Creative Living 2: Stephen Cohn

January 10th, 2009

This week’s visitor is someone I especially admire, in part because he made the brave choice to dedicate himself wholly to an art form that creates very few millionaires and has never produced a subject whose face adorned the cover of People magazine. Stephen Cohn is an internationally recognized contemporary classical composer, one of a very small number who regularly receive commissions for original work from respected performance groups. His concert works have been performed and recorded by some of the world’s finest classical ensembles, including the Arditti Quartet, the Kansas City Symphony, the Prague Philharmonic, and the Chroma String Quartet. He was named Composer-in-Residence at The International Encounters of Catalonia in France and has been commissioned to compose works for performance in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Brussels, Ceret, France; and Prague. As a film composer, Cohn won an Emmy Award for the score of Dying With Dignity. His classical and commercial recordings have been released by Warner Bros., Motown, A&M Records, Columbia Records, Albany Records and At Peace Media. In 2008, three of his works received world premieres in Los Angeles and Berlin, and 2009 premieres and performances are scheduled in Tucson and Rome. He can be reached at

My first idea about devoting myself to creative work was to relate everything in my life to my music. So whatever I did, whether it was looking at a painting, listening to music, having an argument with my girlfriend, watching the news, chiding a TV commercial or studying metaphysics, part of me was thinking about how it could be transformed into music or bring me closer to the source of musical ideas. It became a way of life.

I explored eastern and western spirituality, ritual magic, mind-expanding chemicals, quantum physics, visual arts, pop culture, and philosophies of art and aesthetics in an attempt to track down the source of creativity. At first there was a fascination with many, apparently different, techniques for being creative. However, upon closer examination, they all seemed to point to a few of basic principles: Creativity is a natural part of being human. Plenty of it is always available if one can only get out the way of it, develop a sense of how and when to be objective about it and know when a piece of work is finished. For teaching purposes, I named, or borrowed names, for the techniques which I find most useful. When I start a new project, I remind myself of these three things to open the flow, to keep it growing, to make critical judgments about my work, and to know when something is complete.


When I sit down to work, I first bring myself to a point of concentration. I tell myself that I am opening up all the resources from the deepest part of myself for the work session that is about to begin (where the ideas actually come from, who I’m addressing, is another conversation). Also, I commit to giving my complete focus to the session and I give thanks for the time to luxuriate in my work.

Uncritical Outpouring

This is based on the idea that the most profound and original stuff is inside and if I can just get myself out of the way it will come out. In starting to write or in continuing something, I find that there are two main inner currents: the creator and the critic. Both of these are essential to the process but the trick, for me, is to separate them – to avoid allowing both to speak at the same time. The critic will shut down the creator by commenting on the flow as it occurs, so my discipline is to put a muzzle on the critic until the creator is finished with what it has to offer. When the critic starts to interrupt, I have to tell it not to interfere and that it will have its say later. It helps me to remember that it is the flow that I am after when I begin, and not the finished product. This takes practice but as the process is trusted, the flow becomes easier to access and reveals more depth than could be imagined. The value of what’s coming out isn’t necessarily recognized as it comes out but rather later, upon achieving some distance from the work.

This is a simple idea but a difficult discipline to use because in our culture, we are conditioned to be critical of our thoughts and we’re not encouraged to sit quietly and allow an unbridled flow of ideas. The more I have worked with this process, the easier it has become.

Uncritical outpouring requires courage. Opening up the deepest levels can make one feel very naked. However, if I tell myself that this is a totally private session, whatever comes out is just an experiment (I’m not committing to it) and nobody will see any of the work until I’m ready to show it, this helps me to focus fearlessly on letting the creator do its thing. Also, keeping in mind that this is the beginning of the process, not the end, helps to keep the critic quiet and the vulnerability tolerable.

After the creator is finished or comes to a natural stopping place, I put the work down and get away from it. I leave it alone until I know that when I come back to it, I will have enough objectivity to look at it as if I were seeing some one else’s work for the first time. This could be a few hours or a day or more. When I pick up the work, it is time to let the critic roll. The critic will tell me what is worth taking to the next stage and will give me flashes of what needs to be done next. If I don’t find anything of value, I will go back and do another uncritical outpouring. If I do find something I like, I apply the uncritical principle to the next stage of the work – either way I’ve done my job as a composer. At the end of the day, I’ll have what I wrote or my reasons why I didn’t write – same at the end of my life.


