Richard Janes:If you saw my guest walking down the street towards you, you’d probably get a big childish grin on your face, thanks to his signature fluffy jacket that looks like it was made from a skinned Oscar the Grouch and dyed purple. Above his signature jacket you’ll see another childish grin beaming right back at you. You see, my guest today, well, he’s in a pretty happy place right now as he spends his days curating the new Cayton Children’s Museum by ShareWell that’s set to open in Santa Monica, California in early 2019. The 20,000-square foot plus museum will feature interactive exhibits and art-based programming designed to promote creativity, diversity and social responsibility among children. And when not clambering through scrappy ass looking for a helicopter for a museum that can be installed for kids to play in or acting as a liaison between some of the world’s most innovative designers and artists, he’s at home with his dog Ziggy, with a music crank top and painting. His most iconic work is based on the stunning brush strokes of the heart and sells for thousands of dollars. My guest today is the artist entrepreneur and now museum creator, Matt Hanover. Now the painting of hearts carries a big significance in his story, so I started by asking him about the defining moment when he intentionally picked up the brush and called himself an artist for the first time.
Matt Hanover:I guess it begins in the summer of 2012 when I was out for a walk and all of a sudden, I thought I was having a heart attack. I went to the hospital, I was… shortness of breath, tingling in my arm and I spent 24 hours learning did I in fact have a heart attack. And there was nothing else wrong, I felt fine until that moment. And after 24 hours in the hospital, they said it was not a heart attack; it was a panic attack. And that scared me because it felt very much like a heart attack. Having lunch a couple of weeks later with a friend of mine telling her the story, a woman who had coached me in my corporate career, she said, “You did have a heart attack. You're not doing what you love. You're not in love. Where is the passion in your life? I recommend you look at this program I did in spiritual psychology.” Two weeks later I was attending, reluctantly. I have to say kicking and screaming this two-year program that was one weekend a month at University of Santa Monica, which was basically a heart-centered education program. But in the third weekend, we did these trios and one of the people I was working with who was facilitating me and we took turns, I was the client at that moment, she said, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” I’d be an artist. Well, when you say something like that in a program like that, you have to do something the next day, and so it was like “Okay, what are you doing on Monday to move that forward?” Okay, well, I’ll start painting with more intention. And so, I had been painting on and off for fun and just for relaxation but there was really no intention behind it. I had never sold any art. I just did for fun. So now, I am having to be accountable for this thing that I said I wanted to be and said I wanted to do. And I posted pictures of my art on Facebook and I got suddenly lots of people likin and, you know, I had done for it myself and had been very private, but now I was public that I’m an artist.
Richard Janes:How did passion show up in your life as a child?
Matt Hanover:I grew up in a neighborhood of kids that were mostly older than me and I just had trouble keeping up skill-wise and so they let me play sometimes. And my brother was a quintessential athlete in every sport. And so, what’s my thing going to be? And it was partly art but my uncle gave me a magic set for my 7thbirthday and then I saw Doug Hanning or somebody on television, I’m like, “Ooh, that’s really special and unique.” And so I spent every day after school learning about magic, practicing magic, annoying people, showing them tricks. So I give a lot of credit to my family for putting up with my “practicing the trick” on them. It very quickly became my thing. Then I got 11-12 years old, I started doing magic shows for kids’ birthdays, and I did high school shows. I'm 14 and I’ve got 2000 people at a high school gymnasium cutting someone in half and being hung upside down in a straitjacket, and making birds appear and disappear. So I started doing bar mitzvahs and parties and it was like they would call my parents to book me. I got my own phone line in elementary school. The phone number was 714-88MAGIC. And I had an answering machine. Nobody I knew had an answering machine. My parents did not have an answering machine, but I did. So then I would come home from sixth grade and check my messages to see if anyone had booked my magic show. It went from being this thing that I was interested in to where people knew me as the “magician”. So in my hometown of San Bernardino, I was the magician. So it was an exciting time and I was all in and getting paid very well for a junior high school kid. And I had a mentor in magic who really was a brilliant guy named Al Smith that told me things to do, that I didn’t question, I just did them. Like he said, “Write a letter to the president of the United States and offer your magic services. Say you’re available to perform at the next Easter Egg Hunt.” I got a letter back from the White House saying “Thank you for your offer. We don’t have any openings right now but we’ll keep in touch.” And that really opened my eyes to I don’t have to ask permission, I can just take an action. And so I learned that very early on and I used that many times in my life writing the letter to the White House and getting the letter back on the White House stationery.
