“Stay open to opportunities. The reality is like you can be...
“Stay open to opportunities. The reality is like you can be the greatest artist in the world but if you create with just in your studio and the world doesn't get a chance to interact with you, the chances of you being successful are really slim to none, right, because relationships, they run the world, right?” Gee Horton
ROB: Welcome to Disruption Now. I’m your host and moderator, Rob Richardson. With me is artist, Gee Horton. It's a pleasure to have him on. We want to just talk about his journey, about how he moved from corporate to art and focused on a corporate career and decided to take a huge leap of faith to go out and be an artist. -- Gee, how are you doing?
GEE: I’m doing great, brother. How are you?
ROB: I’m doing well. I’m doing well, man. I forgot. Are you married?
GEE: I am. I have two kids.
ROB: Okay. I am curious to see how this conversation went when you said, “Baby, I want to tell you, God spoke to me, the spirits moved me” -- whatever you told her what happened – “that this is what I need to do. I want to step out, leave my corporate job and be an artist.” How'd that conversation go?
GEE: It was really my wife who said it.
ROB: Oh wow, okay. [Laughter]
GEE: Yeah. I see the best in others sometimes and sometimes it's hard to see the greatness in myself and it takes people around you to really remind you of what you're capable of and my wife, she's one of them. When the pandemic happened and it was that window to really explore what life could look like with me going into this space, she was leading the charge. She was like, “Yo, you need to do this” and here we are.
ROB: I’m married, too, now. Just recently, actually. I got married over Christmas Eve. When I went through like a trying period with my love life in general… I recently got divorced and I was just in a funk and just a lot of things were happening and the best advice I got when it came to a relationship--
I asked this… It’s the president of a black university. I can't remember the brother's name but I remember his advice. I asked him, “How did you know that it was right with your wife and how do you know it might work out?” He said, “Well it wasn't necessarily because I had this hot and heavy feeling forever and that I just knew because of all this passion.” -- I’m not saying that wasn't the case that many times. -- “But the real thing was because--“
That stuff, if we're honest about men, if it's just pure “passion” or lust… You can always find a bigger butt. You can always find… whatever. I mean it's there. If that was your only pursuit, that's what it is. But he said this, and it really stuck with me. He said, “Look, I like who I am when I’m in her presence.”
ROB: It’s really that simple and I thought it was really profound. It’s like if you're around somebody who… you guys are headed in the same direction and you really like who you are when you're in their presence, you got a winner because most of those other things really don't matter. So the fact that you have your wife encourage you says a lot.
GEE: Yeah. And then also, too, to add to that, I think the ability to see yourself through someone, right?
GEE: And when you can do that… Like they can see you in ways you may not see yourself. And my wife, she comes from an entrepreneurial background where her dad was a major entrepreneur. So she grew up seeing this, right, where I didn’t.
GEE: I grew up in the slums in the western Louisville, Kentucky so being an entrepreneur is like not even thought of, right?
GEE: We wake up and we’re working for other people until it's time to retire, whatever that looks like. So it was really hard. Just like, “Yo, we can do this” and really identifying my gift and allowing me to have a space where I can really build it and grow on it.
But I think you have to have those things in place, man. You have to have a team. You need to have a team who can see you like… You know, LeBron couldn't win all the rings by himself. Jordan couldn't. Kobe… You have to have a sharp shooter in the corner ready to knock down the tree. You have to have somebody to get their foot back and kick it down. You have to have all these different players in place in order to make a championship team but also make a championship player. That's how I look at it.
ROB: So speaking about that on the art end, I see a lot of artists struggle with the path of, “How do I move my art in terms of the business side of it?”
ROB: They go through the struggle of, “Okay, do I make art to fit a certain demographic? How do I put it out there? How do I do the marketing? I just want to focus on my art and not worry about selling it,” which is crazy because you still got to eat.
What advice would you give yourself now or would you give others as they're kind of starting off about approaching the art of business, to going about this in a way, to set yourself up or to give yourself an opportunity to be scalable and successful?
What advice would you give other artists? What advice might you give yourself now that you've been through the rough part of the experience and you have these learning lessons?
GEE: Well I’m going to give the advice first then I’m going to wrap it into my story.
GEE: First two important pieces is one, stay open. You got to be open. You got to be creative as an artist. You got to stay open to opportunities. You can be the greatest artist in the world but if you create with just in your studio and the world doesn't get a chance to interact with you, the chances of you being successful are really slim to none because relationships, they run the world, right?
