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The Inventivity Pod
James Bates on Art and Football
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James Bates is bursting with creativity. A professor, sports broadcaster, and artist, Bates, a former college football player, “feels blessed” with three “dream jobs.” As a child and through college, all he wanted to be was an NFL star, a desire nurtured by his football coach father. Though some scratch their heads at his change from the pigskin to the paintbrush, Bates says he wants to make other people happy through his art. He advises students to “take their work seriously, but not themselves.”

 

TRANSCRIPT:

 

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade the podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade , who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We’ll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we’ll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

James Di Virgilio:

What do you think of when you think of an artist, a football player? Probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. My guest today is James Bates, a national champion in college football whose creativity has flourished during and since his playing days, I’m James Di Virgilio, James Bass thanks for joining us.

James Bates:

I like that. Thanks, James. Good to be here.

James Di Virgilio:

I want to talk about not your football career. We’re going to tie football in, but about what now you’re more known for now anyway, you are a play by play broadcaster. You are also a teacher at the University of Florida teaching commentating, and you’re an artist and your art has a really unique style to it, especially your folk art. I want to know from the beginning, were you always drawn towards creative things? Did it take you awhile to figure this out? You were telling me before the show that your dad’s a football coach and he’s very much what you’d expect from a football coach. So creativity probably wasn’t something that came right to the top of your mind in that family, right?

James Bates:

Yeah. I mean, my dad coached a long, long time for just retired a few years ago, but my whole life, he was Coach, long time in the NFL and I loved sports and I love competing, but as much as anything I was always creating and I didn’t really take art classes other than the few that you take in elementary school and junior high, but I always loved them. And I guess I never really got that nudge because it was a football family. And so they knew that I liked to do that, but that’s just what James does is he, he’s over there drawing again. And you know, and I didn’t take any art classes at Florida, but I probably should have, because I sat in class drawing, I guess I got it from my mom. She was always kind of doing a craft or fixing something herself or prettying something up herself. I definitely didn’t get it from my dad, but it’s in me. And it really kind of came out and I realized a guy that I roomed with at Florida, Eric Kresser is his name, he was Danny Wuerffel’s backup. We were in the same freshman class. He was an art major. And my freshman year I wasn’t red shirted right away. He was. And so I’d go out of town and I’d come back and he’d have our dorm room and Yon hall, which is in the stadium just as dirty as can be, but he’d have it rearranged and decorated basically. And I realized, well, I can do stuff like this. It’s not just my mom. That would change my room around. You know, it’s like in a weird way that was an adult moment for me as a creative person that I can, like, I can do some of these things on my own. And so fast forward, right after we from Florida, I had taken a picture of a place where my wife and I got engaged up in Tennessee on the river, a little pigeon river up Gatlinburg area. And which is where I went to high school. I went to same high school as Dolly Parton in Severe County. And so I asked him if he would paint this painting for my wife for Christmas. And he said, yeah, yeah. And Christmas was getting closer and closer and Kresser man, he’s like, Oh man, I’m really busy, you know what? I’ll teach you how to build a canvas. You like to draw, you can do this. You can come over to my house and you can use my paints and I’ll teach you how to build this canvas . And so I did it and I knew while I was painting that, that this wasn’t going to be the last and about the same time, I was lucky enough to have a little part in the water boy with Adam Sandler. And right after that, the football gang that did that movie went and did a movie called “Any Given Sunday” down in South Florida with Al Pachino. And I was down there working on that. And I walked through a few art galleries, Lincoln square in Miami, and I was just blown away. And I just had to have big pieces like this in my house, but I could never afford big pieces like that in my house. So I had to find a way to do it myself. And so that’s kind of the next step of I’m just going to paint and I got to have pieces like this, and I realized in a hurry that for what I was after unfortunately oils and the Florida humidity, I don’t have the patience . And most of my early pieces were oil. And actually one of those early pieces, Billy Donovan and his wife, Christine bought one of my bigger pieces, but I switched over quickly to acrylics with my landscapes. A lot of the , the depth and the textures. I realized that I could kinda arrive at the same conclusion when it’s all said and done, but every now and then when I’m getting ready to go and spend a fall where I got to slam on the brakes in my studio a little bit, I’ll throw some oils on some canvas here and there it’s a little dry while I’m off working for a couple months, and then I can come back and kind of dig back down to it. Yeah. You know, you mentioned my class and we had our first day of school for this semester. It’s my sixth semester last Tuesday. And I feel like I’ve got three dream jobs. I’m a professor and I’m a broadcaster and I’m an artist. I just feel so blessed. I mean, that’s just the coolest thing in the world. I would have taken any one of those three and felt like I had just an incredible life, but to be able to do all three of them is it’s really special. And I really think that a , of the three that being a professor and being around these young men and women and just these minds, they’re so much fun and I do it for free. And you can cut that part out if , if they’re going to hear it over there , at journalism college. But yeah. Thanks for asking.