Richard Janes Commentary:One of the biggest questions I had time and time again is: how do I find a mentor? Traditionally, mentorship was at the heart of any successful society. You see, very few went to expensive universities, most trained under a mentor who personally took an interest in them and challenged them mentally to develop their skills and push their abilities, giving them permission to reach for the dizzy heights like Al Smith did for Matt. But in today’s western culture where we’ve placed all our faith in schools and universities to educate our youth, many parents have brushed aside their life-shaping duties to adopt a less arduous role—that of friend. Mentorship is becoming a lost art. And to that point, the National Mentoring Partnership published a 2015 report from conversations with over 1000 young adults, where they discovered that 1 in 3 young adults will reach 19 without ever having a mentor. Regardless of your age, can you put your hand on your heart and say that you’ve had a mentor that's been able to guide you through the big life decisions and support you in giving yourself permission to think bigger? If you have had a mentor, you’ll only be too aware that having a mentor isn’t the magic wand that many people think it is. The mentor is a confidante who can give you direction and open your mind to options. However, at the end of the day, you still have to make the choice. You still have to take the action. And one of the actions that Matt took which he later in life acknowledged was at the expense of his true passion and purpose was to drop the magic.
Matt Hanover:So going to college, I didn't have the space for the illusions etc. and as I didn’t put in the hours and hours of practice like a musician did, I was not improving and I need to get realistic and look at a career doing something else. And so, ironically, I was just at a magic convention and I saw people I’ve known since I'm 14 who stayed with magic and were professional magicians all this time and did very well. I think I developed a focus on making a lot of money when I was in college and I was concerned that being a magician would be fun but not lucrative and I think I got focused on wanting to make a lot of money, and so I put that aside. I used magic at business meetings, and I did the straitjacket escape between innings at a Graves game many years ago, but it became my secondary or tertiary thing to do. The last few years of college, my friends started a calendar, the Men of USC and the Women of USC calendars, and then they started a nightclub Vertigo. So I met people who created businesses out of nothing, young and made a lot of money. I'm like, “Well, that's possible. That would be great,” because then I don’t have to rely on magic to make a lot of money. I can do the other thing and still do the magic, so it was kind of like a hedge. I was in New York hanging out with a friend that I had all of my magazines and examples of my work, and I happened by the Forbes Magazine building and mused in. And Forbes had been a collector of letters signed by Lincoln and toys and just kind of amazing stuff. And so at the end of my visit to that museum, I remember I wrote a Post-It note to Malcolm Forbes saying: “Dear Mr. Forbes, Loved your museum. This is amazing. Here’s some of the work that I've been doing. I’d love to meet you someday.” And I get a letter from Malcolm Forbes saying: “Very impressive work. Here’s a copy of my book. Next time you’re in New York, let me know.” And so I went back a couple of months later I guess it was and had dinner with Malcolm Forbes one-on-one on Fifth Avenue and just got to have an evening talk and he was interested like what’s on the mind of a 23-year-old kid who has just graduated from college and I asked him, I said, “You know, I have this opportunity to be an entrepreneur or go to work at CNN and be at Turner Broadcasting.” He goes, “You can always be an entrepreneur but the CNN thing would be a unique opportunity. I really think you should do that.” I'm like, “Okay.” So I took Malcolm Forbes’ advice and took the job at CNN. I think a lot of the choices career-wise were what builds a resume, what’s impressive, what’s, you know, etc. So there’s always time to do your passion later and that's, in hindsight, not a great philosophy but certainly was well supported by others along the way.
Richard Janes Commentary:And that brings us back to the fact that while mentors are great, I mean, who wouldn’t listen to Malcolm Forbes sitting in an expensive restaurant giving you advice? It is still up to you to make your own choices and to take action. Malcolm Forbes’ advice came from a position of a man who inherited his dad’s company, was driven by wealth and the trappings that came along with it and allegedly suppressed a deeper side of his heart in fear that it would impact his business. Choose your mentors and who you listen to wisely, and know that they do not have all the answers to your unique situation. It took what Matt thought was a heart attack to reassess that “you’ll always have time to do your passion later” and make the later, today. So he starts painting and he realizes that in order to do this properly, he needs to make it a central focus of his life.
