Thursday, June 16, 2011

Making Stuff Up

It has long been my understanding that middle-class people work for their money, while the wealthy make their money work for them. The former is the belief that if you work hard enough, long enough you will be successful. The latter means you're going to yoga at ten in the morning, going home and taking a nap.

My recent graduation from Columbia Chicago has me thinking about the school's philosophy and how it intersects with conventional wisdom, because education should never dare to challenge social norms. The pervading thought at Columbia is that you need to find something you can do to make money, and that might mean doing a set job you hate.

I understand this thought process, really I do. I even appreciate it, to a point. Everyone needs to eat, and Lord knows this culture is not going to tolerate the feeding of those who work to stimulate the imaginations of the populace. Next thing you know, we'd be paying teachers a living wage.

The common opinion making this all a necessity is the ubiquitous, "it's hard to make a living being an artist," which is pretty much the same as saying, "it's hard to make money off creativity."

This is rather true, but largely because art is undervalued. My wife has tried on several occasions to illustrate children's books, only to find the author was willing to pay her for the whole project what she should be getting for one two-page spread.

People have a tendency (and you'll find this everywhere) to suggest you should consider taking a pay cut for this sort of thing (or any sort of thing). The grocery store isn't cutting its prices, and neither should we.

Yes, "we." This is about all of us: artists, wait staff, crossing guards, electrical engineers. We should be doing what we are because we have to, either in the sense of "I can't stand the idea of not filmmaking," (in which case it's hard to survive as a non-artist) or "gotta eat."

Either way, creativity is what our jobs need. All of them. For instance, take electrical engineer. You can go to work day in, day out and not put your personal stamp on anything, or you can use your creativity (and yes, science requires creativity) to rework a system and make it more efficient. Too often does shoddy work smack of someone's hand, so rarely is a good idea a personal one.

The reason's simple: you won't be rewarded. The way to fix this is to create a need for our idea. People want movies, but if I can pitch the idea of a Civil War veteran traveling to England to reconnect with his long-lost daughter and trying to stop a plot to seize the country with an army of steam-powered robots, then people want that movie. If you can figure out a different way to bus tables, then that's what you should do.

It amounts to us forcing people to pay for what we give them. This culture needs to value ideas more than stocks, concepts more than bonds and real, life-changing epiphanies over projected profit.

Or we could just pay basketball stars more.

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