Leaving a Legacy | Your Beautiful Gift to the World

We All Leave a Legacy

We each leave a legacy. Our lives are like chapters in a book — a rare book with unlimited pages. Some of us leave a few paragraphs or sentences, while others take pages and pages. History will neither value nor judge your legacy by volume of your pages.

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.

Art Lives Long; Life Is Short

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.

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Your Art Is a Gift to the Future

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.

Billions of Random Online Images Are a Blur

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.

Convergence - Jackson Pollock -
Convergence – Jackson Pollock – courtesy

Art Makes a Unique Statement

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.

Art Captures Mystery, Intrigue and Insights

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.

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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.

Art Makes a Singular, Distinctive Dent

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

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Enthusiasm Trumps Perfection

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 the 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.

Creating Legacy through Intention

I think there is the 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.

Recipe for Living a Life Found in a Forgotten Place

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:

Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much

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.

Completing the Thought — Giving It Gravitas

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.

Leaving a Legacy Is Not a Competition

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.

Leaving a Legacy Is about Your Journey

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 Legacy Does Not Have to Go on Your Tombstone.

Rodney Dangerfiled tombstone - courtesy Jvoves - Flckr
Rodney Dangerfield tombstone – courtesy Jvoves – Flickr

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.

A Gift to the Future.

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.

Wayne Dyer Offers Invaluable Insights into 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:

“Most people’s mistake in trying to apply the law of attraction is they want things; they demand things. But God doesn’t work that way,” says Dyer. “It’s all about allowing.”

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 a 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.’

There Are Countless Ways You Can Live Your Life and Leave a Legacy to Count

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.


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  1. Everything you wrote here Barney are wonderful words of wisdom. Also, listening to Wayne Dyer this morning made my day. I hope to keep it with me too help my achieve and maintain clean connections to higher consciousness and source of well being.
    Thank you so much Barney!

  2. Thank you Barney,
    I think this is a point that cannot be made often enough. I believe art, like all the gifts we have been given, should serve the community. That has been the role of art for far longer than the current trend. You hit the crux of the matter with :

    “I recommend you make art because you have the talent and vision to create something unique and beautiful. Make it with intention.”

    Beauty is the true vocation of the artist and should guide everything we do. It is beauty that attracts us to art in the first place. If we live a beautiful life, we will create beautiful art that will serve the community for generations to come.

  3. Actually, I think it would be immensely helpful for you to let people know what you are doing for the wounded veterans ( you said you weren’t going to make a big deal or announcement regarding this). It’s news like this that gets other people (artists?) thinking along the same lines and perhaps encourages them to do the same or similar project. My husband and I donate money to this charity, but I’m very drawn to your idea!

    1. Hi Janet, Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your suggestion. It helps me understand I need to be clearer about my intent. I will let people know what I am doing in a more forceful, impactful way once I have setup the mechanisms for making this happen. What I meant by not making a big deal is I don’t plan to make it known to other members that a wounded warrior had joined on free account. I would leave it to them to decide whether to share that with the group. I want to be sensitive to how vets coming in free will feel about it. I don’t want any members who come in this way to feel self-conscious about their membership. My thought was to let those whose paid membership know what wounded warrior they helped get into the group without making an announcement about it to the entire membership.

  4. Thanks Barney, your words are very thoughtful and important about what matters most.
    I’ll re-read from time to time.
    Also, where can we find your wood work creations? Would like to see your artistic talent!

    1. Thanks Patricia, I appreciate your comment. My woodworking was all done before the idea of having a website came into vogue. Pictures of my finished work never made it to the Internet.

  5. My good friend, Dick, thank you for your kind words here and continuing support over the years. I have been blessed to know you and to work with you. Your thoughts about how the buyer, the end-user would love the art they purchased without hangups about its collectible value are poignant words of wisdom every artist should read and understand. It’s a big world and there are so many ways to make art and get it to market. The interior design market you represented so well continues to be an outstanding place to get a steady source of repeat buyers whose to criteria is the quality of the image and its appropriateness for the intended space. What a great way to sell art. “I will show you what I have to offer. If you like, you buy it, and pay today.” Nothing wrong with that scenario.

  6. Hi Barney: There’s so much truth in your article, but the one statement you wrote above is particularly powerful to me:

    “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’ve just begun to experience this in my art, and it’s so thrilling! I’ve discovered that those paintings I just happily jump into on a whim as a great idea for a painting pops into my head – the quicker I begin to paint it without trying to “think” about it or analyze it to death, the better the painting will ultimately be. And if I simply let go and let God – or the Source as Dr. Wayne Dyer so eloquently stated in his video – take over and do the painting through me, uninterrupted by me, that painting will far exceed my expectations of what I thought I could do. It’s truly amazing! There will just be something about that painting that sets it apart from the others – the JND you spoke of. This is powerful stuff, Barney! Thank you so very much for sharing your precious and priceless knowledge with us! I’m truly grateful to you for your generosity.

  7. Great article! Even though I’ve been a watercolor artist for over 40 years I’ve never thought of my art as a part of my long term legacy to unknown others who may view my creations in the distant future.. Your article broadens my vision of the effect or influence of my art. Whether it moves from patron to a gallery or a yard sale, it will continue to offer my interpretation of my world to unknown others. When you think of it in terms of legacy it becomes frightfully wonderful! Thank you!

  8. I finally got to the answer to my question at the end of your display of verbosity. “You can donate it to museums, foundations, or other public places and institutions.”

    Fine! How does one go about locating a willing institution or organization? Hospitals are ill adept for receiving paintings as donations. Museums! Huh! That’s the dream of artists. Foundations? What? I am going to find such foundations in the Foundation Center database? I don’t think so.

    So, where is the practical advice. I need help as my inventory is growing here in my studio. Soon, I will have to pay for additional storage or trash these pieces. What real alternative do you offer?

  9. Great post Barney. This reminds me how the legacy of both Seth Godin and Tom Ziglar are similar, something like to teach others in a way that they teach others. An important part that you touched on is to make an impression and not worry about who gets the credit. I believe if your Art has the right impact that people will know who made it without you looking for the credit. One of the people I feel who has taught us about legacy is the late Zig Ziglar. One of his books that was just updated with his son, Tom, is The Secrets of Closing the Sale – with Emotional Logic. This not only talks about selling, business, and marketing, but about how to live your life to impact a legacy. Society needs Art today that are simple moments. When they pick up on these messages and pass on the ideas, this is your legacy. Keep up the good work Barney.

  10. I liked how you mentioned that every one of us leaves a legacy. I would imagine that anyone would want to leave a legacy and great stories for future generations. I think they should also consider looking for an organization that can send a personal legacy message to outer space.

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