I talked once with an artist-turned-social worker about what motivated his career change. He told me that after years of painting he grew tired of his self-absorption wanting instead to help others. He told me that, in his view, all artists are ultimately self-absorbed, spending endless hours exploring their own feelings and perspectives.
I asked to see his paintings. Perhaps, I wondered, he was never really good in the first place. When he showed me his work, I was astonished. An old, damaged door at the end of misshapen stairs, a battered antique car with an ominous storm in the background- images evoking strong emotion, stories embedded deeply within.
Not long ago I was at a poorly attended book-signing of a businessman-turned-writer-of-social-advocacy-non-fiction. He had worked for a large corporation making money for it and for himself. Through circumstance, he saw how negatively his work affected those in poverty and abandoned his aspirations in order to write books with a conscience. An intriguing metamorphosis. Yet, as I talked with him, I couldn’t help but think that he was more interested in selling his books than in changing the world. I wanted to discuss his experiences with him, but when it became apparent that I would not buy, he turned away, waved a copy of his book in the air, and called out to a passer-by, “Have you read my book?”.
I wish I had never met the author of those books. I would have stood a chance of reading them and being changed.
I wish the artist-turned-social-worker had not judged himself so harshly. I would have loved to have seen his future creations.
Perhaps even poor motives can lead to inspiring work.
Melissa is ten years old. She likes trying on make-up, playing Star Wars computer games, and making beaded jewelery.
Her mother is cultured, obsessed with museums, art, literature, and ballet. She loves her little girl and seeks every opportunity to pass along her passion.
Mother has decided that it’s time for Melissa to learn the work of Botticelli.
Melissa stares at Venus standing on a seashell that looks like the one in their bathroom. She’s embarrassed by what the lady is not wearing.
Her mother speaks rapidly, hands flying, eyes round, unblinking.
Daughter wishes she could just go back to being an uncultured, happy kid.
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