Our ensuing worldview stands in opposition to the artist.
We live in a rationalistic, materialistic, and metrics-based culture. When we bump up against someone who’s doing something just for the sake of doing it (or something that isn’t immediately tied to monetary gain), we don’t know how to handle it.
This sentiment takes me back to when I used to see street artists at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco when I was younger. I was a hard-core political conservative at the time and when I saw people dressed and moving/dancing like robots, miming, or painting pieces that looked like Rembrandt or VanGogh with spray paint, the reactions triggered inside of me the following mental phrases…
It’s incredible, but how much money are they making?
How can they afford to do this?
Is this a secure long-term career path?
(And the shameful one, looking back…) Ugh, they’re probably on welfare.
(The joke was totally on me as my family was — for a long time — on welfare and many of these artists likely made more than I’d ever made in any given year, but anyhow…)
I grew up poor in American standards. As a kid, the purpose of life was about making money and providing. Period. It was the standard I was held to by a father who couldn’t quite do it himself.
I was raised with the notion that we had to earn our way to the top. Merit was everything. Either be a have or a have-not. And have-nots are a drain on society.
It’s amazing how the concept of “the stricter the law, the greater the transgression” has played out so perfectly in my experience as someone who’s never been able to earn nearly as much as my childhood ego ideal and my late father’s expectations.
Now, yes, I grew up in a politically conservative household. But since then, I’ve moved to the other side of the spectrum and I still see this merit-based, achievement-centric cultural mentality over here in Progressiveland. Our consumerist and rationalistic economic systems are the fruits of this sentiment.
Everything needs to have a value-add today. If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved. And if it can’t be improved, it must be discarded.
We can’t even sleep or go for a jog these days. Think of it, we place the same stress on the perfect night’s sleep as we do our kid’s SAT score. Going to bed requires hooking ourselves up to multiple sensors and monitoring our progress until the sleep cycle-timed alarm goes off. The first thing we do after waking from our slumber is to check our stats.
Do I measure up?
Am I justified?
Have I earned the privilege to exist?
I mean, seriously, who goes for a ‘jog’ anymore? Scanning my Instagram feed right now, everyone who runs seems to be trying out for Nike’s next photo shoot. The purpose of a running partner these days isn’t to have companionship as we connect with our innate primal spirit to run free, it’s to have a personal photographer/social media content assistant.
And so what about simple art? I’m talking about the quiet stuff that we do from the quiet of our living rooms. What goes through your head when you sit down to write your first poem or make that first sketch of the tree outside your window?
Probably the same thing that ran through mine when I was at the wharf, but directed towards yourself.
We’re killing ourselves. This cultural pressure cooker we’ve created of individualism and perpetual performancism — even in our off-work personal lives — is too much for the human soul to bear. It leads to isolation, depression, and despair. The self-made human is a toxic narrative that we have to dismantle. It’s a myth that leads to death and anti-human behavior.
We need each other. No one is self-made. Art speaks to this. Art is what we do for no other reason than to commune with our creator and ignite our God-given creative nature. It runs counterculturally to our longing for individual significance and worth through transactional means. True art is done for the sake of doing it.
(Now, not to disparage the artist who sells her work. There’s nothing wrong with getting paid for art, but that’s a different discussion altogether.)
Faith helps me do this. If I judge my self-worth, not in worldly metrics, but in God’s endless and radical one-way love towards me, I’m free to create and live free from the grip of the snarling teeth of our judging world. When we stop measuring our entire significance on monetary standards or social approval and instead place it on how much love it took for our creator to breathe the first breath into our imperfect lungs, we are liberated.
By embracing the creative spirit that we inherited from the creator of all life, we strike down the lie that we must somehow earn our privilege to exist.
When we introduce our lives to creativity that’s removed from the pressures of human approval, we declare that any activity with God is sacred, no matter how frivolous it may seem to the outside world. And we are free to enjoy the simple act of creation because we know that it harkens back to why we’re here:
for no reason at all
and for every reason imaginable.
. . .
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This post was previously published on A Sacramental Life and is republished here with permission from the author.
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