Marc Johnson, Philosopher
Marc Johnson, Skateboarder and Philosopher – Interview
You’ve probably heard of Marc Johnson- he’s been in the skateboarding spotlight for nearly three decades, after all. You probably know him as insanely talented, unpredictable and hysterically funny. But what you may not know is that Marc Johnson is brilliant. His talent with his skateboard got him in the door, but his brains are what’s fueling his nearly unparalleled career span in an industry that can often be brutal and unforgiving.
Marc Johnson fell in love with skateboarding at an early age. When he was 16 years old, he moved to California by himself, attending a homeschooling program and working in restaurants until becoming a professional skateboarder in 1994. It wasn’t until he was 18, that Marc read a book for the first time, and instantly began a lifelong love of books and information.
He started his collection of fiction, as well as books about spirituality and design. In 2000, he created the skateboard brand enjoi, and was the brand’s art director for three years before joining Chocolate Skateboards. An avid design enthusiast and woodworker, Marc uses his spare time to design and build furniture and sculptures in his workshop. He currently works with six different skateboarding brands, and is co-founder of The Back Forty, a multimedia project-based skateboarding brand.
This interview spanned over ten years.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A great ping pong player, and a skateboarder.
Did you always want to design and create?
I didn’t really think of being creative or trying to be creative when I was younger. Kids are just kids. They ride bikes, build forts, play video games, whatever. I did, however, always draw. My mom has drawings I did in preschool to this day. That was my medium – drawing. I didn’t even know what design was until I was 18 or something. Coming from a skateboarding background, creativity was always there, but only watching other people doing creative things like new tricks, cool graphics, weird clothes, stuff like that.
The opportunity to draw my own graphics when I was 18 really sparked it for me. With my first skateboarding check, I bought paint, and started painting. Everything spiraled upward from being able to do my own board graphics. Then I went and messed around with sculpture, lino printing, screen printing, photography, xerox stuff- you name it. I just loved to experiment with images. As a kid, I didn’t think about being an artist. I didn’t want to be anything but a skateboarder after the age of 13.
The art side of things only came after I could afford to buy things to make art with. Come on! A tube of paint is 15 bucks. I’m 16 years old, rationing Ramen noodles for the month. No money at all. Art wasn’t on my mind, surviving and skateboarding were. Learning how to use a computer opened up a whole new world, and I was even a late bloomer with that. I don’t know, I’ve always just done stuff, but never really thought about being known as an artist. I don’t really care about the label of artist anyway. Art is mostly a scene, just like any other thing. I’m just some guy who looks at what’s been done, and then thinks about what hasn’t been done yet. I am creative in a sense, but I am not an artist, nor do I wish to be regarded as one. I’d rather be thought of as a thinker, or dreamer, or something else. Driftwood furniture lover. I don’t know.
How do you define success?
I’d define success as being able to sustain a living doing exactly what you love to do. Success is having something in your life that you are absolutely passionate about, whatever it is. Being happy while doing the work is success. Most people don’t like work of any kind, and most people don’t do the kind of work that is suited for them. Most people don’t even know the difference, either. Success is knowing, and then doing.
Is there anything you had to learn the hard way?
I think learning anything new is pretty great. Describing something as “hard” is only one opinion. I can say that the only thing I learned the hard was skateboarding, which is the only way to learn.
If everything came easy to us, we wouldn’t appreciate anything. One thing that was especially hard to learn was discipline with emotions- not letting my emotions drag me around like a rag doll. Not making decisions based on fleeting emotions. Learning to let things go, let things work out naturally, and stop approaching things in life with the mindset of conflict. If a man puts conflict out there, he will surely get conflict in return. Learning that almost killed me.
Who would you like to work with?
Now that I’m older, I realize I want to work with people who see a connectedness in all things. People who are generous and kind, and know that in the bigger picture, contributing to the whole is worth more than looking down at people, hoarding profits and ripping people off. We are disposable to those kinds of people. I want to be around people who make a difference simply by being the way they are: genuine human beings, gifted and flawed, brilliant without trying, driven to create, and driven to love.
What personality trait do you think is most important to success?
Compassion and confidence.
How do you think we can make the world a better place?
Since your life is the sum total of all of your thoughts, decisions, and actions, do one thing today that will put you in a better place tomorrow. If everyone did that- one good thing, every single day- the world would change dramatically for the better. You can’t sit around waiting for other people to make anything better. Get off your ass and act. Inspire others to act. It doesn’t start with protesting or fighting against anything. It starts with creating something totally new, so there’s no room for the old stuff that doesn’t work.
Can’t never could. If you want it, it’s out there waiting for you, otherwise it wouldn’t be on your mind. The universe doesn’t understand the concept of ‘No’. That’s something everyone needs to know. As soon as you put your energy into a project, the universe conspires with you to make it happen. Your thoughts have weight. Push them around.
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