“You were a big fish in a small pond, but this here is the ocean and you’re drowning’.” – Big Fish
I am currently reading the book, David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell. I am only about 70 pages in, but it tells a powerful story about perspective and how we tackle giants in life. The section I read today discussed the emergence of the Impressionist movement in art history.
Apparently, some of the world’s greatest painters (names like Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Pissario, Renoir, etc.) used to meet together regularly to discuss art, life, and politics among other things. One of those things was the Salon, which happened to be the most renowned art exhibition in all of France. It also was one of the most important for all of these painters.
These painters (approximately 3000-4000 painters) were able to submit three paintings for the jury of the Salon. Approximately, a third of those paintings were selected for display in the Salon’s large barn. The paintings were displayed in four tiers, and the best of the best were placed “on the line,” or at eye level. These were the paintings the millions of spectators were guaranteed to see, love, and demand, thus increasing the popularity of the artist.
The Impressionists, however, had struggled to have their paintings received by the Salon. Even when they were successful in having one approved, it was stuck in the ceiling, or displayed in the back room, where no one would really see it. This was almost as bad as not being selected for the Salon.
The paintings of the Impressionists were against the grain, and not the traditional concepts that the juries typically voted for display in the Salon. The Impressionists could have chosen to believe that they were not talented enough to be successful French painters, but we all know that is not what happened.
Instead, they banded together to form one of the most important and inspirational movements in art history. They elected to hold their own version of the Salon to display their art. Judging by some of the names I listed, which you have probably heard of before, I will let you guess how successful they were.
In essence, the Impressionists chose not to be a little fish in a big pond. They chose the opposite–to stand as a big fish in a little pond and be noticed.
We all cannot be big fish in the big pond. Certainly that is what we strive to be–the best of the best. However, the odds are not always in our favor. The timing may not be right, the fit may be wrong, or we may not be dealt the right cards.
That was the case for the Impressionists. Yet, they chose not to look at themselves as failures. They chose not to drown in the ocean. They recognized the odds were stacked against them, and they decided to do something about it. They showed some initiative and figured out their own way to stand out. They created their own legacy. They built their own pond, and became the big fish, perhaps even the biggest fish.
At the very outset of this blog, I shared the quote, “Sometimes you gotta create what you want to be part of.” (Geri Weitzman) The Impressionists knew this, and knew that if they wanted people to appreciate their style and their vision of art, and if they wanted to be renowned French painters, they had to create a movement all on their own.
It is perfectly acceptable to choose to swim in the big pond. That style suits many people. However, that big pond can also be overwhelming. It can make us feel inadequate, unsuccessful, unintelligent because we start to compare ourselves to others in that pond, or do not have the proper perspective on how we are being evaluated.
When/If you find yourself drowning in the ocean, remember the story of the Impressionists. Those feelings do not have to define you. Those feelings do not make you a failure. We all have heard of Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Cezanne because they were brave enough to stand alone. They were confident enough in themselves to know that the opinion of one group is only that. They chose their own pond, and now their work and movement are legendary.
My challenge to you is this: Be your own person. Remember everyone’s opinion is only that, an opinion. Find your pond and keep swimming. Big or small, it will not define you…unless you let it.
Bring your best today!