James Di Virgilio:

Hearing your story. I’m hearing a lot of , of being very true to yourself. Was there any opposition when you were telling your parents or telling your wife or telling your friends , say , I want to pursue art? Was there any James, what are you doing? Football players don’t pursue art or did Eric catch flak painting and doing things in college? Was this an outside the norm thing for you? Or were you always pretty much saying I want to pursue this thing and you were supported in doing so.

James Bates:

Yes, yes, yes. And yes. Still you’ll have people that can’t believe that this linebacker is an artist . Huh, what? And you know, my dad, he still just doesn’t understand it and he wants to and he tries to, but here’s an example yesterday on the phone and again, this is the kind of the house that I grew up in you got to love it, like , but I was like, what are you doing, James? I’m just running all these pieces up, we’re doing this popup show, my buddy Byron at Corteroids have an art show tonight. And he was like, well, your football is getting ready to start are you doing some reading on them ? And I’m like, yeah , yeah, I’m doing okay. But he can’t help himself, bless his heart. He doesn’t know, well, how are the acrylics drying or, you know, or like what medium using now. And so, yeah, I get that. And I get that as you can imagine from football fans, but it’s also appealing to people that have a little bit of a love for art. And I think that the people that do come around and kind of enjoy some of the stories that I tell with the text in my art and in the folk art pieces, I get a sense almost that they appreciate it even more. And I can tell when they appreciate it, just because go Gators. And when they just are truly heartfelt, kind of like blown away and in my piece moves them. And there’s no better feeling in the world than people who will call and, and ask for a commission, send me a message. Hey, my wife for Christmas or our anniversary or something for our home. Just the fact that I can from scratch create something that they feel will make their house better and happier and give it that kind of energy. I’m goose pimply, right? Like right now, like I just, that’s awesome. That’s just so special. And I’ll do that. Even if it’s making a little something for my neighbor, when I’m 90, that I know that they’ll like , I will always want to create and want to make people happy. In that sense.

James Di Virgilio:

We talk a lot on this podcast on Radio Cade about solving a problem. And so a lot of times we’ll ask an entrepreneur, what’s the problem you’re trying to solve. And how are you solving that? I think what you just said is very interesting with art. The problem , so to speak is more of somebody wants something beautiful to look at or something to talk about or a memory to keep with them. And as an artist, you are creating an original piece. Something that cannot be reproduced is not mass manufactured when you’re creating your pieces, especially when you started out, were you making art for yourself? And you were saying, I’m not making this because people may like this, I’m making this for me. And then it’s so happened that people liked it? Or were you making something that you were hoping people would like?

James Bates:

