When I used to work for a non-profit social service organization, about half of the funding came from government and municipal entities. The contract renewal and budget approval time of the year was always stressful. I wasn’t the financial decision maker so I only knew the financial state of the organization on the surface level. But after the recession, we were under a constant threat of losing governmental funding. It was really sucky. It was terrible to work your butt off to help people in a bad situation and to be told (indirectly, in their action) that your work was not important enough to continue funding for.
Luckily, domestic violence victim advocacy community had a really strong presence in the region, so with the strong public pressure to the government, we were able to continue receiving their funding every year. But other social service agencies were not that lucky. Many of them had to reduce program offerings or forced to do more with less. And at the end of the day, the point is that we had to fight for it. We had to prove our worth to the funders to continue providing services. Which is pretty crappy.
On a similar note, I’d hear from time to time that public schools were cutting music and arts programs for financial reasons. I would have the same yucky feeling whenever I hear the arts are the first ones to be cut. What kind of a message does that send?
It says that arts are not as important as other subjects like math and science. It says that arts do not bring as much value as other things people are willing to fund.
As artists and makers, we need to pay attention so we don’t internalize these negative messages ourselves. I’m not saying that arts should be prioritized over other things. I’m saying that the unique value arts and creativity bring need to be recognized, and people, young and old, need to be encouraged more to nurture their creative side.
I saw a statistics once that people “lose” their creativity at a significantly high rate after age 8. And it spikes again after retirement. Interesting, isn’t it?? The presenter explained that it’s not that our creativity naturally declines, but rather we’re just not encouraged enough to be creative as we get older. And many of us when we retire and get out of the expectations of the workplace find the space to be creative again.
In this video, Brené Brown (my hero!) talks about creativity and vulnerability so eloquently and describes how kids get discouraged and shy away from engaging in creative activities after getting bad marks in art classes or teased because their creation doesn’t look a certain way. Early experience of shame around creativity really sticks with you. It’s so powerful that some people avoid any creative activity like a plague!
Have you been to a non-arty conference or workshop where the facilitator asks you to draw how you feel or what your ideal self looks like or whatever? I never really understood why people were so embarrassed to share their drawings with the group. It struck me after watching that video that I was naturally a pretty good artist as a child and never really experienced negative interaction around creativity growing up. So even though I’m not a master artist and get insecure around my art sometimes, I never feel ashamed of my creation. On the other hand, I was not very athletic and was often ridiculed in P.E. class, so I dreaded and avoided (and still do!) any sports activities. It totally makes sense! The shame I felt growing up left such a bad taste in my mouth about any physical activity. I’m slowly recovering from that now as an adult… Yikes.
Let’s go back to the conversation of values that your art and creativity bring, shall we? When I hear value, naturally, I think of money. Social media is flooded with the v-word. I’m sure you’ve read a blog article or two talking about how to bring the most value to your clients etc. While the money-making aspect of business is very important, I sometimes feel lost when I think of what “value” my art is bringing to my audience.
People can buy my art prints, but it doesn’t make them more money. Well, at least not until I get super famous and people start fighting over my work 😉 But you know what I mean. So what is the value of my work?
I bring this up because I provide “nice-to-haves” for a living. You know, I’m not fixing someone’s car or rescuing people out of a burning building or anything. And it makes me doubt my work’s value sometimes. People don’t “need” my art to survive, right?
It’s true if you want to think of it as an absolute necessity for survival, like if you’re stranded in the middle of the desert, you’d probably choose a drink of water over a cute drawing of a cat. But we don’t get stranded in the middle of the desert very often. At least many of us don’t… So why do we measure value of our work against something super tangible or basic human needs?
Think about what values you’re getting out of the things that are not directly helping you make money or do specific things. I know you have them! Like your favorite shows on Netflix. Art on the wall. How about your cat that’s snoozing on the couch for 12+ hours every day?? You have them because they’re clearly filling some needs you have that are not tangible.
We have a Netflix subscription so we can watch shows that entertain us. I have many art on the wall made by artists you’ve probably never heard of because they make our home beautiful and inspire me to create more. I have a cat because he gives me the unconditional love and the comic relief. Oh, and apparently petting your kitty lowers your blood pressure! I guess that’s a tangible benefit they have 🙂
Do you see? Just because they don’t directly help me make money, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a value. And you might have noticed that they’re all helping me to stay well and happy – which is super important if I’m going to keep working hard and thrive as an artist.
If you’re able to read this blog that means you have access to internet. That means you can afford “nice-to-haves” in one shape or another. Think of why you chose to have those things in your life. It doesn’t have to be a physical “thing”, either. Maybe you’re subscribed to an online artists’ community. Maybe you work out with a personal trainer. Are they less important than having a cold, hard cash in your hands right now? Not necessarily, I bet.
How are those things making your life better? Imagine if you don’t have them, how would your everyday life be different? And how do you think your creativity is making other people’s life better? I know many of you have taken the time to tell me how my blog and art work have inspired you. You have no idea how much your words of encouragement mean to me! Yes, money can certainly motivate you to do things, but that’s certainly not the only thing or even the top 5 motivating factors for many of us.
And on the flip side, if you didn’t have these “nice-to-haves” for whatever reasons, you’d definitely need to use your creativity to make your life more interesting or convenient, wouldn’t you? After all, that’s what we did as kids. We made up stories and characters to entertain ourselves. We could get lost in the world we created for hours and didn’t think it was waste of our time. There were no boundaries or limitations of what we could do with our creativity and imagination. And it can still do that if we let our creativity run free. It’s just that we picked up some baggage along the way and learned to hold on to certain things as our security blanket. Being creative has become riskier as we got older.
Creativity is a gift that keeps on giving. Everyone has it. But many of us were told it’s not that important or you were not that good so we stopped nurturing them. When your creativity is not nurtured, it becomes more work to access it so you don’t even bother trying.
Being creative is empowering. It lets you see things in different ways. You realize you can do things you never thought were possible. You learn to adapt to difficult situations with grace.
Whether you’re a writer, a singer, a dancer, a painter, a poet, an actor, a comic etc. etc. etc., you’d be doing a disservice if you were holding yourself back because you don’t feel like you’re providing any values. Don’t believe it if someone treats your work as “less than” because it’s not perceived to have values in a conventional or super tangible way.
What you do is important. Without art, this world would be so boring and not really worth living for. So don’t wait till you retire to find your creative sparks again!! Now is always a good time to start.
p.s. I’m participating in the Journey Within blog hop by Kiala Givehand this coming Tuesday, December 22! Come on by and join me in a couple of days 🙂 I’ll be sharing my holiday food tradition with my drawings!