Creative people are ____________.

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

According to a vast array of social media posted articles and memes creative people are sensitive, important, rare, and special. Like orchids grown by some fanatical botanist, they apparently need to be tended to, nurtured, coddled, loved and given all the room to be creative they ask for. One Phd penned article explained, with a listicle no less (the amount of writing about creative people is mind boggling, just do a Facebook search on ‘creative people’ and you will be amazed) that listed all the traits this kind of person might be such as; ‘disturbed by bright lights, noise and lots of people’ or ‘needing a lot of down time’. The gurus of this empire of sensitivity are people like Eat, Pray, Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert and countless artists who believe that their creativity makes them an oracle imbued with the aura of specialness.

I don’t know if creative people are special, I know that some of them I know are brilliant and some are pretty crazy. One thing most of them have in common is that they are poor. Poverty actually binds our community of creativity. The lists of how important creative people exist are in stark contrast to how most creative people are actually treated. The creative class of our age is the underclass. Of course we’re no where near as desperate or needy as a Syrian refugee; no one would argue who needs more help but I wouldn’t be surprised if that question came up in conversations. And in fact something similar did. In late November the Ontario Government began a ‘let’s talk about culture’ thing and held public meetings and online chats. A Facebook friend attended one of these in person and wrote that someone questioned whether arts are as important as hospital services. Or something to that effect, quite honestly this subject has come up so often in my life I can almost not bear it to get the details right.

From the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport. This is on the front page of the website, so why are we still having the ‘does art matter’ conversation?

And so, artists were yet again asked to defend why they matter and deserve to be paid. I would ask you what other profession gets this regular grilling in our culture? What Canadians spend on the arts is infinitesimal compared to what they get back. Why the Canada Council can’t make this argument clearly and loudly is beyond me. Will the new Heritage Minister help? Too early to tell. This kind of heartless and judgemental questioning of our worth at regular intervals in my five decades on this Earth has led me to believe that if there is one sector of our society that is continually demoralized by a margin of people (let’s be frank, anyone who questions art’s worth isn’t a regular gallery going art lover) it’s those that work in creative professions. I know there is vast commercial potential for those in the arts as designers and marketers but if you are someone who writes, draws, paints and builds things for their own sake, you are probably underpaid and under appreciated.

So why all the extreme social media drivel about how special creativity is when we do not actually want to pay for it or treat it with any respect? Why drone on about how much innovation from the minds of creative people is important to the sustainability of our culture when writers can’t even make $1 a word? What I would love to see is some substantial ideas that back up these many claims to how special creativity is. If you are going to spend a lot of time writing about the specialness of creativity and how much you love it why not buy a painting instead? Hire a writer? Become a member of an arts collective or gallery?

The creative class as we were once called no longer needs cheerleaders; we do not need to be told we are geniuses because for the most part we are not. But, we are willing to subsidize the culture so that we can make something that helps people connect or interpret the world (whether this is an artists intention is totally debatable, but I figure that if you are sharing it publicly, and accepting public funds then you must feel this way a little bit). We need money and we need to be supported through sustainable resources which actually help us with housing, necessities, health care and our work. Yeah, that’s right, we need practical stuff not low lights and soft music; we’re workers not the stuff of dreams.


7 thoughts on “Creative people are ____________.”

  1. The problem appears to me as an obvious disconnect between between funding for audiences and venues (after-the-fact) or funding to provide conditions for culture to actually propagate. An artist is to culture as a talented meteorologist is to the weather; not only does he or she report on present conditions but allows us to prepare for impending storms and droughts, fair weather and the conditions that may engender either unique opportunity or widespread destruction. The meteorologist doesn’t make the weather but he or she does play the most important role in our ability to deal with it. The question in this case whether it is as important or more so to provide for those persons with the ability to see what others cannot or to continue funding that culture which is commonly funded. As to the hospital question; the fact is we would be better served to fund greater clinical health research and the science of illness than to build more hospitals. It may even be found that the general health of any given individual can be tied directly to the most distinct qualities of that person’s community and propensity for a truly creative culture to flourish.

    1. I like your analogy with a meteorologist. Most of the artists I know don’t think they create ‘weather’ but do think they are trying to interpret and respond to it in order to pursue an investigation into what ‘weather’ actually is. If we fund scientists (and until recently our Canadian gov’t did not) to research how we can make life better here on Earth then why the consistent question as to why we should fund artists who are actually doing very similar work?

  2. I tend to think of culture in the broad sense, good or bad is what it is, but only in retrospect. Only a future generation can determine whether the present culture is advanced degenerate – and that’s relative to whatever present values are dominant.
    However, like the scientist, it is the artist who has his or her ear to the ground or finger on the pulse – not so much with the intent to define culture but to map its growth, stagnancy, or decline. What’s more, contrary to belief, the growth of culture not the result of a handful of the most talented artists but a median of the most daring and most conservative of a given cultural community.”Why we should fund artists who are actually doing very similar work?” I agree completely – it’s the differences that matter; the worthy failures as much as the most appealing successes. Arts funding should be targeted not to the individual with the intent drive similarity but cumulatively to propagate the widest diversity.

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