What’s the Future of Art? Contemplating a life where less is much more

What is the future of art? I ask this question for many reasons, but mainly because I am an artist in need of income, and I was intrigued by Tara’s recent post, What’s the Future of Work? Tara does a video interview with  Dr. Susan Bernstein on the topic of future work, aligning talent or skills with with problems that need to be solved, and creating passionate work. This does not mean we are all entrepreneurs, but that we find a way to work for, or with, people in a way that makes the best use of our true skills, those that make us come alive.

Susan believes that we need to be very clear about what really matters to us in these uncertain times, and then figure out what we can offer to help solve specific problems. I have been going down this path in recent months, so I really perked up at her ideas.

Instead of looking for jobs, look for people.

This is about people and connections, not competition and how to get to the top. We are moving out of the era of “he who dies with the most toys wins,” and into the era of we that have the most connections win. In Susan’s words,

It’s all about people connections. It’s all about community. It’s all about us coming together.

These are exactly the kinds of things I have been thinking and discussing lately. It makes me giddy to hear others bringing this stuff to the table!

So, how does this apply to art, and what the heck do I mean by less being much more?

As I watch what is going on in our country with the Occupy movement, I have a great sense of hope. In Philadelphia this is a diverse gathering of people, many unemployed, some homeless working together as a small community to ask questions, share experience, and look for solutions to the problem that is “Corporate America.” Not all are in agreement about the issues or solutions, but they are coming together and talking, eating, watching films, making music, and making art.

I defer here to Jen Louden, who wrote so beautifully about it last week:

It (Occupy Wall Street) is calling you to ask yourself, “Do I want to create a society based on selfishness and materialism or a society based on caring and equality?”

Occupy Wall Street is not about politics – not first.

It is about waking up and asking, “What is fair? What is right? What am I willing to do to take action on what I believe?

What am I willing to do to take action on what I believe? I am currently involved in the planning and creation of an annual community festival in the town of Phoenixville, PA. I am going to be an art vendor at the festival, as well as coordinating the art vendors. My husband and I are both involved in the building of the giant wooden phoenix that will be burned at the end of the day. Yes, that is last year’s bird up there in the picture!

Last year was the first I’d heard of this festival and I was a vendor; this year we are neck deep in it, and loving it. I see so many possibilities for what the future of art might be.

On September 27 we went to our first Phoenixville Firebird Festival meeting at the home of Charles Sega, the designer of this year’s bird. We had never met Charles nor most of the people in the group. By the end of the evening we had voted on one of two bird designs presented, and confirmed responsibilities for the many facets of the festival based on skill and desire. On the 2nd of October, five guys and a handful of women showed up to start building. Again, many did not know one another at all or well, but we came together and got the job done. I see this as an example of the future of work, art, and life.

When I went to college for art there were two main choices. Being an artist meant either going into the practical world of the applied arts, or the starving artists’ world of the fine arts. That has not changed, really, but my thinking about it has. I went the safe route with a degree in Illustration, but I have never really made a career of it. Nor am I starving while I make art that delights me, but I am in need of income. What skills do I have that can serve this changing environment?

As an illustrator I am great at conceiving conceptual imagery that can help people see things differently or more clearly. As a teacher I can help others learn to create images that help them do the same. As a writer and lover of story, I can use words with and without images to inspire, teach, enlighten. I could go on, but you get the idea. I am not just concerned about making art and trading it for dollars, rather to do that AND use it to contribute to help create a society based on caring and equality.

I see the future of art in festivals like the Firebird, in workshops to discover what lights us up, in communities creating beautiful spaces for gathering.

I see the future of art as owning a few really beautiful and well made things rather than a myriad of borderline junk. Less is more. Much more.

“That’s great, Gwyn,” you may be thinking, “but where is the pay check?” Well I can’t say for sure, but since starting to put the word out last week that I am available for this, that, and the other, things are coming up. I am looking for people, not a job, and I believe that will make all the difference. I’ll let you know down the road.

We are waking up, albeit slowly, to the idea that life as it was 10 years ago is not coming back. We are paring down our belongings, decluttering, allowing for less stuff and more connection. I see the future of art as a means for that connection.

What do you see as the future of art?