There's an incredible article that I read and it talked about Paris in the height of its day and how it was the mecca for art and artists. It was this hub where all these creative… They dwelled and they played and they created. And some of them were not the “best of the best” artists but they had a vast variety of networks and context and individuals who can consume their work. And that, in the way we view success, was the direct correlation to what success look like.
So I say that to say that networking is important. Get yourself out there as an artist. Don't just create and expect to become this incredible artist. You have to get out there and essentially do some business development. So that's number one.
Number two, I would also say -- and this has been critical for me -- is find a mentor. And the mentor doesn't necessarily have to be an artist. A mentor is someone who understands… He or she understands business and can really allow you to look at your value proposition and get you in a position where you can show up in the world and ready to offer something that is tangible and something that can be “commoditized.” -- And I hate to use that word when we talk about art. -- But really, allow yourself to connect with someone who can see angles that you cannot see.
So those are the two important elements of advice I would give. I think my story though is not traditional in the sense that I didn't go to art school. I don't follow the rules, right?
GEE: I’ve been doing business development for the last three years. I’m showing up in spaces more as a business person who happens to be an artist. And I say that, for me, has given me a level of leverage that not every artist may have access to.
Being in a room with decision-makers and being able to know the emotional intelligence on what needs to be said or what needs to be done and how meetings need to be conducted in order to get that initial meeting to the second meeting, to get the second meeting to a place where we can draft a proposal and we can close out, all of those different intangibles, I’ve learned being in the business environment. So I think it's given me a leg up or a competitive advantage, if you will.
But also, too, I’ve been connecting with influential people for the last couple of years. So when I made the pivot going from “Gary Horton” to “Gee Horton,” that credibility and the relationship piece is already there and it's really more like, “Okay, how can we work together? How can I help you with what you're doing?”
So it's been an interesting time, man. I’m really fortunate and blessed to be in the space that I’m in right now.
ROB: Yeah. I have a similar story in terms of what I’m doing. I’m very new to entrepreneurship -- new, really, to all of this. My former career was as an attorney. I was very concentrated in public service and I saw my path as being mayor, governor and I’m like, “Okay.”
And then I ran for statewide office, did very well but didn't… This is Ohio. It is what it is. Even though I got over 2 million votes… It was a very heavy Trump country and that's not where I was aiming. -- Not the important part of this conversation.
The important part of this conversation is similar to you. I had to pivot but I was already building relationships prior to what I did. So it's very important, as you said, to be intentional about building relationships. Build relationships before you need something in the relationship, if you can, and do something of value.
And also recognize that you can be an artist and still figure out a way to scale your business. I know, specifically in the black community, there's been this, I think, wrongly associated philosophy that if you're chasing money for your art or just for yourself personally then there's something wrong about that or you're being selfish or everything is transactional.
ROB: I tell people like this though… I look at it like this. Dr. Martin Luther King, you wouldn't have known the greatness of his words had he not been on the right platform. And in order for him to get on the right platform, they raised money. You can't do things without some money, some foundation.
I’m not saying that's not your reason for doing everything that you do. But the reality is that, unless you have a plan to figure out how you get your voice out, how you get your art out, it's not going to work. You need money and/or relationships to do these things. There's no other way.
GEE: Hey listen, man, if my wife didn’t know, if she didn't believe that I was able to secure the bag, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You know what I’m saying? Real quick, before I touch on that, I want to go back to the advice piece you mentioned
I have a third one and this is just for artists. This is particularly for an artist. If you're an artist and you're working in a corporate space or maybe you're working this job that you're not too happy about and you feel like you could be doing art making full time, my best piece of advice is this: Just know that nothing is ever wasted. Those experiences are never wasted. I think it’s more of a mentality shift of looking at things, looking at the situation or the condition that you're in and saying, “Okay, how can I maximize from this?”
ROB: That's a great point.
GEE: Even before I was working in the corporate space, when I was coaching division one women's basketball -- I was coaching at Xavier -- at one point, I was really unhappy. But I knew it wasn't the end of the road, man. It was then I had to ask myself, “Okay, what can I take from this experience to put me in a position where I can get access to the next opportunity?”
GEE: And it's just been the same mentality when I went to this corporate space. I was there enough and I made a decision. I was like, “You know what? I’m not going to be here forever. How can I learn and how can I just embrace this mindset and this experience isn't wasted to help me down the road?” So nothing is ever wasted. That's the third piece. But going back to the whole money piece, man, it's important.
