The most significant influence

Imagine a five-year-old on a beach, a child who picks up a stick and draws complicated designs in the sand, a child who gathers leaves and shells and rocks and carefully arranges and rearranges them. As you are watching this five year old child on the beach, you think: this child is destined to be an artist. And you feel that this is so true and so right that you want to help. But you have limited resources.

You have to make a choice. You could buy this child art supplies - paint and paper and clay and pencils. Or you could buy this child art lessons. You cannot do both because you do not have the resources to do both. Which would you choose?

When someone gives us lessons, we know that we are being influenced. When an artist becomes famous, their teachers may also become famous. People write books tracing the influence in colours and shapes and brush strokes and ideas. Teachers get credit, well-earned, for the way they shape and support the talents of their students.

But theirs is not the primary influence. There is nothing to teach without the tools of the trade. Artists can become artists without teachers. They cannot be artists without the stuff out of which they make their art, whether that is pens and paper or rocks on the beach. We remember the teacher who gives ideas. We often forget that the person who gives us the right materials to do our work.

It's very hard even to thank the person who gives us the raw materials out of which we will shape ourselves and our influence. When we get stuff, it often looks like debris on a beach - fragments without meaning. We might say thank you for a box of paints. But how would we know that same box of paints would open doors for the rest of our lives? How would we know that what we were given would have significance long after it was used up or discarded? We wouldn't know at the time we said thank you how much there was to be grateful for.

This is a thank you to someone who once gave me a box of paints.


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