NOTIONS: The power of persistence in work, art and sport

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Bruce Hetrick is off this week. In his absence, this column, which appeared on April 19, 2004, is being reprinted.

During spring break, my wife, Pam, and I took our sons, Austin and Zach, to Chicago.

Because Zach is a budding photojournalist and Austin likes to write, we arranged through a friend to visit The Chicago Tribune.

One of the newspaper’s photographers, Nuccio DiNuzzo, arrived at work an hour before his Sunday shift to meet with us. He gave us a tour of the photo department, showed us photographs he’d taken during the Iraq war and other major news and sports events, and introduced us to assignment and photo editors who told us about their jobs.

DiNuzzo also critiqued Zach’s portfolio. He said Zach’s pictures were good-especially for someone in the ninth grade. But he had some suggestions, too: How Zach might crop things differently, how he might adjust the contrast of certain images, how he might get better reproduction on newsprint.

Mostly, after showing us lots of his Iraq war images that never were published, DiNuzzo encouraged Zach to keep shooting and shooting-because each assignment, even the umpteenth go-round with the same subject, provides a chance to learn and improve.

The next day, we visited the Art Institute of Chicago. While our boys were most interested in the museum’s arms and armor exhibit, the adults insisted on a special exhibition called “Rembrandt’s Journey: Painter, Draftsman, Etcher.”

Organized jointly by the Art Institute and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the exhibit focuses on Rembrandt’s work as a printmaker. In its 200-plus original prints, etching plates, paintings and drawings, one can see-even in the 40 minutes that 15-year-old boys will tolerate such things-a wide range of work spanning the old master’s long and productive career.

One also can see an artist who kept etching, drawing and painting, decade after decade, on the same general themes, because each work, even the umpteenth goround with the same subject, provided a chance to learn and improve.

Early self-portraits from the 1620s show the young Dutch artist with whimsical facial expressions or cast as a street character. Decades later, self-portraits show a man ravaged by life, financial hardship and lost love.

Stories of Jesus’ life are rendered repeatedly, with many of the same tales drawn and redrawn with increasingly sophisticated moods and lighting and amazingly intricate human and architectural detail.

On these walls, gathered from collections around the world, one can see pastoral scenes of the Dutch countryside and playful tales from city streets, rich portraits of colorful characters and loving sketches of female nudes. There’s an optimistic allegory of a Phoenix reborn and shadowy visions of Christ’s crucifixion.

But mostly, one sees here, in the middle of America, at the dawn of the 21st century, four decades of 17th century trial and error, patience and practice, and through that exercise, the honing of extraordinary talent.

At the end of the week, after we’d dropped the boys off at their mom’s and stepdad’s home in Fort Wayne, Pam and I sat down to Easter dinner with my family.

When we’d talked of our travels and eaten our fill, we headed to the family room of my parents’ Zionsville home to watch the end of the Masters golf tournament.

While none of us golf, the drama of Phil Mickelson, “the greatest player never to win a major,” just one stroke behind Ernie Els heading onto the back nine, was too great to resist.

Mickelson is golf’s version of the perpetual bridesmaid-a talented player who’s won nearly two dozen tournaments, but never, in 42 tries, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open or the PGA Championship, his profession’s most prestigious competitions. He had, however, become notorious for blowing opportunities and finishing in the top three at these events.

Easter Sunday, Mickelson began the final round tied for the lead. By the eighth hole, however, Els had taken a one-stroke lead. History, it seemed, was repeating itself.

But after tying the score three times on the back nine, Mickelson sank a birdie putt on the 18th hole to win. He leaped high into the air, pumped his fists and shouted “Oh my God!” The crowd-at Augusta National and in Zionsville-leaped with him.

In post-tournament interviews, Mickelson said practice and coaching made the difference. He’d spent hours on the course, taking shot after shot, because each one, even the umpteenth go-round on the same course, provided a chance to learn and improve.

“Those hours of work and having that proper direction,” Mickelson said, “I ultimately knew, or did not ever lack belief, that I would ultimately win.

“I think the most difficult part of this 10-year journey has just been dealing with, I don’t want to say failure, but dealing with losses time after time,” he said. “It just gets frustrating. It can wear on you, except that you can’t let it.”

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm.His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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