A Practical Peacemaker Ponders . . .

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The Artist's Value to Society
3/5/2010

A friend who will graduate this spring with a fine arts degree plans to devote his energy to his creative passion, supporting himself as a waiter to make his artist's life possible. His parents have struggled over the years to be able to afford his education, and they ask: we spent thousands of dollars on his degree, and now he's going to work as a waiter?

I'd look at it from a different viewpoint. Those who put their artistic endeavors first in their lives, even though it may require entry level service jobs and financial austerity, do something valuable for themselves and society. This value exists independently of the beauty of the visual or performance art they bring forth, although that is significant in itself. The lifestyle of the "starving artist"--including not only visual and performance artists, but writers, composers, anyone whose life is dedicated to the creation of beauty and/or inspiration--benefits society in at least three ways:

Such an artist will never have regrets later in life that they didn't pursue their passion. On the other hand, those who turn their back on art in order to make money and fit in with mainstream society may later wish they had developed their artistic gifts, may suffer from midlife angst, and will have lost a significant number of years of creative potential.
Artists barely making ends meet will of necessity live a simple life: no buying of mansions, large fuel-inefficient vehicles, or frequent cross-country travel. No collecting of expensive toys. He or she can model environmental responsibility without even thinking about it.
Passionate people who sacrifice to create beauty and authenticity shine a light on mainstream society and its ethically questionable actions. Does an average worker's paycheck or investment income derive from companies that are polluting the earth or promoting violence? Do our creature comforts come at the expense of cruelly disadvantaged workers in distant countries? Shouldn't there be more to life than working long hours at a boring or stressful job just because it pays well?

Artists provide more for the rest of society than just entertainment. They model a radical, more authentic way to live in the world.