I decided to sit by the baseball field across from my New York City apartment on the way home today, and on the field was a man with a rake and a pile of fresh dirt. For the next half hour, he began the slow process of leveling the baseball field by filling up the uneven patches with dirt, then smoothing it out with the rake. It may not sound like the most interesting activity, but I was drawn by his calmness and ability to simply go from one hole to the next, until finally, the entire field was even. He did not rush. There were no signs of frustration. He did his job and went on home.
I believe we have a fundamental desire for fixing things and the fulfillment we get from doing it. This can be as simple as making your bed in the morning, ironing your clothes, or washing your car on a Sunday afternoon. We enjoy fixing things because it makes us feel good, or as Simon Sinek puts it, we get a shot of dopamine.
I believe that art is simply an extension of this fundamental need to create order out of disorder, or in other words, "making the world a better place." We admire the Beethovens, Charlie Chaplins, and Cartier-Bressons of the world because they made our lives better in some way, shape, or form. If that is the case, I also believe that in situations where we despise art, it is because we believe that it serves no utilitarian purpose -- for example, advertising. I would argue that advertising serves no utilitarian purpose, yet we are bombarded with it on a regular basis.
Our process of making art -- it is not so different from the man tending to the baseball field. We create art because we believe that the world that we live in can be very much improved upon, which also brings up the notion of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." For us, the world is very broken and we can't help but fix it... and the more we are able to offer a helping hand — be it through a beautiful musical composition that helps you sleep better at night, a comedic film that provides you with your daily dose of laughter, or simply leveling the baseball field so that the kids can have a proper little league game the next morning — the better we feel. We are giving back and "making the world a better place," so to speak.
If we begin to think of the desire to create art as not a conscious decision, but as an unconscious necessity, we can then start to understand why typical 9-5 desk jobs are so unfulfilling. Unfortunately, wasting our lives functioning as cogs at a job that is meaningless, contributes nothing to the world, and really should not exist in the first place, doesn't provide us with any sense of happiness. Then again, the majority of us have been convinced to believe that this is what it means to be "responsible," as if not thinking for yourself and receiving a paycheck that allows you to buy things you don’t really need can actually bring you joy.
As a result, 9-5ers often make artists feel inadequate for avoiding "real work" and not "paying their dues" because 1) they don't realize that art is the most real work one can pursue, and 2) artists are a constant reminder that you are not living life on your own terms. Sometimes this ridicule works, and utilitarian art takes a hit. People stop taking risks, innovation comes to a halt, and we all just become part of the herd — a one-way road straight to Mediocrity.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking” – George S. Patton Jr.
We've been led to believe that we must work for others first, and that art holds no social value and shouldn't be taken seriously. However, I believe that creating our own art is the most meaningful contribution we can make to the world and is something you owe yourself.
So I invite you to reconsider what it means to be responsible, to create art... and to think about how many things that we consider "norms" today (i.e. light bulbs, airplanes, motion pictures, etc.) were actually the results of great artists aka the crazy ones.
Let's get crazy.
by Jason Lam