Do we matter?
I'm specifically talking about "us" as designers, artists, or creative people. Do artists matter?
I have two personal stories that have helped me gauge and answer that question for myself. I hope they help you too.
(SIDE NOTE: I believe in a God and I believe that God loves me and leads my path but that I have free will and can turn from his leading and do my "own thing". Both of these stories have a TON of "God flavoring" that would make them much longer, so know that they are there if you want to read between the lines and find them. In short, both stories are answers to prayer.)
After 9/11 I felt worthless. Making cartoons just wasn't important in the new post 9/11 world. Firemen, policemen, construction workers, teachers, healthcare workers, architects- really, anyone that contributes to rebuilding our world and its infrastructure, those people had important jobs to do. We needed them and we would continue to need them as we moved forward as a nation. But cartoonists, animators, designers, filmmakers, illustrators, and entertainers? Not really. I realized how frivolous my job was. I contribute to shows/ books/ movies that keep kids (primarily) entertained. Even Saturday Night Live shut down for a while.
As time passed, our nation learned to laugh again. Saturday Night Live came back on and officially gave us permission to laugh again. And I worked my way through where I fit in the big world I live in. Art/telling stories were all I could do and my first priority was to use that ability to feed and clothe my family. I got back to work doing that and soon realized that in a less direct way I was still contributing to society by taking care of my family. Ultimately, it's the most important thing we do as citizens in our community.
But I learned one thing from that experience that I have never forgotten. That the jobs out society deems as glamorous and important, are not. The ones that really matter are the jobs that will help you survive in a world turned upside down. I remember 9/11 for many reasons but one is to make sure I never get too big of a head in where I am in my career and how important I am because of it. I hope I never forget that.
My SECOND STORY happened recently. Just last week I was at a high school football game (watching my daughter cheerlead more than watching the actual game), sitting next to another dad who is an architect and we started talking about art and becoming an artist. Though we come from radically different worlds of art, we had very similar passions and complaints about clients and newer up-and-coming students of art. We also mutually complained that art schools were broken. They are too expensive and are not teaching students real-world knowledge and abilities that will get them jobs. We talked about what we would say to them if we had the chance to speak at an art school. My friend said something I had never fully considered, and mostly because I live in the world of creating characters and animation. He comes from the world of creating THINGS. Buildings and structures. He sees the big picture of the world, I guess you could say. He said, "I would tell the art students to look around the room they were sitting in. Look at their chairs. They're iPhones. Even a football field. (Which we were looking at in that moment): EVERYTHING YOU SEE WAS ORIGINALLY CREATED BY AN ARTIST. Wow. I took that in for the first time and really considered it. Everything is designed in some way. Well done or weak and rushed, it's still designed. What a blessing that was to my life. Was my life's work important? Was his life's work important? You bet. We were part of a greater whole of artists that were defining THE PLANET! I know that sounds corny or far-reaching but there is truth in it. Though this happened recently, his words have been rolling around in my head ever since. Enough so that I needed to write this down and share it with other artists.
And, more importantly, I feel like my Maker wants me to consider both stories together. One story shows me not to consider my art (and life) TOO important and the other shows me not to belittle that ability and take it for granted. Artists have a place in this world and it is an important one. We may not get the recognition we deserve all the time, but I can look around any room, house, building, any book, any THING and realize that there is a reward to it that is beyond financial.
Lastly, I believe that we are "called" to be artists. Artists, even the ones that do it as a hobby (creating art is not how they earn their living), have a passion in them that can't be put out even though choosing this path will lead to hard work, hard times and hardships. Art chose us; we did not choose art. Who would? It's a life pursuit that is NOT celebrated financially and (usually) taken for granted. Only other artists love your art as much as you loved creating it. The rest of the world either scratches their heads or in a best-case scenario, say, "That's cool."
Accept your life and your place in the world. Celebrate the people around you that support and love you. Be content in the frustration and passion of creating your artwork. In my opinion, knowing that you matter is the key to happiness.
Favorite this story if you like it and others will see it. Thanks, Tom B.