“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” ~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ok this is one of my favorite quotes: Let me first ease your mind, the man I am referencing was not involved in controversy. I used that quote to reference the measure of a great man! We often hold people in high esteem, however EVERYONE is considered GREAT nowadays! I have heard of so many G.O.A.T.'s (Greatest OF All Time) over the last few years, however a GREAT man to me is not based on how he is perceived by men but by his good old fashioned values. What about character, honesty, integrity, trust..... Those values reveal the true character of a man. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to a GREAT man!!!
A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes: master street painting Artist and 3-D chalk originator and pioneer Kurt Wenner. I have always heard that you should not 1)one idolize anyone and 2) if you held someone in high esteem you should never ever meet them in real life. This thought came from the fact that people have invested everything into trying to get to meet their heroes only to find out that those people they had put on pedestals were just not really nice people. Let me just say for the public record that Mr. Wenner was the complete antithesis to this thought. He was amazing: immensely kind and caring as well as an extraordinary teacher and leader. The true test of this was the fact that I was probably the greenest person in the room and yet still he never talked down to me or suggested I didn't belong, and there was a lot at stake. He had a lot to lose letting someone as green as me anywhere NEAR the master artists...ESPECIALLY on THIS project. As a matter of fact, he was this genuine and welcoming to EVERYONE! The event we had joined together to work on was a Guinness World Record attempt at one of the most renowned street painting festivals around the globe. The festival led by Denise Kowal another amazing servant leader is the Sarasota Street Painting Festival. This was to be their second record. The title: Largest Anamorphic Street Painting in the World. I may not even have that right because I am a 2D artist that still can't do a 3D painting. The people that were gathered together numbered about 40 total. Not just any 40 people or artists mind you. These artists were some of the best artists and master artists in chalk and other media from around the globe! While I was rising through the ranks very slowly but surely I knew when I arrived and even when I signed up before the project I knew was not in the league of these artists and I wanted to do it anyway. So what made the maestro stand out?!? Everything! Mr. Wenner stood out amongst men. Number one, he taught everyone what he knew freely and he didn't dumb it down. You had to pay attention and rise to meet him. I have to honestly say that 2/3 of everything that was taught over those weeks was something above my pay grade and that I didn't understand. He, and these amazing artists however were so giving of their knowledge, skills and techniques. They were patient and gracious and cheered literally my every wobbly mark. While I didn't leave with EVERY piece of knowledge because there was a lot that I didn't understand, I did leave with new skills and a vision of how far I could go or how innovative I could be. It was only because he and other chalk innovators plotted their own course that street artists could aspire to make actual careers and be respected in this field. However their giving spirit was the biggest lesson I received: Their lesson, 'never get the big head!' These were THE BEST Chalk artist's in the WORLD! If any group of people could have viably been snobbish, it should have been them... but no not a one! But yeah let's just talk for a moment about mastering your craft. Before you can teach, you have to be proficient, more importantly, you have to MASTER your craft....., or you're just teaching students to be mediocre. Mr. Wenner KILLED THIS, or to use a hood term 'beasted this concept! One thing that absolutely blew my mind was how fluid and comfortable the maestro was with these artists from around the globe, many of whom did not speak English at all. I watched in amazement as Mr. Wenner taught us complex math, graphing, gridding and measurements as well as perspective, chalk and basic art lessons over the course of the weeks switching between English, Italian and Spanish (fluently) I was floored! There may have been other languages, but those were the few I could pick out. He went well out of his way to make sure that everyone was included in the mix and felt welcomed. He had a great sense of humor and interacted with all of us from the tiptop master artist to people like myself who were literally just finding our way. He was a true class act! When all is said and done I really can't say whether we would ever get The actual Guinness World Record for that particular piece. However I am left with something much greater: The knowledge that there are good people in the world at a time where I was feeling like the art community was a tough and cold place to reside. He renewed my resolve and belief that people exist just to help one another, do inspiring work and push people to higher landings!
