What do artists have to say? Are we “saying” something important with our art? Telling a story? Sharing our opinion? Making a statement? Opening a window to our soul? Maya Angelou suggested that in order to be known as a certain kind of person, we needed to be conscious of how we are living our lives. I too would like to be known and remembered as someone who led by example, led a life that could be admired, chose to go “high” when others went “low”, and was courageous in the face of adversity and challenge. As an artist, I am now consciously striving to do the same.
Whether in our visual art, writing, photography, performance art or any other creative endeavor, I suggest it is important to share a little about ourselves and our passions in our work. Our stories are the genesis of all that is eventually created in our lives. I suggest we go out on that uncomfortable limb once in awhile to say what we think and feel. Dip our toes in that water, or even jump right into the deep end. Shower ourselves with the confidence to create within any realm we chose. Take chances and put “it” out there. Be an influencer of a new type that embraces a shared responsibility to humankind.
Power and Influence
I realize that most people think of “influencers” as a 21st Century social media phenomenon defined as:
- a person with a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages.
Not to downplay the importance of this current definition, but being an influencer is actually OG. As in any role in our lives, we can choose to be a leader or a follower. And with that choice comes responsibilities. Did I get it right? Did I use my head? Did I lead with love and kindness? Did I teach by example? Was I a good team mate? Was I considerate? Was I true to myself and others? Was I just “me”?, because thats okay too.
The term “influencer” and the power it wields exploded once online communication through social media became the primary way we share and communicate. I find myself fascinated daily with the depth and breadth of what an influencer’s reach can be these days. But I would suggest that “influencers” need to understand that their role is so much more than engagement, followers, numbers, ads, or niches. Influencers hold a responsibility, like it or not, to “teach by being”. With power and “influence” comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes a moral obligation to those we serve – our customers, consumers, followers, and villagers. I have felt the tide slowly moving on this front. I am hopeful…
Recently I began rethinking my purpose as an artist. I have been studying others’ work in this area – not just artists but other people of influence in their respective fields. How can I be of service to others? How can I share my knowledge courageously with love and purpose? I am focused on doing this by creating work that has a story, meaning and purpose. But I also share my thoughts surrounding that work; what has inspired me, what makes my heart ache or my wings soar. In this endeavor I am also encouraging you to do the same as artists.
Being the person who has something to say, worth hearing and worth being influenced by holds value in this post-pandemic society. Don’t just share to gain followers or recognition, land a gig or a contract. Create and share with purpose in the knowledge that what we say through our work matters deeply to someone, somewhere. Our work can still be created simply for the purpose or beauty it offers to the world, but we need to also be conscious of sharing our own message and story in the process.
Example of excellence
I recently began listening to Apolo Ohno’s new book Hard Pivot. In it he speaks of the contrast between the roles others see us playing and those we would describe ourselves as filling. He suggests we make a list of things other people know us as. But he also suggests making a list of all the roles and labels we use to identify ourselves. I was interested in the purpose of these lists as “influencing” because I have often felt it is a difficult challenge to balance who we are to others and still maintain our own true selves. In this book, Ohno shares his most valuable lessons for overcoming challenges with resilience, creativity, and purpose by stressing the importance of courage and practice – two important aspects of being an artist as well as being an athlete. I found myself easily attaching his lessons of intelligence, courage, love and being a role model to other people of influence I love like Maya Angelou’s quote above. Great minds and all…
Enter artists…those that ask the questions, those that shine a light in the dark, those that sing, write and dance, paint, sculpt and design their ways into their followers’ feeds. Artists suggesting a better way to live or a bigger question to ask. Like Apolo Ohno and Maya Angelou, we should be asking ourselves who we are, what we stand for, and what influence we want to have. As artists, I believe we shoulder more than a creative responsibility, we carry a duty to influence the world around us for the greater good.
Discussion about a hard topic or a gentle nudge by someone we admire can spark a conversation or change a heart. We may want to consider using our passions and abilities to lead our fans and followers into a place of quiet introspection or a jolt of “I need to rethink that!” Through color, texture, poetry, words of influence, new ideas, inspiration and shear imagination we have the ability to open others hearts and minds to an opportunity for a new way of looking at something or a new way of being. Our creativity has power; it has meaning, and it has influence. One way I do this is to include little pieces of my writing with some of my visual work.
In my life, I have always been an artist. But my roles and how my artistic endeavors manifest themselves has changed many times. How others view me or my influence in their lives has had an an effect on how I see myself at times. I am a student, a teacher, a coach, a painter, a graphic designer, a gallerist, a writer, a photographer, a gardener, a yogi, a wife, a mother, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and the list goes on. Within all these roles I feel a struggle sometimes to maintain a true picture of who I am. By realizing it is okay to be something different to each person, I can embrace all my roles and still be true to myself.
So in addition to art and design, and all the favorite passions of summer like gardening and travel, I am reading books, listening to podcasts and following influencers about growth and resilience by people I admire: Here are a few…like athletes – Apolo Ohno and Abby Wambach; writers like long time favorite Brene Brown “keeping it awkward, brave and kind…” and new fav Jason Reynolds; artist poets like – Rupi Kaur, and wordsmith and change-maker, Amanda Gorman; visual artists like Lisa Congdon, Bisa Butler and Faith Ringgold; female singers and song writers like Pink and Taylor Swift. I am not interested in the top 20 “fluff” influencers on IG, or the celebrities who stand for nothing. I am instead interested in taking the time to read and listen with expectation for what the people I follow have to say. What do they stand for? Do my views align? If not, what can I learn? Are they asking me to think? Cutting across all demographics, I just want to learn and grow and be inspired by the great minds of our age.
I suggest we pick the ones who are real with us. Try looking a the Time 100 most influential people of 2022. for example. Many of these people are not ones I would have chosen. But understanding their influence on the world – good, bad, or indifferent is valuable. Being informed is valuable. Pick the people who care about making the world a kinder place. Unfollow those on social media who whine and spew weird conspiracy theories and hate; take the time to choose those that ask more of you and give more back to society. I am choosing to follow and learn from the people who have something valuable to say, something purposeful to share. Those that ask me to stretch my mind and heart to be a better version of myself. In turn I am asking myself to do the same in my life and in my art.
Lighting a path
I am following artists, pioneers, athletes, poets and heroes that inspire me and ask me to be more. And in doing so I am continuing to cultivate a life of inspiration and gratitude. I am striving to give more of myself to others in more meaningful ways. I am asking myself to be braver and more resilient. I continue to ask myself to be more open to grace, and new ideas. I am developing courage in how I take risks. And as I succeed or fail, I am asking myself to be more courageous in how I “pivot”. Thanks Apolo, Brene and Maya for being your inspiring, strong selves. You light the path for the rest of us.
Are you able to stand back and see yourself as others do, and in turn ask more of yourself? I challenge you to do the same in your life and in your creative work. Let’s all do our part. I’ll be following and watching.