I was recently thinking about how the sum total of people in history who had the ability to create works of art that might impact my life compares to the sum total of people alive today that have the ability to create works of art that might impact my life. I think the former is indeed a much smaller group and yet they are so much more well known. Thus I decided that I should do my part to spread the word about people that I think are achieving greatness in this very day and age.
In these trying times of information and population overload, it is easy to fall prey to the notion that the possibility for greatness is a relic of the past, that we are condemned to making contributions of marginal significance and that our role models will forever be dead and buried. Herein I make my marginal contribution toward dispelling that notion by pointing at the works of people still very much alive, or whose lives have overlapped my own creative adult life, and who are in my estimation every bit as worthy of admiration and emulation as the pantheon of dead white men generally paraded out when one speaks of greatness. We can relate to these creators as peers and mentors rather than demi-gods from a distant history, and in doing so, inspire ourselves to strive to create as they have.
Kurt Vonnegut was a modern day Mark Twain, cutting right to the heart of the human experience with a wit sharpened by a lifetime of keen observation of the world around him.
Akira Kurosawa made films that brought the full force of big budget filmmaking to bear on the exploration of themes usually relegated to literature or stage. He reminds us that even in an art form so usurped by financial interests as film, a creative vision can be guided intact through the stormy waters of fiduciary responsibility.
Pixar digitally creates animated films that not only continually push the boundaries of a fascinating technology, but stand on their own as excellent works of cinema.
Disclaimer: some of these people, particularly those in the film and game industries, draw upon the help of tens to hundreds of others in the process of creating their works. Though their talent thus lies both in having an extraordinary vision and in an ability to communicate that vision during the creative process, the other people involved most certainly make meaningful contributions and merit recognition. Indeed, in some cases an organization rather than a single creator is all that we have at which to point.
Another disclaimer: this is not a very diverse group of people (individuals are all men, all white or Asian). This reflects my own personal life trajectory and the people to whose work I have been exposed. I realize, and I hope you do too, that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy, but I can only speak from my own limited life experience.