­er includ­ed in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, of the qual­i­ties the builders of that soci­ety should pos­sess:

I. An hon­est ego in a healthy body – good cor­re­la­tion
II. Love of truth and nature
III. Sin­cer­i­ty and courage
IV. Abil­i­ty for action
V. The esthet­ic sense
VI. Appre­ci­a­tion of work as idea and idea as work
VII. Fer­til­i­ty of imag­i­na­tion
VIII. Capac­i­ty for faith and rebel­lion
IX. Dis­re­gard for com­mon­place (inor­gan­ic) ele­gance
X. Instinc­tive coop­er­a­tion

This list reflects the kind of qual­i­ties Wright seemed to spend his life cul­ti­vat­ing in him­self, not to men­tion dis­play­ing to the pub­lic. Not that he showed much regard for the truth when it con­flict­ed with his own myth­mak­ing, nor an instinct for coop­er­a­tion with those he con­sid­ered less than his equals — and archi­tec­tural­ly speak­ing, he did­n’t con­sid­er any­one his equal. As well as Wright’s ego may have served him, not every artist needs one quite so colos­sal, but per­haps, per his list, they do need an hon­est one. “Ear­ly in life I had to choose between hon­est arro­gance and hyp­o­crit­i­cal humil­i­ty,” he once said. “I chose the for­mer and have seen no rea­son to change.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take 360° Vir­tu­al Tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archi­tec­tur­al Mas­ter­pieces, Tal­iesin & Tal­iesin West

Frank Lloyd Wright Reflects on Cre­ativ­i­ty, Nature and Reli­gion in Rare 1957 Audio

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Lists the Three Essen­tial Qual­i­ties For All Seri­ous Nov­el­ists (And Run­ners)

Pat­ti Smith, Umber­to Eco & Richard Ford Give Advice to Young Artists in a Rol­lick­ing Short Ani­ma­tion

John Cleese’s Advice to Young Artists: “Steal Any­thing You Think Is Real­ly Good”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Arthur Benjamins says:

    One can NEVER be fin­ished speak­ing about FLW and his work. Liv­ing in Phoenix, I’ve had the chance to see his work first hand.
    His state­ment as print­ed here cer­tain­ly reflect­ed his char­ac­ter — as he, indeed, felt he was a genius, and accord­ing to Edgar Tafel’s “From Appren­tice to Genius” — FLW cer­tain­ly was heard to mut­ter from time to time — that he was indeed a genius.
    One of my favorite ripostes of his is when he was asked what he thought when he saw an ugly build­ing, was that “It makes my teeth hurt!”
    The world is poor­er with­out char­ac­ters like him.

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