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queen-victoria-1842-1 by winterhalter

“Queen Victoria,” by Winterhalter, 1842.  Victoria’s job was to lead her people well.

Recently I’ve been thinking about professions, pay, and service.   Why do some professions pay more than others? For instance, why does a doctor get paid more hourly than a barista?  This has nothing to do with the worthwhile efforts of either of the people holding these jobs.  You could be the best barista on the planet, make the best cup of coffee in the world and serve it with pleasantness, with a design in the foam of your own making.  However, as long as you stay a barista, you will not be compensated for your time and expertise in the way that a doctor will.  Why?

Because people need doctors.  “But I need coffee!” you may exclaim.  You may feel that you need coffee, and you may be addicted to coffee, but you do not need coffee to survive.  However, if you had health issues that needed fixing, you would need a doctor.  A doctor meets a need that the world has.  Many times, a very urgent need.   There is also the skill level that is necessary to become a doctor, one that takes into account years and years of intensive, difficult study and exacting practice.  Enough practice that the doctor can then do what they do best, whether it is general practice or surgery, and feel confident enough that they will not mess up.  You can’t just wake up tomorrow and be one.  It requires decades of planning and dedication.  This service they provide to mankind makes them valuable.   No offense to Baristas here–I love coffee! 🙂

This got me thinking about art and the profession of an artist.  Why would someone become an artist?  At first glance, it seems that making art serves no direct purpose to mankind.  Does it make you healthier?  Safer?  Smarter, calmer or wiser?  Perhaps a little.  Is it simply to amuse?  To inspire?  To send a political message?  There are too many kinds of art to say that all art is for one purpose and one purpose alone.  As varied as there are people on the earth, so are the many kinds of artworks and motivations of the artists that make it.  But the highest paid artists are usually the ones with the strongest vision and best work–so in the same way that doctors are compensated for their service, artists are compensated for their vision.  The more compelling the vision, the greater the contribution to mankind.

Proverbs 29:18a of the Bible reads, “Without a vision, the people perish.”  Perhaps it is we as artists who take our profession too lightly.  It’s a lot of fun to paint, to sculpt, to create things out of your head.  This enjoyable aspect of creativity has given some artists guilt over making a profession out of something they enjoy so much.  But have we as artists ever truly stretched ourselves to find out what the capabilities of our creativity are?  Most of us are capable of far more than we imagined.  It is the job of artists, and creatives, to make this vision in the culture we live in today.  Because it’s vision, hope, imagination that make life worth living.  If you look at it that way, an artist’s job is one of the most important jobs in society of all.

Do you feel called to be an artist?  If you feel that it is a calling, then what if you thought of it also as a responsibility to the world?  That you, not doing your best, would be taking away something great that mankind would otherwise have without you.  Are you truly doing your best?  As Lera Auerbach states in her book Excess of Being: “The gap between good and great is much larger than between good and bad.”  What if you created not for the fame, accolades, fortune or respect, but out of a duty to give your best to the world?  To not think of it as an indulgent thing, but in a service-minded way.  Your art serves a purpose, a unique purpose only you can fulfill.  It is up to you to discover what exactly that is, fulfill it, and give it to the world.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and start the conversation!

By Jessica Libor, June 2016