What do do when morals and creativity clash.
A few weeks ago, when I asked “Can you tell me the value your products provide?” I got the following email from a reader:
“I am into a minimalist phase in my life and strongly believe there is a big consumerism problem in this world. My life has changed in different ways and I’m proud of it. The problem now is that I don’t know how to sell my work anymore because of that! I tend to think “Do people really need to have this?” and that not only kills my sales but starts to affect my creativity.”
This email has been on my mind ever since.
I know this reader isn’t alone, because I’ve been there.
The summer before my last year of grad school, I took a workshop at Penland School of Crafts. There I was, in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, as the studio assistant for a dream teacher, learning exactly what I needed to learn to make my thesis happen, and I was miserable.
I was having one of those “what am I doing with my life?” meltdowns that affect so many creatives. I was concerned that I wasn’t putting anything of value into the world, that I wasn’t making a difference, and that I was just contributing to the problem of consumption and waste.
Obviously, I got through it. But I know a lot of other makers who didn’t. And others who are struggling with it right now.
It’s the dip where our moral sensibilities run headlong into our creative desires.
It’s true that we live in a world of overconsumption, overproduction, and waste. But what’s sad is that this has led us to devalue all stuff, including stuff that is actually pretty amazing, beautiful, and life changing.
Some stuff is better than other stuff, and the world needs that good stuff. And if that’s what you’re making, then the world needs YOUR stuff.
But here’s what worries me. If we, as makers, can’t understand that there’s a difference between earrings produced in a sweatshop and sold at a big box store and earrings made by hand in a sustainable way, then we’re all in trouble.
I have a capitol L liberal friend who wasn’t sure if she should have kids. She wanted kids, but was worried about overpopulation. “The world doesn’t need more people,” she thought. But then she had an important realization. People will always have children. But if people like her, people who cared about the environment, and social justice, and raising responsible citizens, stopped having kids, then that message wouldn’t spread. Then the only kids being born would be raised by parents who didn’t care about any of these issues.
The same is true for the stuff you make. People are always going to make stuff. And more importantly, people are always going to WANT (and need) stuff. Objects help us connect with the world. They communicate meaning and provide sensory experience. Stuff CAN enrich our lives.
Minimalism may be a solution to the problem of overconsumption for some people, but for most of us, its a pretty unfulfilling way to live. The solution to the problem isn’t minimalism, it’s art.
The solution is for YOU to recognize that what you make isn’t the same as the mass-produced, unhealthy stuff that most of us encounter on a daily basis.
YOUR stuff isn’t part of the problem. It’s the solution.
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Here on Designing an MBA I’ll be talking even more about the value that our products provide and how you can articulate that value to others. (I’ve even got an e-book in the works.)
But if you want to learn even more about our relationship with stuff, you can join the movement at stuffdoesmatter.com