An Appreciation of Art and Labor

Eakins, Three Spirals, 1860
Eakins, Three Spirals, 1860

Much of our experience of work today is described as drudgery. This dissatisfaction about one’s work seems to be on every one’s lips. Why is this so? Should not work be a pleasure, something we are proud of, something that contains an integral part of our being? William Morris believed that “no human ingenuity can produce work without pleasure being a third party to the brain that conceived and the hand that fashioned it.” (William Morris, The Art of the People ,1882) Our labor should be a joy. “If a man has work to do which he despises, which does not satisfy his natural and rightful desire for pleasure, the greater part of his life must pass unhappily and without self-respect.” (Ibid) How does one put the creative investment back into our work, for it is only when we feel we are creating something- fashioning something that speaks of an inward impulse, do we feel a certain joy.

In Japan there is a special holiday in the spring where families gather to travel to the countryside to picnic and to paint and draw from nature. Time is spent on contemplating the beautiful and refreshing one’s eyes to the nature of all things. Appreciation is basic. Appreciation creates a greater sensitivity in the individual allowing him to feel connected to the world and to others. It becomes the main platform for activity. When we authentically appreciate something it calls us to action and leaves apathy behind. The power of creativity manifests a consciousness of beauty  and the connectedness of all things. It is powerful that Japan sees this as so significant that it is a special holiday.

Where has our own country failed us? We have so many arts programs, yet this has had little effect in regard to our work later in life. We are all still dissatisfied in our labor. Somehow these programs have failed, have not satisfied our basic need to understand what it is about creativity that enriches our life. Morris states, “So I will say that I believe there are two virtues much needed in modern life, if it is ever to become sweet; and I am quite sure that they are absolutely necessary in sowing the seed of an art which is to be made by the people and  for the people, as a happiness to the maker and the user. These virtues are honesty and simplicity of life.” (Ibid) Although our children spend much time exploring crafts, little time is spent on why we create at all.

In the nineteenth century children spent time in school learning how to draw. There is evidence of this in Thomas Eakins early work. In school, he was taught to see clearly and accurately the objects around him whether it was a gear, an apple or architecture. Through such training Eakins was clearly able to see his world  attaining a consciousness that can only be understood intuitively and expressed visually- an understanding that leads to a judgment of a different kind. This shaped him to be the artist he was later to become.

It is this creativity and sensitivity to the world and to our work itself, that needs to be taught.  And possibly, we just need to return to the teaching of basic drawing. Possibly, this is an honest approach that will grant us greater simplicity of life achieving that which Morris speaks of- where things are reduced to pure observation, allowing a moment of real appreciation, allowing us to pause from all of our restless activity and spend time in the contemplation of the incredible beauty before us and in that simplicity find real meaning.