It makes perfect sense that mankind would make tools to make their lives easier. It is not so difficult to imagine how people discovered fire or how to use simple machines. What is far more amazing is that we took our inventiveness one step farther and created music, paintings and ultimately writing and acting. In virtually every civilization there have been artists who molded sounds into tunes, stones into drawings and words into stories. In so many ways it is in our creativity that we soar with the angels and rise above the sometimes baseness of our natures. Who else but humans would design lovely fabrics with which to adorn ourselves? What other creatures would craft furniture that is beautiful beyond its usefulness?
I was listening to the music of The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo Yo Ma and I realized that each culture has built instruments to make music that personifies its people. It is in music that we find our very souls. Being able to make lovely sounds merely by manipulating an inanimate object is akin to the miraculous. Those who do it especially well are special gifts to all of us. Music reflects our emotions, moods, identities. It is a evokes a kind of poetry that intimately reveals our spirits.
So too it is with visual art. Humans have always attempted to recreate the wonders of life in stone, on canvas, with electronics. Some among us have the ability to see beyond the obvious and to show their humanity with paint or common objects put together in extraordinary ways. Archeological artifacts demonstrate that far back in time mankind has been drawn to the idea of creating wondrous works that have no real usefulness other than to celebrate the creative abilities of our hands and our brains. Cups are a grand invention for conveying liquids to our lips but our ancestors insisted on making them elegant and beyond ordinary. They derived pleasure from imitating and manipulating nature.
We first used words to communicate and then to teach. Eventually we found that our utterances might also be entertaining. We created plays and novels. We reflected the history of our times with both humor and tragedy. We created heroes and villains and turned words into melodies. We learned how to change our facial expressions and the intonation of our voices to become characters other than ourselves. We became actors from the very beginnings of time to bring the lives of others to life. We trained ourselves to make music with our vocal chords. We created costumes and changed our hair and our faces with makeup made from clays and oils.
We didn’t need to do such things. We might have advanced just fine by only concentrating on science and math but somehow we have always understood that we need the arts. It is in our most creative aspects that we demonstrate our truest genius and how different we are from other creatures.
There was a time when we had far more appreciation for the artists among us. They had wealthy patrons who supported their efforts. They gained a certain level of fame and respect. Now we tell our young to be wary of following dreams of becoming a musician or a painter or even an author. We warn them that they may starve if they try to find a life using the talents that they have been given. Many of them have to enjoy their artistry as a hobby or in the role of a teacher. They are rarely given the same regard as those who can build machines or understand advanced mathematics. We list the careers that pay the most and they are generally in the areas of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. We note that many who would follow a path in the creative arts are starving. All of which is quite sad for those who have special aptitudes in those areas.
One of my daughters tells me of a friend of hers who has an ability to write wondrous tracts. He wishes more than anything to ply his craft for all of his life but until he is discovered, if that ever even happens, he has been reduced to working at jobs that are quite unsatisfying. He is slowly resigning himself to his fate and may one day become a drone who goes to work each day that he secretly hates. It is sad that he has to do that, but it is also quite true of many many people who share his skills and his dreams.
I love to write like that young man. I am not exceptional, but I can be rather entertaining at times. I read books by hack authors that are unrefined and poorly crafted, but they sell millions of copies simply because they are already famous in some way. People flock to their book sales, purchasing their tomes in recognition of what they have already accomplished in other fields. The discovery of new talent is becoming less and less likely. Book publishers have learned that they are more likely to make money from a known entity than from someone who may or may not find an audience. So it is with other artists as well. It takes much hard work, a bit of luck, a great deal of determination and a willingness to be rejected for creative individuals to find a place of acceptance in the world today.
I would tell young people who want to find a career in the arts to take risks before giving up on the idea of such a pathway. It is when people have few responsibilities other than for themselves that they are able to make the sacrifices needed to be noticed. I urge them to be fearless, courageous. There will always be time later for choosing a more secure avenue for living life. I would tell them to pursue those dreams. The worst that might happen is that they may ultimately find that they will have to do something different than what they first desired. The best is that they might actually catch the golden ring and live a life filled with immeasurable satisfaction and happiness. Mankind is magical and there are those who find ways to demonstrate that their talents truly are worth our notice. We will all be the better if they manage to catch our attention.