February 12, 2021
What does it mean to be deserving of something? In my mind, it used to mean that you are deemed worthy (by others) of experiencing and/or participating in a feeling, event, and/or community. At least that’s how I used to think about it in terms of what I thought I deserved.
There’s been many times in my young life when I’ve questioned whether or not I am deserving of being able to live happily and support myself solely off of my creative interests. I questioned why I thought I should be deserving of doing what I loved for a living; for getting paid to chase the questions I obsess over day after day. But the more I think about it, why should I not be deserving? How are my interests any different than that of a doctor, or a lawyer, a teacher, or engineer? Am I not also saving lives and/or inspiring with my work? The messages I’ve received from people about the ways I’ve inspired them have told me otherwise.
You see, the thing about artists is that our contributions have literally shaped cultures, communities, and every aspect of living that we exist in today. When you really take a step back and assess the world, you will find that we are living in a world that was created by the work of artists. And not all of those people even think of themselves as artists; but at the core of the word, what do artists do? They create.
When you look at the variety of homes that people live in, or the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and even the foods that we eat; those are all things that were imagined and created by an artist. And again, some of those artists might not even feel that they are artists, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that they created something. They contributed to society and their creations have been consumed by others in some shape or form. So I truly ask, what makes us think that any one field is more deserving than the other, when artists have quite literally helped to sustain society?
I’ve always felt that there was this invisible battle faced by artists; one that consists of constantly having to justify that your creations matter. But if you look up at any given point in time and assess the space you find yourself in, I guarantee the work of an artist is among you. Whether it’s the frame in which your diploma is hanging, the design and shape of your phone case, or even the plates and silverware that you eat on; those things were all ideas at one point; and now, they’re serving a purpose in your life.
That is the bittersweet reality of being an artist; having your creations be so embedded into the fabric of existing, that people forget your work fuels their joy, their indulgences, and their peace. But you might be wondering how this relates to the traditional idea of artists and what they contribute to society? You might be imagining the stereotypical archetype of an artist with clothes smeared in paint and an easel. Well, I like to think there are two kinds of artists. The ones who create reality (like mentioned above) and the artists who reflect reality. The artists who observe, record, and show us the mirror of life for those who don’t have the time to stop and stare.
What would have become of an artist like Kehinde Wiley, if he had not been given the chance to study art? His journey started with something as simple as after-school art classes to keep him off the streets. Now his work has recorded the first African American president this country has ever seen, and the work itself has simultaneously become a part of this nation’s history. To minimize the significance of those art-classes he first took, would be to minimize the legacy that he has created not just for himself, but for black people, and for America at large. But fortunately, we will never know what his fate might have been, because he did have those art classes to nurture the talent buried inside of him, and we have been blessed to see what the fruits of that labor can lead to.
So I think the question that should be asked is, why are we not deserving of the arts?