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Painter who overcame enormous obstacles shares ‘note to self’

Posted at 11:09 AM, Apr 10, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-10 11:09:52-04

(CBS News) - "CBS This Morning", which airs weekdays on CBS 6 from 7 to 9 a.m., is asking people to write letters of advice to their younger selves for a series called "note to self."

Chuck Close, a pre-eminent portrait painter for decades, has overcome enormous obstacles: learning disabilities, face blindness, and a rare condition that left him mostly paralyzed more than 20 years ago.

Here is his note.

This is a note to myself at age 14:

I WAS in the eighth grade and was told not to even think about going to college. I couldn't add or subtract, never could memorize the multiplication tables, was advised against taking algebra, geometry, physics or chemistry and therefore would not get into any regular college. Since I was good with my hands I was advised to aim for trade school perhaps "body and fender" work.

NEVER let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don't apply to you.

I APPLIED to a junior college in my hometown with "open enrollment", got in and embarked on a career in the visual arts.

NEVER let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don't apply to you.

VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING I've done is influenced by my learning disabilities. I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory. I have face blindness and once a face is flattened out I can remember it better.

INSPIRATION IS for amateurs -- the rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea I've ever had grew out of work itself.

SIGN ON to a process and see where it takes you. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today you will do what you did yesterday and tomorrow you will do what you did today. Eventually you will get somewhere.

NO-ONE gets anywhere without help. Mentors, including your parents and an occasional teacher, can make you feel "special" even when you are failing in other areas. Everyone needs to feel special.

MY FATHER died when i was eleven. That was the tragedy of my life, a horrible thing to happen when you are so young. Oddly enough there was a gift in this tragedy. I learned very early in life that the absolute worst thing can happen and you will get past it and you will be happy again. Losing my father at a tender age was extremely important in being able to accept what happened to me later when I became a quadriplegic.

IF YOU are overwhelmed by the size of a problem -- break it down into many bite-sized pieces.

QUADRIPLEGICS DON'T envy the able bodied - we envy paraplegics. We think they've got an easier row to hoe.

THERE IS always someone worse off than you.

I AM confidant that no artist has more pleasure day in and day out from what he or she does than I do.