Philip Johnson: what is success?

There is an exhibit at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, DC, that raises the question of what is success. In the exhibition of the work of architect Philip Johnson (in the stunning building he designed), one can see plans and models of his provocative concepts. Plan after plan, model after model, you can marvel at the man’s mind. Then it hits you: several of the grandest ones have not been built, and it is possible they never will be.

True, devotees can visit the Glass House in New Canaan, CT, the Cathedral of Hope under construction in Dallas, TX, the AT&T Building in NYC, or the Kreeger Museum itself. But the Children’s Museum in Guadalajara, Mexico? Not built, not funded.

But as you watch the dvd of interviews with Philip Johnson, you are struck by the enthusiasm, passion, and even childlike sparkle in this old man (actually dead since 2005).

I might feel like a failure if I envisioned plans for wonderful buildings and complexes that never got built. But that just didn’t seem to occur to him. He waxed on about the need for change, His sparkle did not dim when speaking of projects not built – just a mild statement that that was then, this is now.

We can learn from the great creators of our time. We can learn to work in the present moment, focusing on today’s task and tomorrow’s possibilities. Johnson’s exhilaration just might become contagious to those who will listen to this message.

Can you feel accomplishment in developing plans for a project, especially if it isn’t carried out? Or do you wait for tangible success before allowing a sense of pride in your work?

Looking at Philip Johnson, you realize that you might be missing out on a lot of fun until you learn to refocus!

I recommend that you visit the Kreeger soon, either in person or at to learn more of this captivating man. We can all learn from his sense of pride in his work, whether it was completed or not. This was a man who loved his life and used the 98 years he was given.

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