It’s a really good question. And it’s something that I meet resistance from my wife, because we gotta be realistic. And, you know, I can’t just sit up there and just my house is, it’s like my gallery and it makes me happy. And I still, I sold a couple pieces last night and it hurts and I that’s what you have to do. And I always, the one thing that I guess in my mind kind of makes it like a little , okay, well , send me a picture of its new home, but I like to paint big and it gets tough when it’s time to ship or when it’s time to lug them around to all these art shows and whatever. And Tina, my wife is always like, are you sure you want to do it that big? Are you sure you want to do that? That guy not too long ago, commissioned me to do a painting of his daughter. And Tina’s like, she’s not gonna like her legs. And I’m like, well, I just got to kind of be me. And fortunately I have a lot of people that want commissions, but sometimes I have to be me so much to where I have to just say, no, I can’t this month because I’ve sold most of my landscapes and I just can’t not have any landscapes around here. So the month of March, I’m doing landscapes and it feels really good. And this whole cycle of, Oh, now I’m itching to do a piece on Spurrier because I thought of a quote that he used to say to us and stuff like that. And so I fight with that a lot because I like to paint whether it’s a landscape or whether it’s a painting of Danny Wuerffel or Brett Farve or Tim Tebow or anybody, I like to kind of get a quick feel on just certain features. And then I try not to go back to it because I feel like there are a lot of people out there that can paint realistic, close to realistic, very beautiful pieces that are almost like a picture, but I want it to be as much from me and the way my mind sees it and wants it to look on this canvas as they really do look. And a lot of the artists that I’ve followed around that same time back to when I did that first painting for my wife and these galleries down in Miami. I also realized that I really liked text in art. I really like to see a lot of words. Besky Yacht is my all time favorite in a he’s the perfect blend of all of the above, because he’s got the text, he’s pop culture. He’s big with the hip hop scene at that time when it was just coming up. And I didn’t even realize, like I’m such a big hip hop fan from way back in the day. I didn’t even realize until recently how much they rolled together. It goes without saying, I mean , the B-boy culture, the hip hop, the, the street art, the graffiti, it was there, but just to kind of link the two, it makes me feel like my two missions that nobody else really cares about is loving graffiti and loving rap. They have come together. So like, at least for me, it makes me feel a little bit better, you know, but it’s not something that I can sit there and tell my wife that she really will listen to that long. You know, it’s just one of those things . And so Howard Finster is another artist, but he’s more of a folk artist has passed away from Summerville , Georgia, just South of Chattanooga. The quick story, he was a Baptist minister and didn’t do any art ever his whole life. He was he’d fix bikes and whatnot, odd jobs around town, just get some carrying around money being able to live. And he says that in a drop of paint on the sidewalk, an angel appeared to him and said that God wanted him to spread his word through folk art because nobody was listening to his sermons. And so he took a dollar bill out and painted a painting of George Washington right there. And from that day on, that’s what he did. And he’s really probably one of the more well known folk artists that there ever was and ever will be. But he did things for Coca Cola and the Olympics and, Oh, well , we was on the talking heads cover and galleries all over the world, but he would always include scripture. And it’s really interesting. He would paint what he saw as angels on earth. People like Hank Williams, Henry Ford, Martin Luther King, Mickey Mouse. And he would paint them with angels floating all around them. And it , as much as anything it was because they brought joy to the earth doing God’s work like that. And so there’s this sort of pop culture tie in with him too. But he saw people that made people smile, made people happy, made people dance. He saw them as angels on earth. And I just think that’s amazing. And his style of not really caring altogether that he was spot on. It’s truly like an outsider artist, a folk artist style, and kind of learning about him, finding out about him early on, kind of made me not so scared of not measuring the width of the nose or something like that. So it all kind of just lined up just right in the fact that I can create once my football season’s over with the broadcasting is just , uh , it’s the coolest thing ever. And the producers that I work with during the football season, when I’m out calling these games, we’ll do a little segments called B8sy Paints. And if we’re in the coaches meetings on Friday, if we get some story from a coach and like, Oh my gosh, that’s a great story. Well, let me animate it. And so I’ll animate it and we’ll do like a little segment during the show. And so that’s always fun. So I get to tie them altogether.

James Di Virgilio:

That’s so interesting and also fascinating at the same time to watch all your spheres of life bubble up into one. But what comes to mind for me is, and almost everyone’s story, there’s a story of, of hardship or difficulty. And thus far as an, as an outsider, your story almost seems like you try something and it works. You try something and it works. You try something and it works. Have there been moments in your life when you’ve had an idea and inspiration, a vision and you, and you started to do it or went with it and all you were getting was difficulty?

James Bates:

