Sunday, May 28, 2017

If I'm So Smart Why Ain't I Rich?

Yesterday afternoon I again stopped to visit  the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art here in Duluth, which is currently having its first annual Student/Instructor Art Exhibition, in which a totally impressive body of work is being displayed. At one point I was listening to a conversation that circled around the question of why some artist's work increases in value or declines in value. What gives a person's work significance? Why is this painting, which two years ago could be purchased for $5,000 now worth $150,000?

The discussion shifted to musicians, but could have encompassed engineers, mathematicians, novelists and other fields of endeavor. The highways of life are littered with people who pursued fame instead of their passions. The latter will find that their excellence at honing their gifts will likely enable them to provide for their families and grant them a deep satisfaction. If, however, they nurture a secret resentment because someone else got hold of a ticket to fame and fortune, they will become susceptible to a root of bitterness that infects their souls and steals the happiness and contentment that ought to have been their.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, one of the "Wisdom Books" of the Old Testament, has a verse that years ago became a favorite of mine. I once did a drawing of a runner to illustrate this passage, Ecclesiastes 9:11.

The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor bread to the wise,
Nor riches to men of understanding,
Nor favor to men of skill;
But time and chance happen to them all.

Line, shape, form, perspective and light.
There are so many images packed into this little gem of a verse, with a hundred applications. It's an axiom of American Dream literature, beginning with Horatio Alger stories, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill's Think And Grow Rich and all the modern spin-offs of this ilk, that riches are guaranteed in America to anyone and everyone who simply works hard and believes in themselves. The downside here, if you buy into the possibility thinkers' rhetoric, is that if you are not rich then the problem is you. If you don't win the battle, win the job, catch the golden ring, then you are no good. Or that God is not with you. Maybe God is even against you. This verse clearly indicates that that kind of thinking is all crap. Winning or losing says nothing about your worth.

Some of the most influential people are ordinary people who through years of quiet personal sacrifice enriched others. They didn't have to do what they did, could have simply kept to themselves. Instead they turned outward, and almost unintentionally touched so many lives. I'm thinking very specifically of two people here, John Bushey and Dr. Robert Powless.

As Rumi said, "Let the beauty of what you love be what you do."

All this to say that when I visited the Great Lakes Academy of Art this weekend, I got the impression that Jeffrey Larson, the school's founder, was one of these kinds of people. As I spoke with the students who have been part of this new school, it became apparent that lives were being touched, shaped, inspired and becoming serious and intentional.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it generously.

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