This is an idea that came from a book on ritual magic. It goes like this: you take a letter of the alphabet and in your mind; you invest it with a strong emotion. Then you repeat the process with additional letters until you have a word. You then continue until you have made a phrase of words, like abra cadabra. This phrase is invested with all the condensed energy of all the letters and the resulting words and when you say it out loud, the theory goes; it releases all that condensed energy creating a powerful, magical effect. This struck me as a great analogy for a finished piece of art. For instance, let’s take the writing and recording of a song. First there are many attempts and re-writes of each line of lyrics and melody, then many attempts and experiments with the structure of the melody and the song as a whole. Then there is thought and experimentation with the arrangement of the music, keeping the best ideas. Then in the production, there are many takes of the track with the best parts of the best takes spliced together. Then many takes of the vocal with the best parts assembled and many experiments with background vocals and then sometimes strings and brass, always capturing the best parts of the takes both in terms of the music and the performance. Finally, the recording is mixed by playing it for many hours with the help of automation to bring out the most perfect balances after much experimentation. When complete, a listener puts the CD on, presses the button and it sounds like people just playing and singing but in truth, all that condensed energy from all the levels of evolution of the music, having always chosen the best of the best is released in an instant – it’s powerful magic.

I find that viewing the creative process this way is very liberating. At any stage before completion, I can remind myself not to compare what I’ve done with a finished product, which can be a show stopper. It is also a good practical perspective on how the magic gets into the work. In my experience, it comes not just from re-writing but from being willing to stick with an idea until it is all it can be – the willingness to stay open to the possibility that yet another level of depth or beauty or texture can still be added. How much condensation can you do? How do you know when it’s done? For me, It’s done when I want to keep coming back to listen to what I’ve written because I just can’t wait to hear it again and I’m no longer getting any flashes suggesting changes or additions.

How does one make any judgments about something one is creating? I think that right and wrong have no place in the creative realm other than what intuition tells you. I find that with much focused attention, there is a subtle voice telling me what’s complete and what isn’t fully realized. I have to trust this voice because that’s all there is – this is the ultimate self sufficiency. That voice gets stronger when I trust it and weaker when I look outside myself for direction.

One other little game I play with myself: When I’m almost finished with something and there are one or two spots that aren’t quite satisfying: I take the spot I like least and make it into the spot I like the best.

^ ^ ^

Here’s a brief excerpt from the finale of Stephen’s Two Together: An American Folk Music Suite, a CD that won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award.


21 Responses to “Creative Living 2: Stephen Cohn”

  1. Merrilee Faber Says:

    Wow, Stephen. You have obviously thought a lot about the creative process. I love what you said about condensation, about putting your energy into the work which is then released in the final product. Lots to muse on. Thanks Stephen for your insights, and thanks Timothy for hosting such a fascinating series.

  2. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Stephen (and Tim). I’ve read this twice and have printed it out to ensure I never lose it. I’ve been feeling lost for several months now, and unable to get out of my own way. I’ve also been comparing what I’m about to write to finished products and choking on the comparison. Thanks for reminding me to keep the creator and the critic separate. I can’t even begin to process your thoughts on Condensation as I’m still chewing on Focus and Flow.

    Thank you.

  3. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Merrilee and Cynthia,
    You’re very welcome. I’m happy to hear that you find these thoughts useful. Thanks to Tim for such a cool and unique series.

  4. Larissa Says:

    Art as meditation makes a lot of sense. There is a definite critic in me who likes to talk all the time and never really gets told to just shut up and to get out of the way. It really is about courage and trusting the process and yourself. It’s also the very basic idea that not everything we do will be or has to be “good”-it can just be.

    Beautiful philosophy on creativity and the process involved. I actually took a break from working on stuff to read this and now i’m armed with even more wonderful advice on how to craft my creative experience.

    Thank you.

  5. Lisa Kenney Says:

    This is just fantastic. I was especially intrigued by your thoughts on condensation. I really appreciate being able to hear from the perspective of a composer as a contrast to what writers say. Thank you so much.

