Critics didn’t receive his artistic endeavors too kindly, claiming that his art resembled the work of a child. As he ventured into his own realm of originality, even some of his friends were skeptical. As Georges Braque famously commented, “to paint in such a way was as bad as drinking petrol in the hope of spitting fire.”
The ingenuity and creativity that now characterize Pablo Picasso’s reputation as an artist is nothing compared to the bravery of sticking with his artistic vision, even though it so clearly displeased others.
Though he faced his own critics, some fellow marvels fared much worse. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his actual life; Zora Neale Hurston fell into obscurity and was buried as a poor woman in an unmarked grave; and a jury in Athens prescribed hemlock for Socrates as punishment for his teachings. Who knows how many brilliant minds have passed through life without being able to satisfyingly share their talents with the world? Yet, that was the fate they followed unwaveringly, despite the economic, social and physical consequences. Through it all, they remained loyal to themselves and their visions.
Their display of courage is almost as impressive as their talent.
That confidence to push forward is something we all need to be reminded of sometimes. Trusting your intuition is harder when personal insecurities and critics lurk like vultures. There’s a difference between mindfully receiving criticism and allowing criticism, or what we perceive to be criticism, to be a roadblock.
“Think outside of the box” and “step outside of your comfort zone” are familiar mottos that sometimes disappear when people actually take the meaning to heart, apparently stepping a little too far outside of the established comfort zones.
Steve Jobs challenged traditional norms by dropping out of college and forging his own education without institutional guidance. The concept that an education is an individual process is still radical today, over 30 years later. His decision probably would not be the best for everyone, but what’s important is to realize, like him, that the true scope of possibilities for any decision probably extends much further than the options we give ourselves. We should seek the boldness to define our lives independently of others, not just for the sake of rebellion, but because the world is so much more beautiful when a Da Vinci and a Picasso coincide within a museum that recognizes the value in both.
Innovation is praised by academic institutions and businesses alike, but it demands change. As much as we as individual students want to stand out on our résumés, distinguishing ourselves as the catalysts of change can be intimidating when it means standing out in other ways, too.
In November, Lehigh continued a fresh tradition set by students last year, and our Dance Marathon got students on their feet for eight hours to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
This year, one student, Madison McGahan, organized Lehigh’s first Pride Walk, an event that gained support from departments and students all over campus.
On Wednesday, the Black Student Union held a memorial in honor of Michael Brown and to “remember the lives that have been lost within the black community for no other plausible reason than the color of their skin.”
All of these events required students to be captivated by an idea and determined enough to carry it out. Their passion outweighed the fear of criticism or failure. These actions are clearly large group efforts created by the work of individuals.
Finding inspiration in our peers and professors is meaningful, but so is finding inspiration in ourselves.
Janet Mock, a transgender woman who spoke at Lehigh during LGBT History Month in October, describes her life in her autobiography, “Redefining Realness.” She grew up without any transgender role models until she was a teenager, struggling until then to explain why she felt the way she did. She stood by her identity when it was confusing and, at times, dangerous to do so, even though it wasn’t something she could define. “I didn’t know that trans people existed; I had no idea that it was possible for thirteen-year-old me to become my own woman,” she writes.
Like Mock and Picasso, at first, we might not be able to put a label on who we are or what we want to do, but we should give ourselves the chance to figure it out. Some people are fortunate enough to have support behind their decisions and success afterward, but those who lack prospects of either should not be deterred.
As future innovators within our respective fields, and even just as human beings who want to fully enjoy our lives, it’s important that we develop the bravery to take risks and stand behind them.