14 thoughts on “What’s the Future of Art? Contemplating a life where less is much more

  1. I love that you featured the Firebird Festival in your post, Gwyn! I’ve never been part of a community before that has so many festivals, events, community gatherings, and opportunities to ‘plug in’ and be personally involved. And even still, there is much community-building work yet to be done here. My question for you is, when are you gonna relocate to Pvile?!? LOL!

    1. Thanks Lauren! Hey if we were in a position to relocate Pville would be the first place we looked but…

      What is nice is that Pville has been so inclusive of us even though we are not residents. You will be seeing plenty of me in the coming year I think :-)

  2. I love this, Gwyn. Things really are changing this year! I feel it deep inside, beyond the news stories. The future of art to me is just as you describe – more collaboration, more artists finding ways to not only sell their work, but find ways to use all artistic parts of themselves to help solve problems.

    It is hard to figure out how to do this in addition to supporting oneself, but I just finished reading this inspiring book by Barbara Sher called Refuse to Choose. It’s for people who jump from one thing to the next and don’t understand why (the book solves that problem!) and I’ve practically been weeping with joy that I found this amazing resource. The reason I mention it is because it forces you to dig deep into what’s important for you, not just money, not just accomplishment, etc. It helps get the brainstorming going about ways you can add real value to others’ lives and also get paid for it.

    I’m not entirely sure what my future will be, but I know art, music, and people will all be a big piece. I’m so glad that people are starting to really stand up and look inward as well as outward for a positive change in society, with such a strong focus on creativity and supporting each other. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for everyone.

    1. Thanks Lesley I appreciate your enthusiasm. I have not read that book but did read an older one of hers years ago, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.

      Another good book on a similar topic is The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstein.

      That there is so much material and support for those of us trying to forge new paths is encouraging.

      Best to you in your adventures!

  3. Yay, great post!

    I, too, see the future of art as a means for connection. I also see it as a way to rewrite the stories of our cultures into new stories that lead us to new/old ways of living that can begin to heal what we’ve so grievously injured in ourselves, the rest of life on this planet, and the relationship between all of us.

    1. Thanks Emma! New stories, healing, all of that.

      Art used to be functional and informative and we have turned it into elitist decoration. There is nothing wrong with decorative art, or acknowledging genius, but we need to embrace the function of art again.

      I think you know what I mean 😉

  4. Beautiful essay Gwyn. I especially resonated with the tug of war between practical and starving. The practical pushes me the direction(s) I feel I “should” go while my passions pull me into everything that is opposite and beautiful. I think I’m finally ready to be pulled and trust that I won’t starve, either.

  5. I worry about the future of art…

    People seem to be drawn to the accessible, which is good in that Art need not carry a feeling of being made only by the “top names,” but by anyone with the calling. However, the accessibility of the internet allows people to print, save, etc. Not just photographs or scans/shots of paintings or other hang-able art. Why buy a sculpture for $XXXX when I can look at this picture on the internet for free whenever I want to?

    Art has both an emotional and financial value, and as people are having to choose to use their paychecks for food OR health insurance (maybe not both), the purchase of art is not high on the list of “musts” for so many.

    1. Chrissie I understand your concern, but worry will change nothing. My main point is that we need to move away from being voracious consumers and learn to appreciate art again. Read my comment to Emma above where I explain this a bit.

      I find it exciting that I can find ways to use my artistic talent to help those choosing between food or health care. We need to lift each other up in whatever ways we can and art can do that.

      Sure my fantasy of creating all day long and watching the dollars pile up is dead, but I actually find this more exciting.

  6. Thoughtful post, Gwyn. Timely as well–I am focusing on creative expression as a means to help heal from abuse. Not for profit, necessarily, but certainly vital for making aware connections with one’s self, environment, community, others. Lots of good information here. Thanks!

  7. Thank you Claudia. Glad it helps you.

    I wish profit did not have to be an issue, but at the same time I am glad I can think of so many ways to do good with my skills.

    Best to you with your work!

  8. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I love the comments it brought, too. Move to a place filled with like-minded individuals or search for them in your own community? Look at art from afar online or invite it into your home where its energy can be felt? Worry over spending or think about sharing dollars with your connections?

    These are all great questions that we will learn to answer, together, as move into this new era.

    I started my day today reading a post from the other side of the country — in San Francisco. It supports your feeling that entire world is changing. (http://svenworld.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/where-the-streets-have-no-lanes-occupystreet/). Now I’ve ended my day reading an equally hopeful post. Thanks Gwyn!

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