WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE GIFTED: The homeless man who found success drawing on the streets of London.
Recently my Dad told me the story of a homeless man who sold sketches on the street to make ends meet. One day a gallery director discovered his drawings and helped him to put on his own art show, which was a sell-out success. Now the artist, John Dolan, makes 3-4k for drawings that would have sold for a few pounds on the streets previously.
I love to hear stories like that – stories of unexpected success. My Dad, however, felt quite miffed that someone could be earning thousands of pounds just because of a lucky break, as opposed to his daughter who has struggled to have much success through her art, or at least in the sense that Lisa Maltby is not exactly a household name.
I guess it depends how you define success but there is something in all of us that makes us feel that we ‘deserve’ something, usually because we have worked extremely hard at it. Hard work and determination pay off, so we like to think, and when it doesn’t we feel a great sense of injustice. But deep down, we’re all secretly hoping for that ‘lucky break’ – that little bit of grace.
I’ve always believed, like my Dad, in working hard and persevering. Why then, does the story of the homeless man seem a better story than, say, a man who worked hard all his life only to have his art discovered after he is dead and buried? Does striving for something always make a ‘success’ more admirable or praiseworthy? And I guess my answer to that would be no, because we are all gifted in some way or another and only a small percentage will ever see any great success from their work. Notice the word gifted; it is not earned or strived for, it’s who you are and what you possess within you, not what you do. For me, people who truly know this have discovered something quite amazing because their journey is an expression of who they are. They are contented and thankful for the opportunities they are given and do not feel a sense of injustice when their work is rejected – because their work is an opportunity to learn, to grow and to enjoy. Like John, they are humbly living in the day to day. I’m not suggesting such people don’t work hard too, but it is less about the outcome and more about the process.
We could all do with a lucky break from time to time, but what if that lucky break never comes? Will we be bitter about it or will we simply be thankful for the opportunities we’re given? Are we constantly striving for some sort of end result or are we simply enjoying the processes we partake in? Anything else becomes a bonus.
Interestingly, John Dolan still goes out and draws on the streets of London despite his fortunes because it’s where he feels most at home. He does not think he has ‘made it’ – he is still the same humble man, content doing what he loves: drawing. His real success started way before a gallery director noticed his drawings of a dog named George. His drawings are amazing.
John’s story has challenged me about my own attitude to success and achievement. Am I about the ‘success’ or am I about the journey? Am I able to be just as proud of a sketchbook doodle as I am of a highly paid commission, simply because it expressed more or taught me something new? Am I able to spend hours writing and illustrating children’s stories, then take it on the chin if they’re rejected? What is my motive? Success in itself can never be a good motive for anything. And people who get a ‘lucky break’ have probably already considered themselves lucky long before it.
You can find out more about John’s amazing drawings here: http://howardgriffingallery.com/artists/john-dolan
Read John’s story here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/19/john-dolan-homeless-addict-to-artist-and-author