I've seen people capable of leadership opt out because they don't want the responsibility. I think when people think of leadership the vision is immediately of a Dr. King or a Mahatma Gandhi leading hundreds thousands or millions of people. Like the song says however it 'taint necessarily so". Leadership can be as small as motivating people in your household or community. Whether it's in the arts or in any other field is a delicate balance. What I want artists across all fields to realize is that they ARE leaders, to respect that responsibility and to act on it. I don't think that some artists realize the extreme capacity they have to lead or view themselves as actual leaders. Maybe they feel they are introverts or the person behind the scenes (that was my issue). Maybe visual artists specifically figure: the whole reason I became an artist was so that I wouldn't have to be in front of people! Why would I want to lead?However there are so many different forms of leadership, both overt and covert that can literally end up moving nations. Many times people don't see that what they do as actually leadership if done correctly. However artists, have been amongst he storytellers, the recorders of history, the motivators, and the changemakers in every decade. Think of Norman Rockwell's 'The Problem We All Live With' (1964) bringing desegregation to light using little Ruby Bridges as an iconic figure that was palatable enough for people to receive. The image was the spoonful of sugar that people needed to make their medicine go down that Mary Poppins always told us about. Think of Goyas 'Third of May' or Pablo Picassos 'Guernica' which depicted the horrors of war so grotesquely they remained relevant for decades or Kathe Kollwitz's view of war and grief from a woman's perspective. Some of the most amazing images I've ever seen of the hope and the resilience of humankind are images of sculptures, drawings and musical works recovered from Jews who created during the holocaust. And this is just referring to the creation of works by artists that have cultural impact. What about artists who use their platform to speak about things that are important to them like Julia Louise Dreyfus making her breast cancer diagnosis known by proclaiming: "Today I am the one." or Selena Gomez, Toni Braxton, Nick Cannon or Seal talking about their diagnosis with lupus. Then there are the people like Paul Robeson and Lena Horne who refused to perform for segregated audiences. They had enough confidence in the quality of their work, the power of their station as artists and their changemaker qualities to know that when they refused to perform, venue owners might change their tune. This is indeed leadership. Leadership can be as simple as teaching a child some of your skills and knowing that they could be the next up-and-coming artist 🎨 . Leadership is knowing when and how to speak to people and how to be respectful. Leadership is knowing how to motivate people to move forward instead of pushing them. Leadership is knowing how to engage people whether through pen and paper or dance. Trust me when I say I'm not always 100% sure what leadership is though I have to speak on it often. What I will say is that I love the concept of each artist having to push themselves to find their own leadership within, and exercise that gift. Go get em! 😘D
"The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Matthew 21:42
What can I say about rejection letters? They suck! They suck bad: like the best vacuum cleaner you've ever owned BAD; and I'm sitting here looking at one now (um the letter, not the vacuum, (Lol). It's not my first. It is not the last and let's be frank (Hi Frank!) I'll probably see several more over the course of my lifetime. I think I may have amassed over 100 at least. Having said all that, I have to tell you: I absolutely LOVE a good rejection letter! I am amazed by the various ways people can come up with to tell you that your work is just not up to par or what they're looking for. But the creativity....man the creativity and verbal shenanigans people undertake to help you be ok with the 'no' floors me and I love it. However the thing I love most about rejection letters is the way they force you to conquer your demons, to overcome, to do better, to strive harder, to grow more, to become more efficient...the stuff of legends! Baby (in my adopted Louisiana drawl) a good rejection letter can be the impetus for you becoming a Pulitzer Prize winner somewhere down the road! Let's face it, most people only become great after they failed several hundred times (OK so the number may be an exaggeration) but think of the Gertrude Stein's; Andy Warhols', Michael Jordans', Albert Einstein's and Oprah Winfrey's that faced either rejection letters or rejection in general before things got real good. What can I say? I'm in great company and I feel no pain. Matter of fact, one of my best speeches began with me rattling off lines from about six past rejection letters. The speech was so easy to write because I kept all of them; every last one of them and compiled them in a three ring binder so I would never forget what it took to get to the next level, and so that I would never lose the hunger to fight my way up from 'struggle'. This journey should never get ' easy' and I should never get complacent... lest I take the lazy path. Some of the same places I received rejection letters from 10 years ago are some of the very same places that have accepted me a few years later. I make sure to put those in the book too because it's an important lesson in stick-to-it-ive-ness. And of course all those letters amount one thing... success!
So, in case you're still wondering why I would make a crazy statement like: "I love a rejection letter', it boils down to one thing. Every rejection letter I have ever received made me work 10 times harder, produce better work, develop tougher skin and create greater resolve. Like Theodore Roosevelt's 'Man in the Arena' speech, rejection letters just prove: you took the shot. Whether you make the shot or not isn't important.! The fact that you tried is epic! So many people never try, and you can't win what you don't take a stab at. Thank God for rejection! It is just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. 💓D
There comes an interesting moment when the things you've dreamed of and worked for, begin to line up and bear fruit, generally years later....but it happens. Almost simultaneously, you find clarity of purpose. Gut check- Who knew? Lately, I'm finding that my art and activism are no longer seperarate entities. They are becoming one and the same. The vision and focus are clearer but so is the fatigue. The question then becomes, if you know you were created to help people and have always used art as a vehicle to do so , how do you change it up and bring new perspective to something you've done for your whole life? I'm looking to build a career with 'staying power', and one that profoundly and positively changes lives. Did I mention this should all be done while working a new paradigm and crafting a shrewd and viable business model-yeah that! In the words of Sam Cooke "...it's been a long time coming but I know a change gone come." -stay tuned 💓-D