You could say the two artists were a lot alike. Both passionate about their art and both at the top of their game at the world’s premiere animation studio in Burbank California. I think I can speak about these two Disney artists because I knew them both and we spent a fair amount of time together. Both working and in conversation. Yet, as much as these two were alike, they couldn’t have been more different. The first artist made his way to the top by being the best in his class. A fierce competitor, he often belittled his peers for what he considered their lack of initiative and a willingness to settle for less. He cut savvy financial deals that would benefit him and his family and gave little thought to those beneath him who would have to make do with a good deal less. It was clear he had total confidence in himself as an artist and a person, although, some might have substituted a different word for his attitude. Then again, what’s wrong with celebrating your own success? After all, you’ve earned it, right?
Let’s talk about artist number two. A guy who had worked a tough life as a laborer and had lived in Europe before coming to the Walt Disney Studio. He too, was an artist and extremely passionate about his work. You might even say his work was the perfect reflection of himself. His bold, dramatic brushstrokes on canvas truly revealed who he was. However, the energy and vitality of his paintings were not confined to his canvases. The same blistering passion were also part of his daily conversation. Something the casual visitor to his office would soon become aware should they offer an opinion. As expected, the gritty artist also had a social conscience and was not above speaking out for those less fortunate than himself. I guess you can probably see where this is going, right? What if these passionate artists clashed face to face? Well, one quiet day at the Walt Disney Studio that’s exactly what happened.
While I don’t remember the exact details of this particular petition, the document was being circulated throughout the Walt Disney Studios for signatures by the artists. As you can imagine, the complaint was usually about compensation. Today, such a complaint would be handled by the motion picture union. However, some years ago it was not unusual for employee complaints to be handled in this manner. So, here’s how the story goes. Artist Number Two knocked on the office door of artist Number One. “We’d appreciate your signature,” said the young progressive artist. “After all, we’re all in this together.” Artist Number One had the prestigious title of, directing animator, so you might be guessing his name about now. The smug directing animator snatched the petition from the hand of Artist Number Two and gave it a quick glance. Then, he quickly handed the petition back without bothering to sign it. Before turning back to his work, he snarled a few words I don’t think I’ll ever forget. “I got mine! You get yours!” And, with that, the second artist took his petition and headed for the door. However, before leaving, he turned toward the well heeled directing animator with a few final words. “You know what,” he said. “If your blankety-blank house was on fire I wouldn’t piss on it!” And, that was the end of the conversation.
It’s 2017, and that little Disney incident happened many years ago. Two talented Disney artists had a brief conversation. I confess I admire each of the men and had the pleasure of knowing and working with both. As I said, they were equally passionate about their work and how they lived their lives. Yet, I can’t help but wonder which side you would fall on? Do you support the “Self Made Man” who worked hard and made it to the top on his own terms? Or perhaps you identify with the socially conscious artist who felt he had a responsibility to concern himself with the needs of others even though he himself was doing well? What happened at the Walt Disney Studios so many years ago seems especially relevent today. That little incident honestly reminds me who I am. More importantly, it also informs me who you are.