Emily Carr University of Art & Design,
Honorary Doctor of Letters – May 2012
I would like to thank President Burnett and Chancellor Kerr and those who are responsible for granting me this singular honour which, if you know my passion for the arts, you would know that it is very meaningful to me. It was also a pleasure for me to receive the news from Chancellor Kerr as he and his brother have been good friends of mine for almost sixty years. Our mutual friend, Sam Feldman, once described the difference between these two brothers when he said, “Jake’s cravat cost more than Tim’s entire wardrobe.”
One of the great learning experiences of my life was the six years I spent on the UBC Board, 3 of which were as Chairman, where I got to interact and befriend so many highly educated and dedicated academics, researchers and administrators. These people committed their whole working lives to providing the best learning and research platform possible within the resources available for the benefit of us all. I found it a stimulating and very creative environment during an exciting time at UBC, a time that gave me a great many take home memories that impacted on my thinking and my life. While I have not had the same level of experiences with the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, in my research I have become very aware of the quality of the reputation, nationally and internationally, of this significant and long standing institution and the important work it does in both developing as well as protecting our culture which is fundamentally important to our city, province and our country and is the very essence of our national identity.
I believe it when it was said that art and design influence culture, culture shapes our values and our values will determine our future. I like a phrase by Bill Mayer to the effect that “creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous” and it is that “marvelous” result that stirs the passions of a collector like myself. Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist when we grow up.” I stand before you to prove him wrong as I was devoid of talent from birth which is why I am a collector of fifty years and which has given me the opportunity to learn the importance of design and the arts to our history, our community and our future. I have also found art and design to be the most accurate measure of my own changing taste as I observe my collection over time.
I believe the student experience at Emily Carr University has to be more focused and intense than at any other post secondary institutions – a more powerful personal experience in a smaller environment of students with serious talents following their heart and their passions.
Their careers will cause some of them to engage in conflict with convention and to strive to compose the wonderful possibilities that are hidden form the rest of us. On this road they will usually face some degree of denial, rejection, difficulty and doubt as set backs are the hand maiden of success. But with diligence and good fortune some will produce work that has two faces – one towards its own time and one towards the future – a sort of immortality.
Paul Johnson wrote – the history of art and design is the story of exceptionally gifted, obstinate and willful artists breaking free of the canon and its restrictions, carrying society with them, thus in time creating new canons. He also pointed out that art predated writing and structured speech and as well he referred to the artist as the first professional. This has been refuted by another “oldest female professional” which should not be appropriately debated here today.
Generally, the stronger the skills and passion the greater the battle between conformity and freedom. This is as true of business and politics as it is of the arts and I believe that economic freedom, like artistic freedom, should be among those basic rights of individuals – as fundamental as free speech and the pursuit of happiness. I value economic freedom not merely for its utility but for the way it enables us to take responsibility for our lives – to paint our own masterpieces so to speak and to be the authors of our own destiny. Restrictions on economic freedom, no matter how well intended or lofty, are misguided as they impose conformity on life’s canvases or stories that free citizens might otherwise create or compose.
Taking individual responsibility for our actions and mixing in a passion for what we chose to pursue is the essential ingredient of a successful and meaningful life and career. Creativity is giving into your talent and allowing yourself to make mistakes. Judgment or the art is knowing which one to keep and when to persist.
The eccentric and difficult Steve Jobs articulates what I mean as well as it can be said at a 2005 Stanford Convocation address and I quote:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to di is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
He went on to say:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I was very fortunate to have been both a third generation British Columbian of parents who instilled in me a passion for this finest place on earth and more by luck than management I found an industry that also aroused my passions.
Life doesn’t get more enjoyable than living in a place you love and pursuing a career that excites and motivates. However, I have learned that life, for the most part, is a series of little steps rather than big ones – some forward, some back. Passion is the driver that keeps us putting one foot ahead of the other. Passion raises the bar and standards of excellence. And most importantly, passion is contagious and infects those around us creating the common goals and team work that are necessary for success. E.M. Forester wrote that, “One man with passion is worth forty people merely interested.” It is true. Unquestionably, there is no weapon on earth as powerful as the human soul on fire.
When one is passionate about where he or she lives it is natural to contribute in whatever small way to make it a better place. Adam Smith wrote, and I quote,
“There are evidently some principles and passions in mans’ nature which interest him in the fortunes of others and render their happiness necessary to him even though he derives nothing from it.”
While he accurately identified man’s passion to be involved in the needs of others he was wrong if he meant “the nothing he derives” was anything more than in the material sense. It is so often true that the giver is in fact the receiver, the contributor the beneficiary. The take home pay is far more than the satisfaction one gets from fulfilling a community obligation. It is the learning opportunity we gain from interacting with other dedicated people outside the narrow confines of our daily endeavours – particularly true in supporting institutions like Emily Carr who foster and promote the next generation. Without mentorship there is not future.
Former 1st Lady Barbara Bush said it well and I quote:
“Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our own minds to the unexpected worlds occupied by the needs of others.”
The truth is the better you serve your family, customers, associates and community the more they will help with your own objectives as, in most cases, the loyalty that produces the commitment to them is a two way street. The only way to get loyalty is to give it but once earned I found it to be my most valuable asset.
So there you have the drivers in my life in a nut shell so, as Jim Flaherty said recently, I will bring this to a close before this speech becomes as long as it seems.
So I conclude by thanking the University for this wonderful honour which I will always cherish. To your students I would say I envy your talent, your experience here and your future. As the great da Vinci said: “Design and art surpasses all human works by reason of the subtle possibilities they contain.”
So you are fortunate indeed to have the talent and desire to participate.
Thank you again for the honour and for listening to my ramblings.
Peter M. Brown