  6. Thomas Says:


    Thank you for a great post and great insights into the creative process of a “music writer”. While I was reading your post, two things popped into my head.

    First, I wonder if there is such a thing as a universal creative process that stretches across all forms of art, be it music, literature, painting, etc. What you’re describing is the never dying struggle between the free flow of creativity and the built-in censorship we all have. The trick, which I think you really put your finger on, is to not necessarily block out the censorship but to allow it to stand aside until the free flow has done its part. People tend to be too critical of their own work, even before the smallest part of it has been placed on paper. That is the easy path to take. The censorship (the professor, big brother, mom and dad) has an important role to play, as I think that is the way our work finally takes the form that is a reflection of who we are as individuals. That is, you can “free flow” a piece of music, Tim can “free flow” a piece of music, but it’s when you use your objectivity and your unique character that it truly becomes your own, your personal stamp. Your final result will sound different from Tim’s, not just because of different free flow, but because of what your different censors allow to be included. I wonder to what extent this process is true for other forms of artistic expression.

    Second, and on a related note, how much of a role do you think commercial expectations play in your process? Unless independently wealthy, we all have to make a living. Do you ever think, “This is not gonna sell so I better scrap it”? If not on a conscious level, do you think it happens on a subconscious level? (Freud would have loved this stuff!) In other words, if you wrote music entirely for your own personal benefit, with no regard to what anyone in the world might think about it, would it sound the same?

    Again, thanks for a great post. I enjoyed it, as I enjoy the music I have just discovered on your website.


  7. usman Says:

    Thank you Stephen and Tim, for an illuminating piece of advise.
    I keep going back to the critic and the creator. Great concept. But, Stephen, how difficult or easy was it to turn off the critic. It has obviously got so many instances to rear its head–even when you are at the final stages.
    And that absolute moment of truth, when you are sure of the finished product, isn’t there an iota of doubt, that you might have done things better. If so, how do you deal with it?

  8. Sylvia Says:

    “If I don’t find anything of value, I will go back and do another uncritical outpouring.”

    This is really useful to me. I’ve noticed for the first time that I tend to beat myself up if the outpouring doesn’t generate results, as my first draft was a salesman going door to door. I need to remind myself that sometimes it’s just getting the junk out of the way so that I can find the good stuff.

    I need to think more about the condensation, focusing on the component parts. Thank you for taking the time to write this, your viewpoint is intriguing and enlightening.

  9. Stephen Cohn Says:

    On your first point, I agree that the principles we’re discussing are universal, not only in terms of different art forms but in any areas in life where we are creative. However, I think it is both the flow and the objectivity that diferentiates us as artists.

    Your point two, regarding the commerical value of a work, is really a different conversation. Regardless of the nature of the assingment, you still need to open up your inner resources and use your critical faculties in a way that is productive. Depending on what your intentions are, you can adjust your critic’s voice to help fulfill the requirements of the task – and I suggest being very clear with yourself from the begining about what you want to accomplish with a given piece work.

    We could do a whole blog on doubt. It is another form of the critic and needs to be disciplined. In a nutshell,if you have a recurring doubt that there is still more you can squeeze out of an idea, then do more condensation. However, if you feel the work is complete, then choose not to doubt it. In my experience, the less I entertain doubt, the stronger my process becomes.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    A am REALLY happy to see all this thoughtful reaction to Stephen’s post. His was one of the first I received, and it’s stood out as one of the best even as lots more have come in. And I can vouch personally for the fact that Stephen lives what he talks. He and I have talked about process and challenges for hours on end, and I always get up with something new to think about.

    The topic of doubt, raised by Usman, is all-pervasive. I spoke yesterday to about 60 members of Sisters in Crime here in LA, and more than half the people in attendance had abandoned a novel at one point or another, and the reasons always came down to an inability to deal with doubt. I would suggest here the best line I know, from the great Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami: Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. We’re always going to have doubts about our work; we’re always going to have long periods where we don’t feel we’re working to the best of our ability. Okay, that’s pain. But when we internalize it as suffering, instead of dealing with it as a problem that needs solving — that’s when we (I) hit the wall.

