I remember from my graduate days in psychology studying Alfred Adler’s theories of individual psychology. During World War I, Adler served as a physician in the Austrian Army, first on the Russian front, and later in a children’s hospital. He saw first-hand the damage that war does and his concept of “compensation” emerged from his WWI experiences. “Every individual represents a unity of personality and the individual then fashions that unity,” postulated Adler. “The individual is thus both the picture and the artist. Therefore if one can change one’s concept of self, they can change the picture being painted.” Adlerian psychology assumes a central personality dynamic reflecting the growth and forward movement of life. It is a future-oriented striving toward an ideal goal of significance, mastery, success or completion.
Enter artist Jim Stevens. Jim began drawing as a child when he “borrowed” a piece of charcoal from his grandmother’s studio along with a few sheets of sketching paper. When she found out, instead of rebuking the boy, she recognized his passion and talent and began teaching him how to draw. He would go on to study with American master sculptor Ed Dwight and helped him with his 12-foot high bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that stands today outside Morehouse College’s King Chapel in Atlanta, Georgia. A palette of successes and commissions followed as did shows in prominent galleries.
While a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol leader in Vietnam, Jim Stevens was shot in the head during a combat mission. The wound resulted in severe migraine headaches which plague him even today. In 1993, he suffered a migraine that caused a stroke which, in turn, took his eyesight in just 30 minutes. After losing all but a pin-dot of his eyesight, he found himself divorced and the blind single parent of two preteen daughters. He was also unable to continue teaching at the University of Colorado and lost all confidence to continue with his art.
In 2000, at the encouragement of his children, he began to “compensate” and to produce art again. Slowly, but deliberately; giving his art away as gifts until he realized that there was more he could do with his artistic abilities. He worked hard; re-learning his pre-injury craft until the more he did the more he believed he was capable of and the quality of his art returned to full expression using specially-made lenses for his eyes. When Jim Stevens looks at something, he can take in only one detail at a time. If he looks closely, he can see a person’s eye. To look at the eyebrow above it, he has to tilt his face up slightly. It speaks to the effort he has to engage to use his primary artistic tool; that of sight, which makes his art even more astounding.
Jim’s compensation for his physical and emotional injuries has drawn attention to him from 3-time Emmy Award winning screenwriter Paul Cooper who wrote a screenplay about his life, NBC News, CBS News, Colorado Public Radio and PBS NewsHour. He’s had three books published on art and his monofilament paintings, scrimshaw, and other works are collected internationally. Jim’s won the VA National Gold Medal for Fine Art, the Sargent Art Supply Company National Award for Art and he’s been honored as a Kennedy Center Registered VSA Artist in both the visual and literary arts. On top of those kudos, he’s the only legally blind man, and oldest man, to ever win the men’s fighting competition at the Martial Arts “Tournament of Champions”
When you start to make a list of the reasons for not pursuing your dream and are inclined to erect a scaffold of excuses for not pursuing your passion, think of Jim Stevens. You can then choose to either count your losses or count your blessings. You can walk up to the canvas of your life and begin to paint or you can sit at home watching television regretting what might have been. But, remember: DREAMS TRUMP LIMITATIONS.
“A man with a vision is never truly blind” Jim Stevens
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