Lisa Robbin Young

Art vs. Work

Seth Godin shared this video in a recent post about his TEDx talk. While it's geared to the transformation of the education system (and specifically, his "what is school for?" manifesto he wrote earlier this year), it has a LOT of juicy tidbits for creative entrepreneurs to get us thinking about art vs. work.

What I love about Seth is his willingness to say what so many of us already fear, but won't say aloud: as a culture, we've been programmed for decades to comply to a system that was broken before, but now is decaying, dying, and actually harming artists. Our children are paying the price now, but those of us working in creative professions (or trying to) are also feeling the crushing blow that's hit us hard.

The artificial "system" we created to manage people and industrialize society left us without useful spaces to create, innovate, and inspire - unless we forcibly took those places, or created them out of thin air. At one time, Michigan (and Detroit in particular) was the Silicon Valley of the U.S. It was a hub of innovation. Then the decay set in. Now, innovators are returning to reclaim that space, and see what they can synthesize from the remains. Before Detroit, there were other places. Moving forward, it's likely that Silicon Valley will eventually see a  similar socio-economic decline without embracing some kind of diversity.

And that's the rub.

I'm not a social scientist or a geo-political expert. What I do know is people and their behaviors. When we put all our eggs in one basket, we've got issues. We were designed to be a diverse populace. Whether that segregation is racial, industrial, spiritual, or creative, we've GOT to allow ourselves to celebrate and be more open to diversities of all kinds - and the wonderful artistic synergies that happen as a result.

Godin makes a great point in the video about art versus work. No one WANTS to do work. We actively seek out ways to do as little of it as possible. Yet the same activity that I call work may be art for you, and you can't get enough of it. You seek out opportunities to do more of it at every possible moment. I believe that when our world can re-align itself to allow for that kind of diversity, ALL lives will be improved.

Artists are lucky, in that our art IS our "work". I get to rise each morning, put my head down to write, and come up for air with a new creation. It takes effort, but it certainly doesn't feel like work (unless I'm editing -- and then I have a brilliant editor who handles the hard stuff for me). It's not perfect, but it's a start. And I keep working on it, honing it, until one day it's as perfect as I can make it, and I myself can see the "art" in the "work" I've done.

You don't have to be an author or performing artist to see yourself in this light. In fact, I encourage everyone to do "work" that feels more like art: passion-filled, life-enhancing work. Work that improves the lives of others and is offered in service to the world. I believe that everyone can find meaningful work like that - even if you deliver port-a-johns for a living. You can do your work - whatever it may be in a way that feels like art.

If you're not feeling it, what are you doing to yourself? You're not only diminishing your own light, you're bringing the rest of us down with your crappy attitude.

Get over yourself. None of us in the industrialized world has really had it all that easy (or all that hard).

Does that mean you might be challenged to find work that fills you? Sure. But don't give up. Keep looking. Keep searching. Keep maneuvering until you find it. For some of us, it takes years (decades?).

But the quest is worth it no matter how long it takes.

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