Matt Hanover:I want to be a great artist and I want to make a living in art. I need to paint every day. So I have a kitchen, I have two bedrooms; and I sleep in the bedroom and I paint in the other room. It’s really all that I'm doing. I have a desk with a computer for other work but the predominance of my place is an art studio. I think there is a level of dedication and work and commitment. It’s really what that is, that got to turn of the television and do it again and do it again. So that may be an old-fashioned ethic that it’s a lot of work but I love it so it’s not work, and I wanted to be better and better and better, and so that there’s nuance and subtlety and it just continues to improve and evolve so I'm not just making hearts every day for the rest of my life. I want to have more range and more ability.
Richard Janes:What is the hardest thing about being an artist?
Matt Hanover:The hardest thing about being an artist, for me, it's still self-doubt. Is this any good? I have to stay focused on the process of making something and not the end result. So as long as I'm not looking at “Is this going to be good?” versus “Am I having fun?” “Am I doing this because I love it?” I'm committed to the process. So one is “What am I going to make?” “Putting aside isn’t any good.” “And then third, is anyone going to buy it?” And that's a whole other piece of it. So I need to make the art to make the art and not be focused on the outcome of if it’s going to be good and is anyone going to pay for it. So it’s almost having to bifurcate between the process of making art and the business of art has to be separate. I took on commissions, people said “I’ll pay you thousands of dollars. I wanted this but no purple.” And I tried and I found that when I’ve got that constraint both telling me what you like and don’t like, and there’s a deadline and there’s money, it’s like my brain left me. Like, I wasn’t able to produce and so it was like, “I tell you what, I'm going to make something along the size that you want and if you like it, you can buy it. But the commission thing, I'm not sure I'm going to do for now,” because it really took the business and overlaid it on top of the art in a way so far that has not been workable. And so, if you were the artist, I can take your art and go sell it. It's when I'm both that that's a big challenge. I have to switch brains. Certainly in the process of making the art, I try not to think about how it’s going to sell or if it’s going to sell. When I switched into sales mode, then it’s like, how do I either license the image, sell prints of the image, or is there somebody who wants to buy the piece. So I have to basically change hats in my mind that “Okay, now I'm in sales mode, I’ve got to build the website, I’ve got to email out people.” And so it’s still harder for me to sell my own art than it is to sell your art.
Richard Janes:What’s the alternative?
Matt Hanover:I went several months with zero income just on faith that it would work out. I mean, I think that was a true leap.
Richard Janes Commentary:So Matt’s taken the leap. He’s ripped up his carpet and turned his main living area into a painting studio that he can’t get away from. He’s trying to find his place as an artist and connect the dots to making a living doing it. For many of us, we look to the people who have come before us and say “That's the path. That’s, of course, how it’s done. That's how I’ll find happiness doing what I love.” But just as Matt has said, the key is to focus on the “doing” and not the end product. You still need to make sure you’re putting yourself out there so that enough people know what you’re capable of and the world will then open up opportunities that you would never have imagined for yourself. You just need to stay open enough to see them and commit to the work. For Matt, he had always been good at putting himself out there. As a corporate executive before turning to the art, he had been a power player in the entertainment and tech industry, brokering multimillion deals for the likes of Turner, DirecTV, Qualcomm, Yahoo, and Amazon. And he’d also been volunteering on the board of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, a way of him tapping back into that wonder from his own children. As a corporate executive, none of the board members had any inkling about this artistic side of Matt until he started posting, and as people began to realize his amazing ability to bridge the gap between the world of business and art, they started to lean in on him more and more.