Well, maybe a little bit with my style in broadcasting, I think early on, which was my world for the longest time. I mean, that’s how I was going to pay the bills for the rest of my life. And that’s what I majored in back then when I was coming up, it was the grizzled voice, the buttoned up suit, you know, and these great, great broadcasters. That’s all you really got. And there wasn’t a million channels out there where you had all these different people and these different personalities. So there was some resistance when I would come rolling in and I just really enjoy making people smile, whether it’s with my art or , or making people laugh, you know, it’s basically the same thing. So sometimes I , I can’t help myself. Like I, you know, I probably shouldn’t here, I probably shouldn’t here b lah b lah. And I just like spit it out. And, a nd so not everybody loved that. And that’s one thing I think that in my life that I’ve been most proud of too, is that I j ust k ind o f stuck with who I was. And eventually people saw that his style he’s great hosting these studio shows. He’s quick and basically the way I tell my students is you’re w riting. You’re always writing. You should take more writing classes because we’re always writing a nd on the fly and being quick and Hey, such and such, take us to break, you know, just in the middle of class and y ou g otta be on your toes, but add some flavor to it. And the flavor that I added, wasn’t always what my dad and his coaching buddies would have always thought that i t was the proper way to take it to break or whatever. So I’m kind of proud to have met that resistance, but kind of stuck it out and found a place for me. It’s it’s like we were talking about before we went on, there are a lot of names out there that are a lot more attractive in the football world than J ames Bates. You know, I’m very proud of my football career. I was an all SEC linebacker and w on a bunch of rings at Florida. And my senior year, we won a national championship, but no real NFL career to speak of. And all of these guys that retire every year from the NFL long careers and they know their ball, but you’ve got to entertain as well. I mean, that’s people want to be entertained. S o you straddle that fence of X’s and O’s and, a nd entertaining. And I tell my students, my c lasses i s at the University of Florida in the journalism college. And it’s a play by play on air talent class. And it’s not just T V people, which is really neat. It’s people t hat take it just for public speaking. But for those TV people, if I turn on the TV and I see you just going through the motions, just checking off boxes, not treating your sideline reporter or your analyst with respect a nd, and there’s a true, sincere friendship there then why would I bother sticking around i f y ou, if you’re not into it, if you’re not excited, why should I be excited? Because there are a lot of other football games that are going on right now. There a re a lot of other basketball games out there, and there are a lot of people that want your job. So when I t urned on the TV, I just want to see you just oozing with appreciation because you’re living out a dream. And so I just try to think like that every time, y ou k now, I get a little bit sad in the fall, O h, I g ot t o go away for the weekend. The only time the kids don’t have school and they’re going to do such fun things and woe is me. But you know, I just, I make my time count during the week and then go and put everything I can into it. You know, the games that I call, a ren’t the sexiest games in the ACC that weekend. But you know what? These kids are living out a dream and I’m going to showcase them and I’m going to learn their stories and spend the time whether they make the air or not. And that’s really special because I was right there not too long ago. That’s all I wanted to, do was to play football, was t o g o make tackles. And my dad wanted me to be a quarterback, but Brian Bosworth was up at O U when I was in junior high, i n Texas doing his thing and t here was no way I was going to do anything, but be a linebacker and go hit people. And we’re 44. I hate to admit how important it was for me to wear 44. Like I almost, well, they recruited me, they sent me a media g uy. Oh, 44 is not going to be available because of freshmen. W hereas I don’t know if I can go there. That’s embarrassing.

James Di Virgilio:

I think inspiration is such an important thing. Every, every podcast I’ve done, no matter what the person is working on or doing the inspirations in their lives were key . And , and you’ve mentioned many of them , uh, which has been great. Now I want to turn our attention towards you inspiring some others. And I’ve heard some themes that you’ve mentioned. You’ve talked about being true to yourself, but you’ve also talked about some structure within that. I think in our society, it’s easy to take, be true to yourself, to an extreme, to where, of being true to yourself as rubbing everyone else wrong. You just keep on going. But I’ve heard, you mentioned like gratitude and appreciation and energy and thankfulness, and being in the studio here with you today, I can feel your energy. It’s genuine. And there’s a genuine authenticity to you coupled with your own originality. So when you’re teaching your classes and you’re talking to young artists, or what’s the balance between be yourself and some of these other things that you’re going to have to also have in order to make, cause you can’t just right . You can’t just take that to an extreme.

James Bates:

Well, it kind of starts with take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. If you take yourself too seriously and you can’t really come into our class and have an ego, like you have to be able to laugh at yourself, our middle child, Talia, she’s a swimmer. We just dropped her off at school last week. She was a late, late bloomer, but she’s very coachable and she’s going to do every single thing and just crushes her if she lets her coaches down or her parents down. And she stresses a little bit too much. I mean, she’s a perfectionist and it’s gotten her a scholarship to swim at the University of Florida. And I’m so proud of her, but it can have some negative effects too. I mean, she stresses too much and it eats at her and it’s not healthy, but in our house, like you gotta be able to laugh at yourself. I mean, we crush her. You can’t take yourself too seriously if you’re so worried about your own little bubble and worrying about yourself so much, how are you going to give energy to others? I can’t even like begin with someone that has bad intentions and bad energy. And for them to take that to an extreme, like , I can’t even go there. Just be yourself, lead with your heart really and lead with a good heart. I mean, we’re all so fortunate. I remind these kids, you guys go to the University of Florida, that alone, right there means something. And this basically, it’s like your first job. And it’s like, we talk about being on TV. Like, and if you don’t show appreciation, don’t come in here, feeling sorry for yourself, get off your phone, bring your energy to class. I’m not going to keep you all the way to the final bell. I’m not going to give you a lot of homework, but when you’re here, be here and take care of your classmates and let’s all get better. Let’s not worry about one thing. Let’s try things. Even if we feel like complete idiots, let’s just try it. We have so much fun, but we get in trouble by the neighboring teachers, you know, Hey, can you guys keep it down we’re taking a quiz over here. But I guess it’s just that it’s just kind of the heart it’s like I talked about with the commission paintings or somebody buys one of my paintings, it’s it really is from my heart. And for them to respect that and to want a piece of my heart back to Howard Fencer, that’s like doing God’s work. I feel like that’s making people happy and making their homes happy and their, and their families happy. And so I think that as long as you have good heart, you can go to any extreme you want to go. And people may say this is done with a good heart, but a good heart is a good heart. It’s just plain and simple. It’s , it’s , it’s black and white. It’s just, this is good. This is bad type of thing. And so I’m very proud that I’m able to kind of give people a piece like that.

