The Beauty-Makers

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Gaston Bussiere, Isolde, 1911 (detail)

“If you do a job with the sole purpose of making money, you are absurd. Because if money becomes the goal, and it does when you work that way, you begin increasingly to confuse it with happiness — or with pleasure.”

— Alan Watts


“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

— Buckminster Fuller

The prize is beauty, not survival, is my answer to the injunction “keep your eyes on the prize.” We get a huge amount of advice on how to succeed against the odds, as we see here on Medium and elsewhere, with articles featuring the title of “How To” something or other. That kind of success is not measured in terms of beauty or a meaningful life. Its yardstick is cold hard cash, possessions, social esteem.

I beg to disagree.

I don’t think it’s necessary for the world to put us in the position of selling ourselves cheap or else die of starvation. I think there are undiscovered treasures in us. We just don’t have the time, education or encouragement to find them. Maybe that’s why so many people are angry. Missing your life is not a small thing.

Judging our lives by their financial data is a little limited, wouldn’t you agree? Is our deepest longing really for more money, and if it is, who’s fault is it, us or our given culture? We are shoved into this mindset by the assumptions of a spiritually primitive society, starting with birth and only ending in death. We are taught to throw our tenderest selves to the wolves. That’s pretty painful when we’re children but by adulthood, we’ve usually gotten with the program. Then of course we’re lost, with the result that distractions and cheap pleasures loom large in our lives.

Seeing the mind-traps of the culture is an indispensable skill for a person who wants to make beauty of any kind. You’re going to need to say no a lot. You will need to question what you’re told by church, parents and teachers. They rarely know how to help you lead your best life. A lot of time is wasted trying to escape the boredom and pointlessness of the options we’re given.

Someone did a study of all the artists and writers who were dead by the age of thirty-five, the question being why. They were crushed by not being valued for who they were. Their societies had no use for their sensibilities to the arts and the poetry of life. The work they left is inspiring but their lives give us pause. Only the strong need apply is the lesson we learn. The United States is probably the only first world country that still doesn’t support culture-making at an official level.

And yet, we continue. Some of us refuse to be dissuaded, and thus, beauty comes into the world. I know American artists who believe that since artists must suffer to create, our system is good because it promotes a lot of suffering.

Obviously I disagree. I think it’s time for America to get serious about its creative people.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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