What’s Your “Voice of Fire”?

I’m lucky to live in Ottawa, Ontario, home of Canada’s National Art Gallery.

In 1989 the newly opened Art Gallery purchased a work by abstract painter Barnett Newman titled, “Voice of Fire”.

Originally created as a commission for Expo 67, a celebration of Canada’s centennial, the painting is 18 feet long and consists of three equal-sized vertical stripes. The two outer stripes are blue, and the stripe down the middle is red.

In the spring of 1990, it was announced the painting had been purchased by the gallery for a price of $1.8 million. I was 10 years old at the time of this announcement and to this day I still remember the resulting shit storm.

The media proclaimed outrage that millions of dollars in Canadian taxpayer money had been used to purchase a painting. Worse yet, it was a painting anyone could have created. It was just three lines on a canvas! The public debate raged in newspapers and on local news shows, and the discourse soon turned to whether “Voice of Fire” could even be considered art.

(Now would be a good time to remember Demetri Martin’s adage: “When someone describes themselves as a taxpayer, they’re about to be an asshole.”)

All around me — on the radio, amongst my teachers at school, and in huddles of parents along the sidelines at soccer practice — I heard the same thing repeated time and time again:

“I could have painted that.”

The logical response to this statement was just as obvious to my ten-year-old self as it is to my current 36-year-old self:

“But you didn’t.”

Intent is worthless.

Ideas are dime a dozen.

The only thing that matters is execution.

It doesn’t matter that the concept you have for a book is great. It doesn’t matter that it would make wonderful series. It doesn’t matter that you have all sorts of spin-off concepts ready to roll out. Most people with even a modicum of creativity have just as many good ideas as you do.

You need to execute on your ideas. You need to take those wonderful ideas and make them reality.

Anyone could have conceived of and painted “Voice of Fire”, but only Barnett Newman did.

What’s your “Voice of Fire”?

Stop thinking about it and go CREATE it.

Execution is everything.

grey backKevin T. Johns is an author, writing coach, and ghostwriter. He has helped hundreds of writers from around the world get ideas out of their heads, onto the page, and into readers' hands. Get your free copy of his short guide for authors below.


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  • Josée

    Reply Reply September 20, 2016

    I remember it too… and I really like the lesson you drew from it.

    Well said. “Execution is everything.”

    • kevintjohns@gmail.com

      Reply Reply September 20, 2016

      Thanks Josee! Glad you enjoyed the article. Are you from Ottawa?

  • Josée

    Reply Reply September 20, 2016

    No. I am from North-Western Quebec. I was a teen when the “Voice of Fire” purchase hit the headlines.

    This painting is proof that art doesn’t need to be complex… it isn’t a matter of mastery, it is the act of expression.

    • kevintjohns@gmail.com

      Reply Reply September 26, 2016

      Yup, exactly!

  • Rogmary Pérez Pardo

    Reply Reply September 20, 2016

    I totally loved this article. It was like when your friends tell you something you don’t like to hear, but with the intention of helping you -and not humilliate you, like many others do-.

    By best wishes for you.

    • kevintjohns@gmail.com

      Reply Reply September 26, 2016

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article, Rogmary!! Try to my best to provide as much helpful advice as I can in my blog posts.

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