Two weekends ago, on my Birthday, I went shopping in a random store and walked in on Corey Pane painting shoes.
He was asked by the store to paint Toms shoes for anyone who purchased a pair, for free. Of course, I bought a pair and wanted him to paint mine. I was struck by his personality—so carefree, patient, hardworking and humble. This guy is probably the most famous artist among the football community and paints absolutely unbelievable murals—solely for community enjoyment.
Whenever I meet an artist, I instantly feel connected to that person in a way that I seldom do for others. Artists express themselves. They use art to be vulnerable. That’s what I do, too: I use words to be vulnerable.
I express how I feel—about myself, about others, about this world—in a way that is visceral and raw. I take the risk, hoping that others will find some sort of comfort or understanding in it. And that’s what Corey Pane does, through painting.
I knew he understood I was different, too. I didn’t ask him to paint a simple flower or something trendy—or to paint what he had painted for other shoes. Instead, I gave him an idea. I told him how I felt. I explained that I am an artist, too, even if my art is a little different.
I told him that light is important to me. I see light in others, I try to shine light, and I believe the world needs more Light. I told him I visited the most photographed lighthouse in the world a couple years ago (Peggy’s Cove, in Novascotia, and that it looks similar to a lighthouse that could be seen off the coast of the store we were both in). I told him that if he was painting shoes, then both shoes needed to feed off each other: The images on one shoe should connect to the images on the second shoe. He liked that thought. We went back and forth with ideas, before we both, at pretty much the same time, decided that one shoe should have a lighthouse and the other should include beams of light going out in all directions—as if they’re coming out from the lighthouse. He even extended the metaphor a bit by saying that the images could represent that light can be seen in day or night, making me think that he understood just how important Light is to me—at all times.
Attached to this blog post is a picture of the shoes, which he later told me were his favorite pairs he created that day. A few people walked into the store and asked him to create the exact same pair for them.
The experience got me thinking about why we can’t all engage on this sort of level—why we don’t all talk about our core values, or express ourselves artistically, or take the risk to connect with people on a deeper level.
I wish that we could all lean into these qualities and values, that we could all be just a little more open about who we are, who we want to be, and how we see the world. That we would express that creatively and engage meaningfully with others. That’s why I started this blog in the first place: to show that vulnerability is the best way to find connection and build community. I wanted to hold myself accountability to that, and to help others see the power in it, too.
I believe artists are simply people leaning into creativity and vulnerability—what I argue are two of the most important qualities anyone can possess. People who live out those qualities can be spotted in a second. And, usually, those qualities help us develop some important values—like empathy, intentionality, and courage. Corey lives and breathes these qualities, as do many artists, but they don’t have to be the only ones. We can all live like this. We can all take a second to hear someone’s idea, and intentionally, creatively and humbly build out that idea. Thank you, Corey, for reminding me the way we should all live, and may we keep pushing ourselves and each other to seek that vulnerability in all that we do.