Most creative, successful people have traveled very interesting paths to get to where they are … usually zig-zagging a lot, shifting gears, retracing steps, exploring new passions, revisiting previous experiences, maybe reinventing themselves and generally bouncing back often. All these experiences are part of their creative profile and serve to motivate and inspire them. This feature, The Road Less Traveled tells that story. It answers the question; how did they get to where they are now? This version of the Road Less Traveled describes the path of George E. Miller II, child advocacy artist.
The Business Side of Art
A professional artist must rely on a certain amount of business knowledge to succeed. For many artists, this education often comes from experience. George can testify first hand to this! Things were moving along quite well for him for about 12 years. He had built up a schedule of conferences to exhibit his work, he was receiving art commissions, sales were good at his studio and he had created a substantial inventory of art. His warm, pleasant style and artistic talent were appealing to many people. In 2003, he relocated his family and business to Jacksonville, Florida where the cost of living was more attractive to his business.
He was enjoying a reasonable level of success and then the economic downturn in 2008 hit which had a devastating effect on his personal and business lives. The recession resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of conference attendees who could afford to travel. He suddenly found himself basically alone at his exhibit table. He had lots of experience and practice at being alone. He would once again have to rely on his artwork to move him forward.
The devastation from the recession propelled him to expand his artistic range and seek new markets for his art. He was learning and hearing (mostly from customers) about the devastating effects of abuse on children. This led to him thinking of himself as a child advocacy artist and that art could have a healing affect. He expanded his focus from literacy education to counseling and mental health associations that advocate for children in need. He felt these were places where his art could have the most impact.
George attends about 20 conferences a year, exhibiting his work and is a frequent guest speaker at schools and social service agencies. He also does commission artwork and sales from his studio. He has created hundreds of pieces of art and features 25 of them as an exhibitor. Some of the associations he requents are The Child Welfare League of America, The National Youth at Risk Association, The American Association of School Social Workers, The Federation of Families, National Dropout Prevention Center Network, The Utah Comprehensive Counseling Association, The Florida Coalition for Children and the Florida Network of Child Advocacy Centers. The International Reading Association, among other associations, has used his artwork for the conference program cover. He is honored to work alongside professionals who strive to support children in need.
George believes the difficulties of the recession that almost led to bankruptcy actually gave him an “opportunity to survive”. His expanded artwork and audiences have taken him to places he never could have imagined. And he finds himself feeling closer and closer to the young people his clients serve. George’s artwork can be viewed at http://gemartstudio.com/About.html
Part of the Solution
George sees his life and work as part of the solution to the struggles so many young people face. He encourages them to follow their dreams, but to realize the road will be difficult. Perhaps, if we wish to be part of the solution for others, we must first find solutions for ourselves.
As he ponders his future, he hopes to expand his art and include some of his poetry, perhaps combining the two into a “coffee table” book. He is also enthused about an idea to create artwork to accompany the 30 basic human rights advocated by Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1940s. He has turned what he loves into what he does which seems to be a good recipe for a fulfilling, satisfying life.
George uses his gift “to encourage students to stay in school, to salute the adults that stand up for our children and to make visible the love that exists but cannot always be seen.” Make visible … nice thought, George.
George left the Air Force after five years and took a job as a postal clerk in Los Angeles. It was a secure job for sure, but also very routine. He started out with a walking delivery route for a few years and then worked as a postal security officer. This position, like the others, had a lot of downtime which George used for drawing. At this time, he actually used brown paper towels from the bathroom as his canvas. A quiet assignment that involved little interaction with people worked well for him. Or, so he thought.
At age 24 now, he was still very quiet and conscious of his speech patterns. He continued to dabble in his artwork evenings and weekends. Like school and the military, he was the go-to guy whenever someone wanted any kind of artwork. A co-worker might want a portrait of a child, a friend might want a sign made or any number of other art jobs that enabled him to tolerate the boring work life he had. He knew his passion for art would have to become a bigger part of his life and career. He also knew he had to concentrate on his dream full time. He decided, “if you work full time doing something you dislike and only practice your dream, when you have time for it, the dream suffers”.
Time for a Change
After seven years in the postal service, George decided to change careers to become a full-time artist and entrepreneur. His focus would be on artwork that advocates for children in at-risk situations, starting with literacy. All his family and friends tried to persuade him to stay with the secure postal job; work the 30 years with a modest (steady and secure) salary, good benefits and decent working conditions. They pleaded with him, “Why would you leave something so solid?“
George appreciated their concern and holds no ill will toward them because he knew they were scared for me”. It also occurred to him that he had been sort of “hoodwinked” into believing that this was all he could do in life. Family, friends, school, the military, his coworkers and even society had been sending him the message that this life was good enough for him. He should just be glad he had a good job with decent pay and fall in line like most people. Many of those same family and friends now proudly display George’s artwork in their homes and offices. In fact, they have become his most enthusiastic supporters … and some of his best customers!
