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.
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.