Why is art not considered “real” work?

This may be something I’ve talked about (or at least alluded to) before on the blog, but I don’t remember for certain so I’m bringing it up again. Earlier in the week I asked this question in the Facebook forum: “Why are the arts and crafts not considered real work?” The responses went like this.

  • I don’t know. Maybe through some false, Puritanical idea that work should be cheerless drudgery? That if you’re enjoying it too much, it’s not really “work”?
  • I think it depends on whom you’re talking to. Great societies need art as well as industry and politics (Actually, do we really need politics?). I, for one, would love to quilt or knit, but I’ll apparently have to wait for Heaven to succeed at those arts.
  • Arts and Crafts aren’t considered “work” because people can do them as hobbies or in their spare time and don’t realize that (perhaps) there is a great amount of craftsmanship and skill in what you do than in (perhaps) what I do, when I’m not punching a clock. The correct answer is, “Paul, we’d all love to do what we love to do but have to punch a clock and it’s more fun to mock you than to say, ‘I’m jealous.'” I’m not jealous of your vocation but I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to do what I loved either.
  • Probably for a similar reason that being a “homemaker & mother” is not considered “real work” — because it doesn’t bring in the bread.

Through the course of these responses, I began to wonder if part of this cultural sentiment might also result from the underlying and powerfully subconscious underpinnings of our mass producing consumerist culture. The value of handmade has, perhaps, been relegated to the status of hobby because such objects don’t make significant contributions to national statistics. They don’t pay homage to the god of the economy. They don’t create enough of the right kind of jobs.

The value of imagination, beauty, leisure, philosophy and so forth also fall short of the god of efficiency’s standards, all of which often tie into the arts. These things take time out of an otherwise productive life and are generally frowned upon by American society.

Those are the beginnings of my thoughts anyway, and I’d be interested in hearing more from readers.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

3 Responses to Why is art not considered “real” work?

  1. Mary says:

    Much depends upon what one calls efficiency.

    For some, it’s inefficient to walk to the grocery store. They’d rather drive and stock up on many things at once, than buy a few times a week what they can conveniently carry in their arms (also sometimes they live five + miles from a store). For some, it’s efficient to use the dishwasher, rather than waste time and water scrubbing away by hand.

    For myself, I enjoy the little difficulties and inefficiencies because they let me really experience what I’m doing. The smaller the pieces, the more I can enjoy them. Rather than streamlining my life, and buying everything at Wal-Mart or throwing everything in the dishwasher, speeding things up so that I can get more done, faster – I’d rather have the full experience of the task, and be closer to the origins of my livelihood. Slower living is more pleasant.

    [Granted, I don’t have kids, live in the city, and am single. I can get away with it for these reasons.]

    In the same way, I love my job (bridal alterations) not because I make a ton of money at it (I don’t), but because I can work with my hands toward a tangible end, because I can work with brides and other seamstresses in an almost community-like setting, and because I learn something new every other day. The job is worth doing because the small pieces it’s broken down into are worth doing.

    The whole is more than the sum of its parts. And that’s why inefficiency as 21st-century America puts it is more efficient for ME. I’m happier this way – experiencing the pieces of my life individually – so my slower methods are efficient for myself. I appreciate stepping back and trying to make sure I’m aware of what I’m doing, trying to make sure The Whole that I’m creating is as good as it can be. God wants me to do something in particular, and I need to pay attention to what that is. Ambition doesn’t fit well with this.

    Again, I happen to be lucky. The way things are, it’s not easy to find work that is fulfilling, lets you be a whole human, doesn’t require you to sell your soul or forfeit quality time NOW for a comfy living LATER. I find it hard to envision a practical way for all human beings to have such an enriching livelihood. There are too many cog-in-the-machine type jobs that allow too many to ignore the quality of life in the here-and-now.

    Sorry to blather. Your ideas are much more coherent than mine, pc Nielsen! Keep it up!

  2. pwlsax says:

    2 comments in 5 years. I’m not surprised. These are not questions our society wants to ask, and I suspect we wouldn’t be very happy with the answers, either. Economy and efficiency are not yet understood as “gods.” They are still treated as realities.

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