ROB: Oh before you get to the money piece in a second, I want to just interject for a second. When you think about “Nothing’s ever wasted,” I've had that experience in life, too. There were so many. I hated my first… Working at a corporate firm was… I'd rather do anything else. I'd rather watch paint dry for the next two hours than to go figure out how I’m going to build corporate clients. Look, not for me. I thought I could like it because the checks were good but it didn't move me. I hated going to work. I mean I hated it.
But I still gained knowledge from that experience. I still use a lot of what I learned. I’m not technically an engineer now but I got a background engineering and I’ll use those problem solving.
You're so right to make sure that wherever you're at in your life, just absorb as much as you can, build the relationships because you never know how that can be applied in the future because life often only makes sense looking backwards.
I can see a lot of things now that I did in the past that helped me right now but I would have never understood that at that point in my life. It’s part of like trusting the process and embracing the process as you go along and know that there will be something that will align for you. You can't just tap out in this moment and just give up.
GEE: Yeah. You can't become a victim to the condition.
ROB: There you go. Perfect.
GEE: You know what I’m saying? Like, we look at the situation that we end up being like… The crazy thing about it is like… I always remind myself, whatever job I was in before… I was in that job, whether it's corporate or whether it's coaching, I would say to myself like, “Yo, I busted my butt to get this job.” You know what I mean? When we're going through the interview, we're praying that we get the job and when we get the job then it's just, “Oh shit. I’m ready to go do something else.”
GEE: The conditions are always shifting, man. But you cannot become a victim of the conditional situations that you're in. It's just really like looking at them, assessing them and figuring out how to level up to get to the next, you know.
ROB: I agree. Speaking on that, was there a time when you were on a path to something that you really cared about and you failed in a way that you didn't expect or you just failed? Can you think about a time like that and how that might have actually set you up for better success now as an artist or just as a person?
GEE: Yeah, man. So I’m going to go back to my coaching days. I was really good as an assistant basketball coach. I was good on the floor with players. I know how to develop and motivate players and get the best out of them. But I was really good at recruiting. I knew how to get a kid on the phone and get them excited about playing college basketball which… And it didn't matter which logo was on my shirt. Whether it was Furman, [indiscernible - 15:39], Xavier, it didn't matter. It was just like that relationship piece.
And I remember a situation. I was recruiting a kid. She was based out of Nashville. She was like a top 100 kid. And I was like putting my work in, man. There’s a couple of things that happened. We were getting close towards decision-making process, that moment where she makes a decision whether she's going to come to this school.
ROB: Yeah. Where she wears the hat and say, “I’m coming here” or going there, yep.
GEE: My coach knew that we had the kid. My A.D. knew that we had the kid. She was considered a “Program changer” and she backfired at the last hour. Honestly, for me, I looked at it as like a failure because I had made a promise to myself and then also to my coach and everybody else. Like, “We’re going to get this kid. She's going to be wearing this shirt,” you know, but she didn't come through.
And for me, it was a moment where I had to stop and really look at the dynamic of that industry which really… I internalized that failure as if it was my fault. It was more like, “Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe the program ain't good enough.”
And the reality is like, in an industry like that, you are in the business where it's really all about people and the decisions they make can really decide if you're successful or unsuccessful. At that moment, when that happened, I quickly got depressed.
ROB: I understand.
GEE: I got depressed, man.
ROB: I've lost two elections. I understand.
GEE: Right. You’re working. You're doing campaigns. You're doing the thing. And I was, in so many ways, doing it as well but man, I hit a low. And what happened was I needed an outlet because I was becoming depressed and that's when I picked up a paintbrush.
At that moment, I realized that art is a space where it's all dependent on me. It's all about how I show up. I’m not asking anybody to paint for me. It's really all based on my performance. It's really performance-based. And I know I said it earlier, it allowed me to be selfish. That was a big learning lesson for me. It’s like, don't take it personal.
GEE: And keep searching and stay open. If I didn't do that, who knows what this conversation would be.
ROB: I have so much overlapping similar lessons in my life. I really started this podcast and platform, initially, to be really honest, as just therapy. I’m like, “All right, I need to do something to get my voice out because… It's not going to be this right now. That's not what it's going to be so let me focus on doing something where I can get my voice out, empower people, inspire people and inspire myself, too, and figure out a way forward just to do something,” right? I mean it's led to a lot more opportunities. But you really do have to pivot from that moment and you can't allow yourself to stay there. That's one.
