Our lives are like chapters in a book. A rare book with unlimited pages. Some of us leave a few paragraphs or sentences. Others take pages and pages. History will not value your legacy in volume.
In a way, a legacy is a little bit like branding, only more lasting. That is, both often describe what others say about you when you are not there.
Some of you know, I worked for many years as a dedicated fine woodworking hobbyist. At one time, I daydreamed of starting my shop and making custom furniture for a living. The golden handcuffs of a day job and a growing sensitivity to wood dust squashed those pipe dreams.
As my skills grew, I came to realize some of the things I was making would outlive me – not by a little, but a lot. That’s one beautiful thing about making art. It is long-lived as the saying goes, “Ars longa, vita brevis,” or art is long, life is short. The latter part of that couplet, “Life is short,” is a phrase passed through the centuries because it’s pithy, poignant and accurate.
Your art, any art, is not just a beautiful gift to the world now. It is a gift to the future. The images you make, the sculptures you craft, the photos you take all tell a story. Future historians and anthropologists will perhaps sift your art someday seeking clues for what life was really like in the early 21st Century. Art says the story in a different, unique way.
Yes, with our modern technology, we are a culture recording and photographing everyday life at a crazy pace. By the billions, we post our images on Facebook, Instagram and whatever the latest rage is that all help create a public perception of what we are seeing.
Most of those billions of posted online are meaningless snapshots. I suppose they take on a different context in the aggregate. Art, on the other hand, only happens through a thoughtful process. Even something as outwardly random as a Jackson Pollock painting requires forethought, planning, and purpose.
Art does more than capture moments. Art interprets those moments. Art captures things that are not in the physical world. They are from the imagination and creativity of the artist. And, just as we study cave drawings for insights, I think our future progeny will study our art, your art, for clues they cannot find in the billions of selfies available to them.
It shines a light into the darkness. It pulls back the veil and lets us see new things in new ways. It’s not just the visual arts. Poetry, plays, films, and books do these things too. Fine art is the only thing that comes made nearly always by a single artist with a singular vision.
Plays and films offer visual aspects, but they are collaborations of the playwright and a contingent of writers for a movie. Maybe Woody Allen has a complete script and directorial control, but it’s exceedingly rare. Books are just words, not images. Most books have editors that hone the copy and make the work a collaboration.
Artists don’t have other artists, or art editors coming in during the creative process and making or demanding changes. Visual arts are unique in that way. Because of this, I think the contributions to the future they make will have a more significant impact and insights in many ways that other arts won’t. Pure conjecture on my part because I won’t be there to see.
Visual arts are unique in their creation because they aren’t made through a group think process. – Barney Davey
You may have a difference of opinion from me about the role of visual arts as both a legacy and as a meaningful gift to the future. Feel free to offer your comments. In thinking of you and your potential legacy and your contributions to the future, I commend this quote to you:
Nothing great can be accomplished without enthusiasm. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Da Vinci told us art is never finished, only abandoned. I think it is better to get the work out there and get on with the next piece rather than hide behind just a few more finishing touches. If you have talent and work with enthusiasm, it is going to be evident in your work. Buyers see and feel the spirit you put into your art. You can overwork a piece. Too many finishing touches won’t improve sales or likeability of your art.
I think there is intent. Wayne Dyer has an excellent PBS Special and book called The Power of Intention. If you have time now, I recommend it to you to watch. It’s free. Below is the entire presentation. Otherwise, bookmark this post and make a date and time to get back. Either way, you will be glad you took the time to watch.
In what seems like a lifetime ago, circa 1972 or so, in some friend’s garage, I came across a plaque with a saying I have never forgotten. It looked like something you buy in a souvenir shop, but that didn’t stop it from making an indelible impression on me. It said:
I immediately adopted this as my motto. Those six words spoke to me. They gave my life new meaning. I was a young adult then, too immature into what my life was about to grasp how much this motto would mean to me over the years. I just knew it resonated with me like few things I have ever read.
