Does poverty encourage creativity?

Lately I’ve been wondering if poverty encourages creativity. Two things prompted this ponderment. One was Andrew Petersen’s first post in his recent series about money, titled Not the root of all evil. The other is simply the lean financial times I find myself in the midst of as we enter Autumn; the contract work I’ve had painting houses this year has dried up for the time being.

My mind is working differently than when I had that work painting. I see things now, objects and opportunities, differently. Possibilities multiply. I take the time to consider more numerous options than if our household was [somewhat more] flush with cash, able to collect in a cart from the Home Depot whatever sundries are needed for a project. Things I’ve collected, some with a specific purpose and some not, look new and become useful in a myriad of ways (I’m not really all that much of a pack rat, but I can’t let some things go.). For instance, the broken dishwasher in the backyard will now become, after being disassembled, part of my downdraft table. Anyone have a squirrel cage laying around they care to donate to that project?

Thus the question in my head is, “Does poverty encourage creativity?” Seems to me it does. I’d like to hear what others think or have experienced in this regard. Does our wealth, individually and nationally, sometimes get in the way of (and also some of the time foster) our imaginations, our ability to be at our creative best?

Paradoxically, I also find myself busier now that a month ago when I still had that [mostly] regular job. I’d love to be working on my own house right now — painting and putting to good use all the building materials I’ve salvaged over the past few months — but haven’t the time in light of trying to find other ways to generate income. As I count in my head, I’m working in no less than five directions toward that end at the moment.

One of those directions is as a freelance graphic designer. I pick up this kind of work now and then anyway, so I’m offering my talents as such if you or yours need a logo, brochure, banner etc designed and printed up. You can see a portfolio of my work under the above tab titled Design Portfolio. Email me at TheAestheticElevator(at)gmail(dot)com if you need such services.


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

4 Responses to Does poverty encourage creativity?

  1. Word Lily says:

    I would say it can, at least.

    The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer showcases just this. Not in the creation of fine art, but Kamkwamba invented something (created it) to solve a problem, even though he didn’t have the requisite education or training, or skills, or resources.

  2. Of course it does, poverty, or any other limitation on resources, has a huge effect on creativity. Indeed limited resources require smarter, alternative thinking. Sometimes opportunities come hidden behind what initially looks like a problem! Good luck.

    One of my favorite quotes, which seems very apt is:

    Creativity starts when you cut a zero from your budget


  3. I would say in general “no.” Josef Pieper famously referred to leisure as the basis of culture, and in my experience those living in poverty have to work so incredibly hard that they do not have much time to think about being creative and making art.

    • pcNielsen says:

      There is certainly an aspect to poverty that would preclude a person from being able to create if they had to spend too much time working, but how much of our time working is over and above what we need? If we were in a subsistence-type culture it’s hard for me to imagine how an artist would also survive.

      But they have, for millenia. Whether as artisans, or impoverished . . . ???

      I didn’t specify what kind of creativity either, on purpose. You can be creative in a business capacity, for instance, or as a catalyst to other artists.

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