A Leap of Faith—Child Advocacy Artist
In 1993, a teacher asked George to be a guest speaker to her middle school students. She wanted them to learn about him and his artwork. This was a bit out of his comfort zone, considering he was still shy about his speaking ability. One thing he was sure of though, was his love for his art. “It’s what is inside me that comes out on the canvas. It mesmerizes me to see where it goes and what I wind up with it.”
The students and the teacher were very impressed with George’s presentation and the teacher encouraged him to think about becoming a full-time artist. In fact, the teacher persisted to the point that she actually helped him contact the California League of Middle Schools to exhibit his work at their annual conference. He was a nervous wreck as he drove down to San Diego from Los Angeles. He was however, shocked and amazed at the positive response teachers had to his work. He credits Ms. Lavette Grey for encouraging him and starting him on his way as a professional artist. In 1996, he launched his career as a full-time artist exhibiting at professional conferences around the country. He and Ms. Grey remain in contact to this day.
The Road Less Traveled
Dr. Patrick O’Connor
Artist George E. Miller, Daughter Joi Miller, Florida First Lady Ann Scott and Governor Rick Scott
It Takes A Village To Raise A Child featured in the Disney Movie The Preacher’s Wife
George’s artistic approach is to engage viewers with images and words. He creates emotional images of children in everyday situations. Many of his pieces call on adults to advocate for children who are at-risk. He also puts hidden messages in his art to draw the viewer into a theme for each piece of artwork. Themes of love, understanding, tolerance, support, hope, inspiration and a passion for learning are featured. George believes everyone has the potential to self-determine a lifetime of successful living. He practices his belief that: “Art is a powerful tool to evoke social change. Without uttering a single word, artists can enlighten, educate and effect change around the world!”
George also likes to feature friends and family members as models for his art. A good example is one of his favorite pieces, Wisdom, Knowledge and Truth. His three daughters are featured as the models; Jazzie as Wisdom, Mia as Knowledge and youngest child Joi as Truth.
Art All the Time
George has had some firsthand experience of his own with children in at-risk situations. An ear infection as a child resulted in a hearing impairment which effected his speech. As such, George was viewed as having limited ability because he rarely talked in his early grades. This led to him being pretty much ignored by his teachers and classmates. He loved to draw and since he spent so much time in isolation, drawing became both a pastime and an emotional release.
The hearing impairment was diagnosed and corrected with surgery around age 11 and both his speech and hearing improved. He finally began to live the school life most children were enjoying. However, by this time, he had been somewhat stereotyped and remained isolated from the mainstream school climate. He had, by this time, however, honed his art skills to the point where he was the go-to guy any time a teacher wanted a class poster, sign or any kind of artwork prepared. He had a niche of sorts but he was still on the outside looking in.
Broadening the Perspective
After high school in Pittsburgh, (four years of art classes) his mother signed so he could enter the Air Force, since he was only 17. He traveled a good bit during his military duty and loved visiting other countries, meeting different people and seeing some amazing world geography. While in the military, many of his assignments were working as a gate guard on a base. This job has a lot of downtime (especially the late shift) which George used for drawing. And the military base had an arts/craft center where he taught some art classes. He also did portraits of retiring military officers and over time, became known as “the base artist”.
How are the Children? Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, the tribe considered to have the most fearsome and intelligent warriors is the mighty Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania. The traditional greeting between Maasai warriors ”Kasserian Ingera” means “and how are the children?” Even warriors with no children give the traditional response, “All the children are well.” This means peace and safety prevail; that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place. It means the daily struggles for existence are secondary to proper care for their young.
How are the children in the US? It’s amazing the number of children in our society that are in at-risk situations, especially considering the billions spent on their well-being. Teen suicide (and attempts), homelessness, obesity, eating disorders, child abuse, absent fathers, drugs, crime, violence and bullying (personal and cyber) are rampant. The number of teens seeking mental health counseling increases every year. The complexity of these problem is difficult to understand. There are, however, many excellent resources for further study on this topic. A good place to start is to visit the website: https://www.healthychildren.org
There are also numerous professional organizations of counselors, teachers, social workers, psychologists, probation officers and mental health providers who are struggling to keep up with the near epidemic nature of young people in at-risk situations. These professionals attend conferences and meetings where they learn the latest in best practices to address the many aspects of this problem. A number of these professionals have met George E. Miller II, child advocacy artist from Jacksonville, Florida.
George Miller has been using his artistic talents for the betterment of children for over 20 years. His art inspires us to learn in cross-cultural and multi-ethnic environments. Students, parents, educators, professionals, business owners and government leaders have praised George for his work that clearly reflects a love for children and his respect for those who teach and care for them. The purpose of his work is “educational art that inspires the spirit of learning”. In 2015, he was recognized as Black History artist of the month by Governor Rick Scott of Florida.