At some point, I have no recollection of when I added another line to it. I supplemented it, and kept with the alliterative nature of the motto, by ending with, “Leave better.” It would be years later before I realized the potency of what “Leave Better” means. It is what I am writing about today.
To me, leaving a legacy is not about the significance of what you did as compared to that of someone else. To make such comparisons is a way to become disappointed and disillusioned by what your life could have and should have been. It is about doing what Steve Jobs said, “Making a dent in the universe.”
Jobs made his dent on a macro scale that only a few will ever match. Most of us in our lives pale to likes of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, or Pope Francis. Francis’ humanity seems to have arrived perfectly enqueue. That’s a post for another day. Let’s leave it that you nor I need compare to the giants among us. We can make a difference all the same.
It is about what you do with your life. Nothing is trivial. The simple act of giving another unconditional love and support is more than enough. Yours might be to have raised responsible, loving children who will make their dent. You might be a firefighter, a teacher, a soldier, a docent, an artist, a poet, or the person who does kind, thoughtful things when no one is looking.
Your family, friends, and fans don’t have to create elaborate memorials to ensure you were here is not forgotten. You can make your legacy in your way by just leaving it better.
You can’t tell what will happen with your art after you’re gone. It is, as I said, a gift to the future. That alone is powerful stuff. Still, I don’t advise you to make art with the thought of how future generations will perceive it. I recommend you make art because you have the talent and vision to create something unique and beautiful. Make it with intention.
If you have seen his PBS special or watched his video above on the Power of Intention, you are in the know. Regardless, reading in the color box below is worthwhile.
I think if you make art to the best of your ability and live your life with allowing rather than wanting, you will enjoy fulfillment and your legacy will be secure. Here are some edited thoughts from Wayne Dyer from his website. They come from a conversation posted there:
Dyer explains how virtue is a critical concept in the Law of Attraction. He refers to the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu. “He says in there, 2,500 years ago, if you live from these virtues, then all that you could ever need or want could be provided for you. This is called the Hua Hu Ching, written by Lao Tzu. It’s the unknown teachings of Lao Tzu. Number 51 says Those who want to know the truth of the universe should practice the four cardinal virtues. The first is reverence for all of life. This manifests as unconditional love and respect for oneself and all other beings. The second is natural sincerity. This manifests as honesty, simplicity, and faithfulness. The third is gentleness, which manifests as kindness, consideration for others and sensitivity to spiritual truth. The fourth is supportiveness. This manifests as service to others without expectation of reward.”
“All great spiritual masters are teaching what we’re talking about,” says Dyer. “They’re teaching forgiveness. They’re teaching kindness. They’re teaching love. They’re not teaching wanting. They’re not teaching greed.”
So the notion of seeking what you want, or think you need, is not what the Power of Intention is all about. “The ego’s mantra is ‘What’s in it for me? How can I get more? I want a BMW in my driveway next Thursday, ” he explains. “All of that is what most spiritual teachers call the false self—the ego.”
According to Dyer, the process of allowing, just being and embracing this heightened level of consciousness, goes back not to attracting what you want but attracting what you are.
“You have to just be. You have to let go. You have to allow. You have to be free and make this your consciousness.” He continues, “Basically, what you would see is a frequency (of energy) that manifests itself through the process of giving, of allowing, of offering and of serving. It asks nothing back.”
Dyer illustrates the concept of giving without expectations by quoting the great poet Hafiz: “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth ‘you owe me.’
Just free your mind and let it take you to the many different things you can do to make your art a legacy. You can donate it to museums, foundations, or other public places and institutions. You can follow the sage advice of Maria Brophy in her How to Become a Famous Artist and Leave a Legacy post.
The ways you can get your art into the world to share it with future generations are almost endless. The boundaries of what you can do with it are only in your mind. Set your imagination to the no-limit zone to find out how you can make something lasting happen with your art and your legacy.