Matt Hanover:Yeah, there was a lot of doubt like I'm in stage of my career, I have all these skills and connections and I'm not making a living, and I'm doing what I want to do. So that “do what you love and the money will follow,” I'm doing what I love and the money is nowhere and it was like “Oh, it’s just three feet further.” So if I had given up at any of that point, there’s no chance I’d be sitting here right now doing what I love and getting paid for it. And ironically, if I hadn’t volunteered beyond the board responsibilities, they wouldn’t have seen the ability to do all of the different things that I'm doing. It is amazing that it’s that roadless travel with blind faith, all of those things that you read about combined. It’s the curiosity; it’s following your curiosity as opposed to, in some cases passion, if you don’t know what your passion is. In this instance, it’s all of those things for me. It’s purpose, passion, and it's a daily curiosity. It’s like “Oh, I need to find a helicopter.” That's not a normal day, but it's every day in this world. We have an area of the museum called “Let’s Help ___”. The idea is that the kids need to bring their best selves to each of the areas. “Let’s Help Animals”, so we have an animal hospital. “Let’s Help People”, and so we have a rescue area. So we have a rescue boat on a ball pit. We have a firetruck and we have a helicopter. And so, we want an authentic helicopter. Well, where do you find a helicopter? So I started calling around. Military and surplus and there was that boneyard in Mojave with all the 747’s. And I hunted down and I found a dozen different helicopters. I don’t know a thing about helicopters; what size they are, can they fit how many people and can we cut it up and all these things. So all of this sophisticated aviation things, I went up to Santa Rosa and looked at one that was too small and there was another one that Rihanna used in a music video that was here in Torrance but it turned out it got sold the day before for $5000. So A, I'm trying to find one; B, I don’t want to spend a fortune and it’s got to fit all these things. So long story short, I just happened to look on Craigslist and I found one in Bend, Oregon. And this guy has been restoring planes and helicopters for 25 years and when I explained to him what we were doing, he’s like, “I'm in.” And so I'm enrolling him in the purpose of what we’re doing and so we’re getting a great deal because he’s throwing in so much of his time and passion, his passion, for restoring helicopters that were going to have a one-of-a-kind experience, you know. We need to find a windshield and we need to find a nose cone and we were piecing it together. So every day I get an email about the progress of restoring this helicopter that we’re going to put a ramp up so kids that might be in a wheelchair can play, and so it's designed to create first responder rescue experiences so the firetruck and all these things. And the helicopter has been crazy just putting it together. I'm now getting paid to do something that I love so much that I would have done it for free because I was doing it for free until they said “No, no, we need to know you’re here every day,” because I was, you know, “Yeah, I’ll fix that.” But now, I wake up every day and I think about the museum and I paint on the side, and it really is the right balance because I don’t have to worry about selling a painting today and I wake up in the morning and I get to be creative and connected and collaborative with all of these other entities who are exercising their own passions and purpose toward the end goal of one thing. It's truly magical. The architects are going above and beyond. This company here in LA, R&A, they're extraordinary. They all have little kids. They’re making the children’s museum that they want to go to with their kids, so way above and beyond for the greater purpose of igniting the imagination of kids.
Richard Janes Commentary:And as Matt leans into this idea of combining his two worlds, the corporate career that brought in the money but made him sick, and the artist career that brought him immense satisfaction but provided uneasiness around cash flow, he finds himself in a fantastic sweet spot — a sweet spot that just 12 months ago he could never have imagined. And now, he’s taken that one step further, inviting burned out executives to join him in a painting session to unlock their sense of wonder that they can bring back to their business and provide a shot of creativity to their mind, resetting and reenergizing their mental game.
Matt Hanover:For a thousand dollars, someone comes in and we spend three hours together and they’ll come out with 5 or 6 paintings but more importantly they come out with having had an experience that they can take into other parts of their life. I set up six different canvases, I take them through kind of a meditational process. We put on some music and I guide them in writing intentions on the canvas and then identifying a color and then just getting them to paint and having them if they're right-handed, we paint left-handed. The purpose is like there’s this scar tissue in their brain that has taught them that they're not good at this and therefore they can’t and we’re going to rewire the synapses so that it's a possibility. Because again, the CEOs are interested in performance and so I'm going to exercise the synapses in your brain like they haven’t been exercised because you’re going to make art and you’ll go back to being a great salesperson or a numbers person or whatever. This will make it better. It's like with kids who are good at math have them learn an instrument. It's that kind of cross-pollination. So let’s just paint to paint because on Monday when you go back to work you’ll be a better executive. There’s a study on the brain and doing something creative regenerates a portion of the brain. So regardless of your level of skill, regardless of your desire whether or not you want to be