    And to Thomas’s point, I think you have to write the thing you most want to write and the hell with whether it’s commercial. I think it’s impossible to write a good novel about something you don’t care about passionately. Even the most popular novelists, those who are held in low critical esteem, are (I think) writing to the best of their ability. The novel is too long and ultimately self-revealing a form for anyone to fake it.

  11. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Stephen

    Thanks for sharing your insights about your creative process. I am intrigued by the steps you take to prepare for your work. The idea of flow has always fascinated me. I’ve read about the state of flow in Hindu religious texts and also in the work of a psychologist named Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi. He believes that when you’re in a state of flow the critic is much quieter when you’re in an elevated state of creativity. There’s simply not enough room for the creator and the critic. The thing is that if you’re not that excited about what you’re doing the critic always noses around and tries to shove the creator aside so you need to be challenged by what you’re trying to accomplish, and have the necessary skills to navigate what you’re working on, but not overly challenged because you begin to doubt yourself and the critic comes back with a vengeance. It’s a fine balancing act to go between allowing yourself to explore something new and being armed with enough knowledge/skills to back up what it is you’re trying to work on so that creative flow can flourish. Thanks again for a fine post.

  12. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    You know what REALLY makes me angry about all this? All this talk about creativity and flow and The Critic?

    What really makes me angry is that I already KNOW all this (the basics – anyway)! And I’m sure all Tim’s readers already know it because Tim wrote about it in his Writer’s Resources section over there on the left hand side of his blog. I’ve read this before, worded differently. I learned this before, but somehow I seem to keep forgetting it.

    That’s what makes me angry. I don’t forget how to drive, or how to make lasagne, or how to brush my teeth, or how to read. Why do I forget how to do the thing I love the most? Over and over again?

    I guess I should remind myself that anger is just energy and I should just learn to gently redirect it.

    Thanks again, Tim and Stephen…

  13. usman Says:

    I think Suzanna makes a fine point about the critic getting into high gear, if we’re not excited by the project.
    Suffering is optional–I have to read Murakami soon. I fear, I’ll be asking a lot of people about how they deal with doubt, since in my journey I’ve found this to be a strange elixir, which sometimes propels us forward and at others stifles us. Where lies that fine line between doubt? How do we as individuals deal with it and resolve the doubt?

  14. Thomas Says:


    I just wanted to comment on your response to my question to Stephen about creativity and commercialism. I may not have expressed myself very well the first time around so let me have another go at it.

    What I had in mind was that when you write a novel, you decide beforehand that the story is to take place in Thailand, involve some sort of crime, and stretch for roughly 400 pages. Stephen sits down to write a piece of music, perhaps a film score, perhaps a piece of a certain nature for a specific orchestra, all music in the so called “classical” form. (I’m making wild assumptions here, folks, and correct me if I’m wrong.) If you please bear with me, those are the parameters in their crudest form.

    My point is that by selecting a certain type of literature or music from the outset, you place yourself in a box, with walls, or limits, as to what you can do in order for your finished product to have a place on the market. If there was no audience for Stephen’s music, no matter how creative and innovative, no one would pay to hear it. If Tim’s books didn’t sell, his publisher would look elsewhere. We always have an audience to satisfy, whether that audience is ourselves or a paying group of people. If you do this for a living, there better be a paying group of people.

    So, what I’m trying to get a better grasp on is to what extent these “commercial expectations” play a role in actually creating the work in the first place. I personally write fiction for my own pleasure and since I’m not yet proficient enough to sell anything to a paying audience, I can get away with all the gibberish I collect in my desk drawer and still be satisfied with it. However, if I ever were to become good enough to sell a manuscript and, perhaps, even be able to make a living at it, I can imagine that I would start to feel somewhat confined in my creativity by what may or may not sell. That doesn’t mean I have to fake anything, but it might restrict me from any 80-page stream of consciousness ramblings. James Joyce already did that.

    Am I completely off here?


  15. Stephen Cohn Says:

    You’re burdening yourself with some unnecessarily cynical and discouraging machinery. I have to echo what Tim said in his comment to you – in my experience with music, even the most simplistic, vulgar, commercial music that is successful, is done by people who really believe passionately in what they’re doing. They have found some part of themselves with which their audience identifies and finds charismatic. Contrary to what you say about restrictions, finding an audience creates a freedom to put more of yourself into your work – it is not a restriction. It sounds like your critic is running amuck and you’re encouraging it to interfere with your best efforts. The idea that there is some “commerciality” out there that you have to find is a false thought – there’s nothing out there and looking for it leads you away from your most valuable resources. I know this from personal experience – experience that was painful, wasteful and nearly caused a breakdown.

