In Praise of Creativity for Pleasure, not Profit

When we start our journey into this career, we start, generally, as children, driven only by a desire to play, to have fun, to use our imaginations. We don’t start by thinking ‘how will this dance class pay the rent?’…

Above my desk, in my home office, I have blu-tacked onto the wall a battered old copy of the Bread & Puppet Theatre’s Why Cheap Art? Manifesto.

“ART IS NOT BUSINESS! It does not belong to banks and fancy investors…It needs to be EVERYWHERE because it is the INSIDE of the WORLD”

I think it’s important to keep this in mind. I often say that the worst thing to ever happen to creativity was someone worked out how to make money out of it! And yes, I’m aware of the irony of me, as an agent, saying that.

Economic research has demonstrated that there is a positive correlation between self-esteem and earnings; the higher our self-esteem, the more we are likely to earn, and the more we earn the higher our self-esteem. Our own perception of our value as people seems to be linked to our monetary worth in society. In my opinion that’s a pretty terrible state for our society to be in. I think it’s particularly damaging for creatives to think like this too. 

When I ask around; what stops you from doing what you most love to do? the first answer is always – money. Now, I’m not imagining a utopia where money doesn’t exist and we all get to do whatever we like, all day every day, (although wouldn’t that be lovely?!) but it does seem that we are killing, or at least suppressing, our creativity because our first thought is “Can I afford to do this?” Immediately we are placing a restriction on our creativity, assigning a value to it, and then weighing that value up against a whole load of other values – except the problem is, it’s comparing apples and chairs. We’re not comparing like with like. The worst part, I think, is that society in general places a lesser value on creativity.

I first started thinking about this when I was a secondary school teacher, teaching English, Media and Drama. My Drama GCSE groups were divided into two sets “top set, and bottom set” – I’m sure you’ve all come across that. The top set were the ones who had elected to take Drama because they wanted to, sometimes because they needed an ‘artsy’ subject to look good on their University applications, some had a real passion and aptitude for it. The bottom set were often forced into it, as an ‘easy’ option, perhaps because they were disruptive in other lessons, many because Drama isn’t considered an ‘academic’ subject. Any of you who’ve taken Drama GCSE will know this certainly isn’t the case.

I watched Sir Ken Robinson’s superb TED talk not long ago, Do Schools Kill Creativity? which spoke about education on our planet, how, if an alien landed on our planet and examined our education system, they would conclude the ultimate aim of education was to create University professors. Robinson speaks brilliantly and insightfully on the hierarchy of education; Arts and Music are afforded a higher status than dance and drama. Who decided Maths must be taught every day but dance only once a week? Who decided our value should be determined, not by our ability to move someone with our creativity, but by our ability to define an isosceles triangle? Society, in general, places a lower value on creativity. Once we start thinking about our creativity in terms of how much money it makes us, of how we can translate our creativity into a salary, I think we start to chip away at it, until eventually, I wonder whether there’s any joy left in it?

When we start our journey into this career we start, generally, as children, driven only by a desire to play, to have fun, to use our imaginations. We don’t start by thinking ‘how will this dance class pay the rent?’ ‘how can I turn this story I tell my teddy bears into an Oscar winning screenplay and win worldwide acclaim?’ We start, simply, because it brings us joy.

And yet here we all are working in an industry that pays us (or doesn’t) to use our creative skills. And because the rest of the world defines success in terms of how much money we have, we start to apply that to ourselves. It affects our self-esteem and perhaps that novel goes unfinished because we stop writing for pleasure and start writing for profit, that role seems unfulfilling because it’s not paying as much as that role – maybe we start to think about becoming ‘stars’ – not, I think, because we honestly believe the work is better (because let’s face it, empirically, much of it isn’t) but because we equate success with salary.

I don’t have any answers, just a suggestion. Each day, do something creative, without fear. Make something and don’t worry about whether it’s shit or not. Wring all the joy you can out of the process, not the result. Bring the fun back, bring the joy back. Be childlike and innocent in your creativity – and place no value on it. 

There are other, better and more important reasons to create something, to be creative – there is much scientific evidence that indicates the connection between art and healing. Creative activities have been demonstrated to contribute to the reduction of stress and depression, even to alleviate pain, or the burden of chronic disease – being creative might actually make you healthier!

What you make is no better, or worse, than anyone else. Break free of comparing your work to others, try something you’ve never tried before, and do it simply because you are a creative person, and because art needs to be everywhere, because it is the inside of the world.