I have a soft spot for underdogs. For the quiet souls who fly just under the radar. For the kid who retreats to the school library, where it's safe from bullies. Where he can read his books and draw his cartoons.
Or the little girl who's not part of the popular crowd. Who retreats to her diary to write about family, pets and dreams.
What's that line in Matthew 5:5? "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
Faithful or not, I'll bet you've known someone who fell outside the group in school or work. The awkward co-worker or nerdy school mate. Sometimes the sharp edges and indignities of life burnish and shape these gentle spirits. And over time, they turn into amazing people. With a depth, empathy and spirit we wish we could emulate.
I wrote about one such person last Saturday for Fine Art Views. His name is Edward and he's as awkward as all get out. Buck teeth, freckles and protruding ears. But then he meets a homeless woman in the park. She's painting with a small paint box, and she shares some life wisdom.
It's a story about the power of art, forgiveness and personal growth. The title of the short story is Madame Painter. If you missed it, check it out here and share your feedback in the comments.
Here's to the underdogs and invisible ones. Just below the surface, many of them are hiding tremendous depth and beauty.
American author, investor and blogger James Altucher wrote a book titled Choose Yourself. His general message is that the world has changed. Industries have changed, the gatekeepers in many professions have fallen. No one is coming to hire you. You have to "choose yourself."
While I don't view things quite as dire as Altucher, I do think the Internet and the rapidity of communication have changed the work landscape. We have more power than ever to create our own on-line businesses, share our art and leave an imprint on the world.
One message in particular from James Altucher appears on page 193 of his book. Here's a snippet: "Dishonesty works...until it doesn't. Everyone messes up. And when you are dishonest, you are given only one chance and then it's over."
Altucher goes on to explain: "Honesty compounds. It compounds exponentially. No matter what happens in your bank account, in your career, in your promotions, in your startups. Honesty compounds exponentially, not over days or weeks, but years and decades. More people trust your word and spread the news that you are a person to be sought out, sought after, given opportunity, given help, or given money."
So here's the deal. Stay true to yourself. Your art and your work. Be honest. In a world where dishonesty, superficiality and phoniness are rampant, your authenticity will stand out. It will be immensely refreshing. My character Edward, in Madame Painter, reflects this trait of individuality and truth. He represents something we should all aspire to in our lives and art.
A collector contacted me recently, asking that I hold the above little painting for her. It's called Big Sur Rocks.
There's such a joy in being able to express yourself through art, and have patrons who appreciate your work and want to purchase it. I guess our common humanity can relate to the beauty of ocean rocks, mountain vistas, fleeting light and sunsets. Or even abstract expressions that convey a pleasing design, feeling or mood.
Art is such a universal language, and a gift for those of us lucky enough to channel creative expression.
Poet Jane Kenyon has some good advice for us here:
"Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours."
I've had the privilege to study landscape painting in Idaho with master painter Scott L. Christensen. I made several trips and filled little notebooks with observations and tidbits of knowledge. Like this notation to myself: "Simplify. All of our reworked paintings were simplified. Eliminate all the unnecessary details."
As Edgar Payne wrote: "Select simple arrangement."
I like revisiting my notebooks because there's so much there. And many of the lessons on painting translate to lessons on life. For example, why stop at simplifying your paintings? Why not find ways to simplify your life? Cut out the superfluous, unnecessary and distracting.
It's funny how many lessons on painting serve as helpful guideposts for better living. I'll share more of these kernels of wisdom down the road. But for now, I hope you're finding time for your art and passions. Simplify if you can.
One guy who is great at simplifying is the artist Edward Norton Ward. His book, First Impressions, contains many delightful watercolor paintings. Their sketchy, loose impressions capture the essence of their subjects.
As Norton explains in his book: "A good design results when different objects seem to flow together because of their common value. Smaller shapes may be of different colors, but if all the hues are held close in terms of value relationships, the common value seems to pull everything together into one large shape." Below is one of Norton's watercolor pieces.
I think in life "the common value seems to pull everything together." Norton was talking about painting, but when we share common values of love, understanding, forgiveness and charity, it seems to pull everything and everyone together a bit.
Don't worry, I'm no starry eyed idealist. I know all too well the failings of man. I spend my days working as a police chief, confronting some of the worst aspects of humanity and society.
But even at work, I take comfort in those moments of grace and beauty. When I see people helping strangers. Or young officers buying shoes for homeless kids. These are the stories and moments that make me smile and feed my soul.
It's important to find artfulness in your life. Infuse it into your work. Whether you do it in the way you deliver speeches, write personal notes, dress or interact with co-workers. Hang on to your artful spirit. And celebrate artful things in your life.
I keep small, artful objects and possessions around me. I lean toward minimalism, but I still have little things that inspire me. Like the tiny statue of a father and son that sits on my desk. Or a scroll that my wife brought back from India, with the wise words of the Dalai Lama written on it.
Artfulness and creativity are gifts that will sustain you over the landscape of your life. You can always return to these gifts and find sustenance and peace.
Celebrating the underdogs, introverts and quieter souls around you will also enrich your life. Such people have much to offer, if you are patient enough to listen.