Here lies Virgil Abloh - designer, artist, engineer, creator, and inspirer.
Loss is inevitable to cope with as mortal beings. Lately, I’ve felt that perhaps the hardest thing to deal with about losing someone is the gap of emptiness left behind that no other human could recreate or fill. For such an influential figure like Virgil, the empty space his spirit once occupied is in the silhouette of a liberator, a breaker of chains, a defiance of the standard, a path for the rest of us.
Dead Creatives has been an idea swirling around Vidi as a sub-brand that’s purpose is to pay homage to the great creators of us who have gone too soon. Creators that have either made an uncanny impact during their short lifespan here in the mortal realm, or may have been overlooked and under appreciated while they were here. We were all taken by surprise as creative revolutionary, Virgil Abloh, was pronounced dead the week of Thanksgiving 2021. His impact was made. His work was done.
But our goal with Dead Creatives isn’t to mourn our passed creators. It’s to make mentors of them - even in their passing. That although they have passed on from us, there’d be a conduit for them to continue passing on to us.
We felt Virgil’s passing would be the inspiration to finally bring this idea to life. Because while you will find droves of articles and news bits commemorating his life and track record, we want to use our platform as a creative company to ensure his principles and philosophy are not lost. In fact, we hope to do the opposite in lieu of his death. Not just to preserve his way in the best way that we can from our nosebleeds perspective, but to hopefully inspire others to find fuel from the way Virgil looked at our destinies as creative people. To make Virgil their own dead mentor - a concept Virgil embraced himself.
Welcome to Dead Creatives…
The Fool Who Slept
How often we overlook things until they are gone…
For myself, I never truly grasped the impact and work of Virgil until his passing. I anticipate that this is probably the case for many of us. Upon hearing of his passing, I finally looked more deeply into what he was about. I found a creative soulmate. One who was living what I dream and aspire to do - preaching the same philosophies I hope to embody in craft and in business. Here he was and there he went. But the beauty in our human experience is that it truly is never too late. And in his passing, I’ve finally been inspired to carry on this series - to appreciate the inspiring creatives among us that have passed. I didn’t realize what we had in Virgil until he was gone. I was the fool who slept…
Nonetheless - through my initial studies of this creative pioneer, I hope to share some of the main principles I’ve already gained from him in this short time. I hope to inspire you to look further into him yourself. But at the least, I hope this short reading can give you some perspective from Virgil’s eyes, through my eyes. Here are three key teachings I’ve taken away from the modern revolutionary, Virgil Abloh.
I. The Gift
In the modern world, we often are forced to confront the trials of validation, recognition, and perfection. As a creative person, we are charged with a feeling of responsibility - that because we have the power to create good shit, we dare not put anything out that doesn’t fully represent our capability. When did this become standard? Why is it something so many of us face? The idea of putting something out that’s imperfect and susceptible to judgement - No! Never that! And some of us will go months, years, and maybe sadly lifetimes without ever letting out ‘the gift.’ Maybe Uncle Ben ran out of breath before he peaced out. “With great power comes great responsibility…” responsibility to what?
In his time, Virgil always made it a point to recognize designers’ abilities to create in the modern era as a gift to give. Not a gift to withhold. To him, our responsibility isn’t to create for ourselves, but to create for others - to share our approaches and imperfections, the challenges we run into in creating. That’s what makes it human and what makes us people.
"We're at an age where design is just assumed. You don't notice a door handle doesn't work until it's broke. But you forgot that it had been designed. So, we're in a world where we just expect design." - Virgil quoting a conversation with his mentor, Donald Judd
Today, good design is expected. It’s been democratized. While there is always room for expression through design, our primary role as creators isn’t to perfect it but to do it. Do it often. Then share what we’ve done in all it’s imperfect glory. This is the way Virgil expressed approaching his work. It’s made to invite and inspire, not to exclude and expire. As designers, all we have to do is design - when it’s good it works and when it’s bad, no one notices and we move on. We get better. That’s what we do. And it’s all we have to do. That is the gift.
II. The Lineage
It's a complex task to remove yourself from the moment. We are, after all, beings of the present. But a principle Virgil not only stood for, but was inspired by, was the idea that all of us are a part of a lineage. Generations upon generations of creators have led to where we stand today. Taking from the Buddhist philosophical perspective – that we are not born into this world, we are born from it. All that we know and do is influenced from those of the past who have laid the stepping stones before us. From platform to platform, we take steps forward together as creative generations. In this, Virgil found peace in his work while helping others find peace in theirs. As creatives, it is so easy to get tangled up in meaning and purpose. What is our legacy of expression? How will we leave our mark? But from Virgil's truth, we're all leaving our mark – together.
If we think through it - no idea is truly original. As creatives, we are in a constant flow of stealing from each other and making things our own. Virgil's stance was that our role as growing creatives is to take from those who are at the top. To take concepts from the peak of the mountain and bring life to them at our own ground level. To complete feedback loops between the textbook writers and the textbook readers. He was never above mentoring a student, providing his feedback – whether in person or through a DM. He gained notoriety for his generosity and paved the way for the rest of us to dare be as generous.
III. The Favor
Probably one of Virgil's most contrasting beliefs was the idea of learning to say "yes."
"9 times out of 10 I should probably be like 'I'm busy' or whatever, but I just say yes." - Virgil on becoming XO Life Tour music video director
In the business of design and creative, we're constantly pummeled into learning to say "no." Projects lacking budget, clients offering to exchange exposure opportunity for creative expertise, working with people who don't "understand the value we bring" - these are all very real scenarios to our work which make saying "no" a very exciting prospect. So this concept of nodding yes definitely made me think twice. But in unraveling Virgil's principles behind this thought, his message was about the opportunity to add to your body of work. The humility of being one with the gift to accept the favor of expanding your lineage.
While I don't interpret his teaching as simply saying yes to any and every thing that comes your way, I do think he saw every opportunity as a form of favor. Thus, leaving it to the creative to find a way for the favor to become an opportunity. Is there really nothing you can do with this request? Is it unfeasible to translate a scope to a scale favorable to your abilities and body of work?
Learning to say "no" is about declining work and opportunities respectfully and being smart with your time. It's difficult to pull off. On the other hand however, learning to say "yes" is about being firm in parameters and finding creative ways to deliver value even when it might not make immediate sense. And that is the challenge to accepting favor. In a strange way, learning to say "yes" and learning to say "no" are one in the same. Maybe Virgil's message was addressing how our say-no culture has pulled us away from The Gift... maybe it was about staying humble and open minded, not just saying "no," to say "no."
Awakening our generation
Virgil's passion for the next in line was visible in every speaking engagement, every presentation, and in his work. His work broke boundaries but his soul is what made revolutions. Breaking down the walls of design prestige, challenging the boundaries of race, class, and societal constructs. In this world we live in where information flows at our fingertips and judgement is cast by measurable engagement, one of Virgil's main messages was to just do the damn thing. Create. Get your projects done. Let your ideas out. Trust your hand to know when the work is finished because that's your gift. Embrace being a part of a long lineage of creators. Find ways to make it work, to say "yes" to opportunities. Build your body of work. Then don't worry about the rest... we'll figure all that out later.