an artist, everybody can make art and improve their biochemistry. Teaching adults to paint is the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done because like if you think you’re creative, you don’t need my help. But I went to an adult camp a few summers ago called Camp Reset and at camp there was no cellphones, there’s no names. It’s like Burning Man meets Ted. They crowdsource seminars and so I taught painting, but only people who didn’t think they're creative. Fifteen people spent two hours with me. I took them through this kind of intentional process of closing their eyes and going inside and writing an intention and then painting. It’s a process I learned through one of my classmates at USM, Helen Bradley, and you just remove the thing that I campaign. It’s like “No, of course here’s a paintbrush, here’s some yellow. Cover this, okay? Next. Go to the next one.” And we did six paintings. Each of the people did six paintings. People were in tears because it brought up those limiting beliefs as a kid of you got to paint within the lines or that’s no good. It's like the mantra to begin is “This could suck and it’s okay.” Nobody cares. Just are you having fun. And they had fun and I had fun watching them have fun, breaking through this limiting belief that they're not creative and they're not artistic. Adults need to be taught — not how to paint; taught how to be a kid again. Because as a kid, you don’t need any instruction. Someone said, “Hey, you could come over and teach kids to paint.” I’ve done that a few times. There’s nothing to teach. There’s give them the materials and step back and don’t get in the way. It’s only when we get to, I don’t know if it's 5, 6, or 7 years old that you have to do it within the lines and all the rules start being imposed but if you take out a brush and some yellow paint and a canvas and you paint the canvas solid yellow, everybody can do that. That's painted. And as you hear that gremlin pop up of “This sucks. I'm no good at this, I'm not creative,” it’s like, “Thank you. Thank you, sir. May I have another?” and just keep painting. You have to keep going. And I do believe that painting, specifically painting, is good for everybody. That you really are connecting back into your little child inside because every little kid likes to paint.
Richard Janes Commentary:And with that, l’d like to set you a challenge right now. I want you to grab a pen and a piece of paper. It can be another form of paper. Just the back of an envelope, a newspaper, and I want you to start doodling for the last few minutes of this podcast. Don’t judge yourself. And if you want to take Matt’s advice, you can switch the pen to the subdominant hand and go for it. It’s only a few minutes of your life and it could unlock something wonderful that you have really been needing. Reach for that pen and feel what Matt’s talking about. Creating art relieves stress. It encourages creative thinking. It increases brain plasticity and it provides many other mental health benefits. And anyone can do it. It reminds me of a fantastic quote from Pablo Picasso, “Art washes the soul the dust of everyday life.” And while you’re doodling away, here’s what Matt would say to someone if he was sitting in a restaurant on 5thAvenue and he had been asked, “What should I do?”
Matt Hanover:The advice I would give somebody now would be like “What do you love to do?” I think there is a choice between “I want to make a lot of money.” Period. Then do things that make a lot of money. Be in banking, be in sales, etc. But if what you love to do is make art or create experiences that give people a sense of wonder and that will be fulfilling and then the money comes later, that's the advice I would give somebody. When I did my psychology program, they talked about passion and that the real word ‘passion’ like The Passion of the Christ or compassion is suffering, it’s about suffering. So that always pops into my head when I hear that and I think of the way I would describe it in people who are passionate about something, they're willing to eat the s*** sandwich that goes with being great at that thing. So that's my reinterpretation of passion. Everything requires a s*** sandwich. Which thing are you willing to suffer that for? And then so I look at magic, I loved magic to the point that I had to eat the s*** sandwich and practiced 10 hours a day to be… there was this new guy named Shin Lim who’s phenomenal. That guy practices every minute of the day. He’s like a violinist, okay? I was not committed to that. With my art, I'm doing it all the time and I'm taking classes, and so that's the thing that I'm willing to do whatever I have to do to be great at it. Purpose is knowing why I'm doing something and not just going through the motions. Why am I doing what I'm doing? I’ve worked on a lot of things that didn't have a higher purpose and I got them done. Simon Sinek has that great book and that great TED Talk about “Start with Why” and I found that when I'm clear on the why, I do better work and enjoy it more so. I think I enjoyed the magic because it was something I could do that was special, but the benefit of it to others was giving people a sense of wonder is the most rewarding thing that I can do and that whether that is having them have that sense of wonder and they walk into the museum and say “Oh my gosh, this is amazing,” when I do a card trick, when they see a piece of art. Giving people a sense of wonder, if I was going to boil it down to purpose, that's it. Other people can find their play, other people can find their connection but my ability to give someone an experience that they’ll never forget, that's my purpose.
Richard Janes:Matt Hanover, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm so excited to see the Cayton Children’s Museum come to life and also see your own Heart artwork on display there at the museum which is fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your story.
Matt Hanover:Thank you.