The beautiful world

MONDAY, 30 APRIL 2001

A friend of mine recently mentioned the ambition of working four days per week, and work that’s getting tedious. That she was frustrated with what she has to do for money, is putting it mildly. I could only respond in one way. “You’re a creative person!” I told her. “How many hours per day do you spend making something, creating something? How many hours per week?”

We – the somewhat educated inhabitants of industrialised countries – live in a world where a large percentage of the population is required to provide certain services to maintain the economic status quo. Sometimes it takes sacrifice, on a daily basis, to do the types of work required for this purpose.

One of the sacrifices people must make in many cases is their creativity, to be connected with their true nature – to be creative. Of course, there are professions where creativity is required, and a privileged minority fills these positions. Most other workers of the First World order, as we know it, must ignore their inherent need to be creative – at least during “working hours”.

Because we don’t live in totalitarian states where people are forced to abandon their freedom, they must be persuaded by other means. Why on earth would people willingly give up free expression of their creative needs for 40 to 60 of the best hours of the week? For “Good Money”, of course! For the opportunity to belong to the “Beautiful World”! To look “beautiful” in this world is to look expensive. In order to be admired as one of the “beautiful people” you must fill your life with “beautiful things” – which, as we all know, means you’re probably not going to pick it up at the local Hospice shop up for a few dollars.

“Don’t you consider a Ferrari to be beautiful?” someone might ask. “Wouldn’t you want one?”

Of course! Is a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar of $600 not a more attractive and higher quality instrument than a Fender replica of a hundred? Anyone will be able to see and hear the difference. But we have to ask ourselves how much we sacrifice to be owners of these “beautiful things”.

A cursory glance will bring home the impression that most of us are willing to sacrifice too much. One of the sacred cows we throw unceremoniously on the altar of the Beautiful World is our ability to be creative, to create things out of raw material. For it is true that it requires a lot of time! But most of the time we are too busy making money with work we would certainly not have chosen to spend 40-plus hours per week on were it not for the financial compensation, or we are trying to soothe away our headaches after work, or blowing our Good Money. But the fact that we choose not to be creative does not eliminate the innate desire to create!

Unless we put in some effort to satisfy our creative needs in a sustainable way – with the exception of paid creative work, we fill the void by spending the money we earn on “beautiful” stuff to make ourselves feel a little better about ourselves. If that doesn’t work, we justify the choices we make by pointing out that we are “adults”, that we have a better understanding of the so-called real world than that artist who makes no money. And we laugh so much louder for silly jokes in our two thousand dollar outfits than for something that’s genuinely funny, but it might damage your carefully assembled persona to show appreciation for it. And it’s much easier to give someone a dirty look when he asks, “Wait a minute, what exactly are we doing here?” when you, who don’t have an answer either, sparkle with pearls, and your new Italian shoes glow in the light emanating from expensive boutiques when you trot down the street on your way to yet another purchase.

But what value do pearls and expensive watches and Italian shoes have when you realize, sometime during your forties or fifties, that, despite your earlier dreams and ambitions, you walked straight into that old trap that is set for all children of the middle class? Then you buy a Gibson Les Paul for … $600? “No wait, give me the one for 900, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!”

But you realize it might be too late. You realize you have spent your life buying “nice things” instead of creating beautiful things. You have become a consumer; you have given yourself over to the disproportionate consumption of the results of other people’s decision to not also deny their creative nature.

It is necessary to point out that I don’t want to be faithful to my creative nature, but when it comes to paying up then the guy who slaves away in an office for ten hours every day has to pay for my steak and beer. Personally, I’m very interested in money, and preferably lots of it. But my motivation is that having money will allow me to become even less subservient to the conventions of the Beautiful People; to establish a lifestyle recognizable as a good life, without denying what I consider being a central aspect of human nature.

What I want – to express it somewhat differently – is for the “beautiful people” to swallow their untested arguments with expensive French wine for which I’ll foot the bill.

How to be creative and have the ability to afford expensive drinks for your distinguished guests? I can’t provide an answer that will apply to everyone, but I believe too many people shy away from even the mere possibility. Or they consider the “reality” where they have to sacrifice creativity for money as so immutable that they are afraid they will be regarded as naive, as “idealists” (such a dirty word in certain circles), if they propose something, however modest, that is against the accepted dogma of their “real world”.

People call me an idealist, and I plead guilty. I am, indeed, stubborn in my idealism. Why? Because the alternative is not nearly good enough or beautiful enough to persuade me to deny my own nature.

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[Reading between the lines it becomes clear that it’s still important for the writer to convince the “beautiful people” of his views, not only in his own world of cheap beer and garlic bread, but in the type of environment where “expensive French wine” is expected by the “distinguished guests”. Perhaps a case of preaching to the unconverted in their own world?]

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