No Art for Grown Ups

Thought of the day: We encourage kids to draw, sing, dance, write, paint, sculpt (with play doh), learn instruments and do all manner of artsy things. We are thrilled with scribble; we record them dancing to music; we scrape dry play doh out of the carpet for them; we attend every recital.

And that’s great…all the way up through high school. But then we expect them to put those away in college and do serious things.

THEN

Hardly any adults engage in the arts except professionals. And we tend to be pretty skeptical even of them and especially of amateur art simply for its own sake.

Why?

Part of it, of course, is that adults have less free time and must dedicate a large amount of time to supporting the household either through paid work or domestic work. Adults have a lot of duties and not much time to allot to hobbies and passions that don’t bring home the bacon or make the beds.

But I think art is intrinsic to a meaningful life. It’s very natural to humans. Art for its own sake is it own reward. It’s one of those creative tasks that fills up our emotional tank. It helps us process experiences and create beauty.

I find it sad that we tend to laugh at amateur poets and painters.

I find it sad that there are very few friendships that include creating and sharing creative works. It would be wonderful to find the arts as a more important piece of adult social life. (Yes, I’m thinking of the Inklinds, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends who shared literary works together).

So with that in mind, let’s do more art! (Must go take my own advice now)

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Traveling and the Meaning of Life

Travel, travel, travel.

Or that’s what we seem to hear all over the place. If we travel, we learn culture, broaden our horizons, expand our mind. Yes, that’s all true. Traveling is great, don’t get me wrong. But there is something beyond travel as a goal. Traveling is not really an end because as travelers, we are observers not true participants. We observe culture when we travel; we don’t create it.

And we can’t observe forever. Eventually, to have a meaningful life, we must settle down and dedicate ourselves to something, to a worthwhile project and task, one that will last a lifetime.

And yes, we really do have to work at something. Vacation is fun, but only as vacation. To whittle away the hours and just relax is only truly good as a break, not the main event. Like any business, we humans must grow or decline. There is no holding still. We either move forwards or backwards.

Often, it’s a job. We take a job and work to rise the ranks and make something out of the company.

Often though, it’s not a job. Very frequently, it’s one’s family. Family–the rearing of children–is a most enduring life project. It’s one that requires many energies and creative faculties from managing a budget, entertaining young ‘uns, maintaining a household, fixing, making, cooking and most importantly–loving. Raising kids demands command of our own emotions and goals.

For other people, the life project is different. But it must be work. Simply enjoying is fun but it isn’t a life project and ultimately enjoying and observing doesn’t bring fulfillment.

The work of a fulfilling life project, whatever it is, demands settling in a certain way and dedicating oneself to a place and the people who live there–whether it’s a house and neighborhood, a family, a religious community or something else. Life’s greatest project requires that we commit to a place and a people and work for its, our and their betterment.

When the tourists come to our neck of the woods, then we will be creating the culture that they will observe.

Kids: Don’t Worry About What You’ll Be When You Grow Up

As the dreaded back to school approaches, we all recall being asked every year what we wanted be when we grew up. And every kid is gonna get asked that a million times this year. And the answers usually are:

For girls: teacher, artist

For boys: policeman, fireman

There is nothing wrong with these answers. The problem is that it is absolutely absurd to expect kids to know what they want to do to with their lives as adults. Now, I know…I know the objection: the question is just to get them to start thinking about the future and realize that they are going to be adults one day and need to work or do something.

But here are a few reasons why it’s counter-productive to treat the “What do you want to be?” question with so much gravity:

1. Kids have no idea. The responses to the question usually only reflect the professions they have been exposed to in their life. This is why most girls say “teacher.” That’s not a terrible problem, but it makes the exercise kind of pointless. Kids already see the professions they encounter in daily life. Asking them what they want to be doesn’t really stimulate extra thoughts.

2. Happiness at a job depends more on work environment than job title. Now here is a truth at no one ever tells children, but we all learn it as soon as we’ve had our first job. Colleagues and company culture are usually much more significant in determining if we enjoy our time working than what we actually do.

3. It’s misleading. We tell kids to find their passion, focus on art, music, dance and the like. Then, when they graduate high school or college and can’t find a job, adults turn around and say: “Well, what did you expect? It’s the real world!” The truth is most people work in an office with some sort of meaningless title. And we expect graduates not to be disappointed. No wonder post-college blues is a thing.

Despite this, we should be encouraging everyone to pursue their passions as a way of life, not just as a job. It’s true that not a lot of people can make a living by just being an artist, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t bother creating art. (See #3)

4. It equates being with profession. When we ask kids what they want to “be” and then expect them to answer with job titles, we are saying that their personhood is the same as their job title. That’s not good. Lots of people are stuck in jobs that don’t like or flat out hate. But the thing is, we need good garbage men, truck drivers and other unfashionable jobs. We should not be shaming or exalting people simply because of their employer. We should be looking at the way a person lives his life, his virtues, his love. Now of course, some jobs take a lot of training to get to, such as doctors, and that level of work is itself worthy of respect. But this is really an indication of virtue. And honestly, not every member of respected professions is necessarily a good person.

Plus, most of us take office jobs and don’t become DJs, television personalities, actors, singers, painters and dancers. Some of us will leave the working world entirely (ie stay at home moms).  So what then? Does that mean our life is meaningless or sad? Of course not! Our life and our being are about a lot more than our job. Jobs matter because we have to spend so much time doing it, but being a good person is so much more important than being a CEO.

We need to teach kids they have value and that their life can be fulfilling, passionate and good no matter what their job title is. (caveat: the job itself can’t be immoral…such as abortion doctor).

5. Kids are going to find their passion just by living. We need to encourage them to engage in creative, meaningful tasks now and everyday so that it becomes part of their life. We shouldn’t tell people that their life is suddenly go to become good the day they land the dream job. No, life is good everyday. So we should cultivate deep, focused activity today and not the idea of waiting for the perfect job. *Psst secret: awesome jobs tend to grow naturally out of the activities we do and the people we meet doing it*

What did you answer as a kid to the “What do you want to be?” question? Is that what you are doing now? Where does joy come from? Is it in a job? Sometimes? Always? Never?