by Bob Bahr

Bill Knapp, motivational speaker and spouse of SKB luminary Christine Knapp, took the stage tonight and asked the participants at the 2016 SKB Dubois workshop to do something very hard: take a look at themselves to see if they were standing in their own way in the pursuit of happiness and success.

“How many here want to die?” Knapp asked at the beginning. This received a (mostly) predictable response. Knapp approached the subject from another angle. “How many can honestly say that they are as content and happy as they could be?” he asked. This also received a predictable response. But Knapp’s followup was an attention-grabber. “If you are at the apex of everything, you are ready for the box. Go to Pinedale funeral home.”

Then he introduced the strongest theme in his keynote speech. “The truth is, we are either living or dying. Growing, or disintegrating. There is no stagnation in nature.”

“So ask questions. What do you really want out of life? What is your purpose in life?”

A cascade of questions fell under the umbrella of these bigger questions. What is your work worth? If you are not doing what you want right now, then what you are going to give me as an excuse?

Then, Knapp predicted how the participants might react to his words. He said that every audience breaks down into three groups: One-third of them listen and think, ‘yeah yeah it doesn’t matter.’ One-third think, I can see it and understand there’s a better life out there but ‘they’ are more talented than I am. Or they are younger. Older. Richer. Another third see the other possibility and react by saying, “My god, I am planting my flag.

“These are the achievers, those who are successful, the ones actually doing, not saying or claiming.”

Knapp related some personal anecdotes that explained his points, then came back to his morbid opener. He invoked the dead again. “Get rid of those fears,” he said. “Start living. Take action. That’s what the dead would say to you if you asked them.”

His audience was thoroughly attentive, and Knapp asked if they were wearied of the dark tone. “I’ve given you the Ebenezer Scrooge moment,” he said. “Now you want to know, ‘Now what?’ The answer is repetition. You need to hear this: You can do this, go ahead and try it. Unfortunately we get three times as much bad repetition as good repetition. But it’s time to shed that crap. Until the moment you breathe your last, you are able to learn and to grow.”

He recalled hearing artists complain about all the work that an art career requires that isn’t the direct creation of art. His response? An Army adage. “Embrace the suck. Marketing and administration is part of creating art.”

“Change your mind and you will change your results,” he suggested, and discussed how and why.

He closed by quoting billionaire Richard Branson: “Screw it, just do it.” Then he turned over the stage to the SKB Board of Directors, all of whom clearly thought that very sentiment at one time or another, and in the process created the organization that made this workshop and many other art education projects come to life. They explained the multi-armed creature that is the Susan K. Black Foundation, informing the crowd about initiatives past and present. Touching lives through art education. Growing, not disintegrating. Not stagnant. Ω