James Di Virgilio:

Yeah. You can feel when someone cares for you versus when someone is just trying to give off like charismatic energy. And I think, you know, you emanate that and I’m sure as you’re challenging, sometimes the status quo or you’re , you’re exploring your creativity um , it’s always with that lens. Which does give you a little more freedom to try things. And I think that’s a great lesson for everyone out there is to pursue your passions. Yes. But also why are you pursuing your passions? And , and for you, you talk a lot about bringing others joy. It’s very other focused and not in a weird way allows you to express yourself even better. And that’s not necessarily the most popular message today, which is more about, do you do yourself, focus on yourself. I think you’re focused on others, bringing you joy and then allowing you to flourish with how you were created is a really interesting and creative narrative throughout your life. And today it’s been great to hear, you know, last week I was in Milan, I saw the last supper in person painted by DaVinci. And , and what you realize is something you’ve been saying the whole time, DaVinci was always very true to himself, right? He was commissioned by the authorities that be, but he always put himself into his work. And I think as an artist, sometimes that gave you international fame while you were living. And sometimes it didn’t, but I think your message reigns true. There’s a level where each one of us, whether we’re an entrepreneur in the tech world, or we’re an artist, or we’re a play by play commentator, we’re at the end, you want to say that you and your unique DNA structure put your brand on something and you did it in a way that was, that was good and right, and just, and I think your story emanates that obviously you’ve had tons of success in the football field, tons of success and these other things. But I think if I’m going to get this right, what matters most to you sounds like the , the joy you’ve brought to others. That’s what I keep hearing is kind of this excitement you bring to other people, this chance for you to take your talents and skills and maybe better the world around you.

James Bates:

Well thank you and, and you know what, it’s the same thing with the millions that DaVinci would reach as it is with somebody who has a painting that their mom did have a Lake on their wall. Hey, my mom did this and she loved to paint. She worked really hard. She loved to paint and I love that painting. That’s all it is. You know, anybody that has that in them that wants to create, I hope that everybody gets a chance and in whatever walk of life, I mean, we sit in meetings at the board for the Cade museum. I mean, like most of that stuff, I’m like, why do they have me here? Why do they come here? What am I doing? Okay, I’m 46. Now I could go home and study it, but I’m no, I’m not. I’m out of school a long time ago, but it’s such an incredible place. And it’s such an amazing feeling for everybody to want us to be up there, to be a part of it that they feel like we can make it better. It’s for creative ideas and it’s, and it’s so neat to see team because not everybody’s wired like that. And like, Oh, okay, this is my chance. This is where they want me. But sometimes when we get into some of the real nitty gritty of the stats and the numbers like, Oh no, I just want to curl up in the fetal position, roll around on the floor. I’ve always been like that though. Even with my football, you know, my , my dad and brother, they’re always been students of the game. X’s and O’s, and , but I’ve just kind of enjoyed the human interest side of, of all of it, but yeah, really enjoying it all.

James Di Virgilio:

Well, James, thanks so much for being with us. He is James Bates, four time, four consecutive time, I should say SEC champion national champion artist , entrepreneur, teacher, analyst , right? List goes on, a dad, fantastic,

James Bates:

I’m a good dad too. We didn’t talk about that too much, but I’m maybe most proud of , of being a good dad and a good husband.

James Di Virgilio:

Well it’s been amazing to have you and to hear your story. Thanks for, thanks for sharing it . I’m sure it will inspire others. And for Radio Cade , I’m James Di Virgilio .

James Bates:

Thanks James

Outro:

Radio Cade would like to thank the following people for their help and support Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and vendor interviews. Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing and production of the podcasts and music theme. Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song, featuring violinist, Jacob Lawson and special, thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.

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