Two, I do think there's also this emotional intelligence muscle we have to develop. I understand that in your situation, people can go see you. My situation, people are not always going to vote for you and you can only do so much. And you can't control other people's decisions at all. What you can do is speak to your true self, be your true self, know why you're doing things and make sure, as you say, it's ultimately--
Though you're doing your art for you personally, you don't take it personal when people don't like your art or reject you because that's got nothing to do with you. It's them.
GEE: For sure. It ain't for everybody. You know what I mean?
ROB: No, it’s not.
ROB: That’s a hard lesson to learn because we want to. We all have egos. We take it personally when we fail. But if you can learn that emotional response to not take it personally and then actually figure out what you can learn from the situation--
I've had people tell me they're going to do something and they don't do. It happens more often than not, really. If you get too jaded then you can't work with people. If you just become defeated then you won't be able to work yourself, so you're totally right.
GEE: Right, if you become a victim to the condition.
ROB: If you become a victim to the condition, that's exactly right. I have a couple of rapid fire questions I like to ask people do.
GEE: Okay, let’s get it.
ROB: What's an important truth or conviction you have that very few people might agree with you on?
GEE: Let me get that again. [Laughs]. It’s not [a rapid fire - 20:39].
ROB: Sure. What's an important truth or conviction you have that a lot of people might disagree with you on?
GEE: That black and brown people are by far one of the most incredible and most beautiful species on the planet.
ROB: All right. Well I agree with you on that. You have a committee of three advising you on life, business, art, whatever. Who are those three people and why?
GEE: Hoo, oh man. Ah, jeez. Nipsey just because. [Laughs]
ROB: That’s a good one.
GEE: He has that street persona that… I come from that and it reminds me of how you can still get it and not lose sight of where you come from.
GEE: So that's one.
ROB: That’s a good one.
GEE: Ah jeez, business.
ROB: It’s doesn’t have to be business. It could be life, whatever -- art, whatever you want. They could be living or dead. Oh, obviously you got--
ROB: You have Nipsey so you got that.
GEE: All right, I’m going to go with Basquiat, man.
GEE: Basquiat because... I mean he was a New York-based artist who just really liked… He exploded the industry in terms of contemporary art and he didn't play by the rules.
ROB: He was a disrupter. I like it.
GEE: Yeah, he was a disrupter. And his perilousness is one that… Then my third is Toni Morrison.
ROB: Okay, that's your third. Yeah, you got three. Go ahead. “Toni Morrison,” go.
GEE: Toni Morrison because she is the epitome of what black excellence looks like to me as an artist but someone who really… She really created artwork unapologetically for us and didn't create work that was really filtered through this term that she identified as a “White gaze.” And it's nothing against white or black. It's just really like, you know--
Eurocentricity dictates so much of the black experience. And she was so adamant about creating work that was unfiltered and it was unapologetically black. And that's a model that I try to live by and artistic stance that I try to stand on when I’m creating work or when I’m even considering creating work. And then the last one is Muhammad Ali. I’m a Louisville guy. Muhammad Ali--
ROB: Oh yeah.
GEE: Yeah, like say no more with that.
ROB: Yeah, you don't have to say much. All right, final question.
ROB: You have a billboard or a Google ad that is a saying for your life. What does that say and why?
GEE: Oh jeez. Damn, these are tough questions, bro. “Life is good.”
ROB: All right.
GEE: Life is good because it is. And I think for me, life is good because it's all perception-based, you know?
GEE: And for me, when life isn't feeling like it’s good, I have to remind myself that it really is good.
GEE: It really is good based on… We were fortunate enough to be born in a place and in time where you can go get it if you really need to, right?
GEE: Not everybody has those same privileges, man. And although black and brown people in America are still fighting for equality, we still have some privileges that allow us to go out and go get it.
ROB: Yeah, absolutely.
GEE: And life is good because of that.
ROB: Absolutely. Look, there's no better time to be born a black and brown person than 2021. I mean talk to some of our ancestors in 1951 and see what they would think about our current situation.
GEE: Right. That’s true.
ROB: It’s not that it’s easy. Not that we have beaten racism. Not that we don't fight it. Obviously, anybody who listens to this show knows where I stand on that. At the same time though, we have to understand the progress we made and the opportunities we have in this moment.
And we're still going to have to fight for it. We're going to have to still fight for, not only equality but now it's time to fight for equity. And we're doing that across the board in art, entrepreneurs, people like yourself. -- Gee Horton, I’m proud of what you're doing.
GEE: Thank you, brother.
ROB: Thank you so much for coming on the show. And as always, keep disrupting, brother.
GEE: I appreciate it -- likewise.
ROB: Thank you.
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