    Why not try an experiment. Write what you truly, passionately want to write with the greatest degree of perfectionism that you have ever mustered…and then see what happens and how you feel about it.

  16. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Stephan, I couldn’t agree more. Thomas, I think that it may be counter-productive to spend energy analyzing the creative process when you could be putting that same energy into actually creating something. I just got a fascinating “Creative Living” blog from a wonderful writer of legal thrillers named Paul Goldstein, who is also one of the world’s top experts on intellectual property law — and I mean that literally: he’s one of a handful of people who are at the very top of that issue. He says in his post, which I’ll put up in a few weeks, that one of the ways he exercises his creativity is by writing the most dramatic stories and trial sequences he can without EVER changing the law to make it more convenient to the plot or pulling the old Perry Mason confession-from-the-witness-box trick, or any other trick that wouldn’t plausibly occur in a trial. So he’s making the point that part of his creative joy comes from working punctiliously within a very narrow legal framework and finding a way to make that compelling and dramatic.

    I think that any structure that stimulates you creatively, that helps you generate the energy you need to keep rolling the snowball until it’s as big as a novel — well, that’s the structure you should try to work within. And if that doesn’t work for you, try another. But I would say as a general rule that what people like to read about is people, and the writers who create the most interesting and believable people are the writers who stand out, no matter what kinds of books they’re writing. All of us need to try our best to deal with the human heart, and pretty much everything else comes second.

  17. Thomas Says:


    With all do respect, I am not being burdened by anything other than my interest in your work and I don’t mean to keep beating that poor dead horse. I am merely trying to understand if the need for an income in any way influences (let’s move away from “restricts” to “influences”) your creativity when you write music. What I have to take away from your comments is that you never let commercial expectations affect your work and that it has no effect on your creative process. I have a hard time understanding that though, as no matter what you do for a living, you always have to satisfy someone (and please don’t call me cynical because that would be missing the mark). You can satisfy your own dreams, ideals, convictions, and what have you, but still wait tables to generate an income. Or, you can satisfy an audience, however big or small, by staying within the confines of what someone else is interested in listening to or reading about.

    My questions do not concern people who write music or books that, quite frankly, can have no other purpose in life but to dumb us down. We can both name a few of those. I have no doubt they feel strongly about their work even if I have no interest in it. But, why is art generating money such an ugly subject? To me, it says absolutely nothing about the quality of the work or the artist’s intentions. It does tell me, however, that a “classical” composer is less likely to orchestrate his piece using electric guitars and bongos, because no matter how creative that would be, it would not fit into a common understanding of how a certain genre of music is made.

    If you get commissioned to write a piece of music, or if a movie producer asks you to write a film score, or even a TV commercial, does that not influence what the final result will sound like, as opposed to what it would sound like if you wrote only what you like, with free flowing creativity, without regard to anyone ever hearing it? The same question applies to literature, or any other art form, as well.

    Please consider the above rhetorical if you feel you have already commented on it. Just for the record though, your original posting has made me discover your music and I enjoy it very much. I even found you on Amazon.


  18. Thomas Says:


    I’ll keep this short, as people are probably getting tired of me and my ramblings. But, I have to say that I think what we’re doing here IS an analysis of the creative process, both the original posts and the follow-up questions and comments. I think we do ourselves a disservice if we miss the opportunity to discuss the finer points of how ideas are generated and turned into something we can call art. Without that, we have learned nothing.

    Am I the only one questioning if there is such a thing as factors influencing/restricting/promoting your creativity or if we all operate in a bubble of creative bliss without regard to how the final product will be received? Money and commercial expectations is just one of many factors. Basic physiological needs is another one. Critical success? Self-doubt? Talent? Health? Motivation? Specifics in a contract with a publisher or movie producer? I would argue that all these factors to a greater or lesser degree will influence, restrict, or promote your work and, by extension, your creative process. Perhaps a better question for me to ask would be: Can you as an accomplished author or composer or painter identify those factors in and around your life that impact how you do your work and, ultimately, your satisfaction with the final result.

    Ok, I’m gonna be quiet now! 🙂


  19. Stephen Cohn Says:

    I do understand your what you’re asking. In my first response to this question, I said this is really a different conversation. Let me explain what mean by that and perhaps this will reconsile our POVs on this subject.

    Each assignment I get, whether it is one I’ve given myself or one that comes from the outside, has a different set of requirements. To do the assignment, I need to open up my inner resources and then use my critical faculties to refine and complete it. So regardless of what the assingment is, I still use my process. For example, if I’m working with a director who has some very definite ideas about music for his film, I might start my process by posing a question to myself: How can I satisfy the director’s needs for this scene and also create music that is up to my standards. Having posed the question, I will then do an uncritical outpouring and see what comes out in response. Then I give the critic a look and either develop, refine or reject the idea and/or do another outpouring. So the process is the same and one of it’s values is that when one opens up to let stuff pour out, one must let go of fear and inhibitions to make it work.

    So whatever your considerations about being accepted and being succesful, you perhaps, shouldn’t be thinking about them while you’re outpouring – this could be holding you back. Whatever it is that could make you a successful writer, if it exists, is inside of you, not outside. Ultimately, it just comes down to stepping off the clif and trusting that you will fly. Remember that the critic is an important part of the process and needs to be employed with the same passion as the creator but (and this really summs up our whole conversation) not at the same time!

  20. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Thomas —

    I think I actually do understand what you’re getting at, but I don’t necessarily agree with the assumptions that underlie your basic question.

    Creating something and selling something are two different things. An artist is an artist whether he/she ever sells anything. If an artist is most interested in working in a genre that happens to have some commercial potential, then the point is simply to make the best work possible, just as it would be if you were inventing your own form. All genres — whether they’re thrillers, classical music, or abstract haiku — have conventions. To a certain extent, when you decide to work in a genre, you accept the conventions.

    Or do you? Classical music today is not the same as classical music two hundred, or even fifty, years ago, and the same is true of painting, writing, film, whatever. Van Gogh never sold a picture, but he changed our idea of what a painting can look like. Bernstein, Gershwin, and Copland incorporated jazz, folk, and blues elements into classical music, and Stravinsky and Schoenberg departed from accepted tonalities. Faulkner wote a novel in part from the first-person perspective of an idiot who’s in love with a cow. Joyce threw conventional narrative out the window. Dashiell Hammett looked at the polite world of 1930s mysteries and, in the words of Raymond Chandler, “Gave murder back to the kind of people who create it.”

    Genres change and grow because artists challenge the conventions or extend the horizons normally associated with the forms in which they work. Some of these artists succeed commercially, and some don’t. The point I’m making is that the ultimate hope of an artist who’s working in a genre SHOULD be to push the envelope, if only because it’s more difficult and, therefore, more fun.

    So when you say, “You can satisfy your own dreams, ideals, convictions, and what have you, but still wait tables to generate an income. Or, you can satisfy an audience, however big or small, by staying within the confines of what someone else is interested in listening to or reading about,” I have to disagree. In any form of expression, you can try anything you think you can get away with, although most of us would probably shy away from suicidal ideas — for example, having a thriller turn into a 90-page tea party among dogs in house frocks, or creating a symphonic work based on the sounds of a bowling alley. (Although there’s probably someone somewhere who could make both those ideas work.) I think it’s important to differentiate, though, between having a difficult, challenging, form-expanding inspiration and having a bad idea. I believe you “satisfy an audience, however big or small” mainly by doing the absolute best work you can, within and beyond the form you may have chosen.

  21. usman Says:

    Although I’m late to this last question, I just wanted to add that in the movie THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST…the OST was a combined effort of Peter Gabriel and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, of Pakistan. Togather, they redesigned the traditional sub-continental Qawalli format into a new genre acceptable to both East and West. Today this new form is one of the reasons why youngsters in the sub-continent have returned to qawalli that(a clasical form of music)that was dying away. I guess that is the best form of success, staying true to your genre, while rejuvenating it with new life.
    I do not know what this adds, other than the fact that art and commerce can go together. But it requires some extra-ordinary effort.

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