Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is an artistic workforce being misconstrued as selfish?

This lovely picture of the Louvre's famous lions is brought to you by dynamosquito on Flickr.

Before the thread got shut down on Ravelry for discussing non-knitting or crocheting, there was a fascinating post by Izzie1356 that has had me thinking all day today. We were discussing the Millennial generation and the interesting in knitting, crocheting, and other visual hobbies. One of the things that always comes up is that Millennials are supposed to be lazy, selfish, narcissistic and quite frankly, annoying. Yet no one I know in the age range is THAT bad. In fact, most of the people in my age range seem pretty darn selfless most of the time - they freely give their time, money, and advocacy to causes that they believe in, large and small. 

Back to the post that Izzie1356 made - one of the things that she said was that the view of the "selfish" generation didn't start until after the Baby Boomers. When those Boomers, well, "boomed", the number of people "boomed" and so we lost our need for a solely "technical" labor force and create more "service" and "artistic" driven people. I'm paraphasing along the way because the post was quite long. But the most interesting part of her post was this:

"...since there isn’t much call for art (as a visual something in a museum) it creates a class of individuals that may be very talented artistically, but useless to produce needed products. Not many in our generation would be willing to work in a factory to produce things that others are using.

Having talented people without jobs creates resentment towards those who produce or supply a needed service..."

If I were to explain this to someone small, I'd tell them that this means "The people doing the chores don't like the people who don't do their chores". Yet is that true? I don't know. I think an awful lot of people are being construed as selfish when they think differently, think at a different pace, and think about consumerism, the environment, and their technology in a different way. And the reason I say different is important - no viewpoint is better or worse - we need artists and we need service workers and technical workers - and that the focus should be on working together and not conflicting with one another. 

There was a good example of this the other day that I saw - I'm anonymizing the story because I feel its important to protect people in a fixable situation. I was in a meeting, and a young lady made a suggestion about trying a different format for the meeting, breaking the large group into small groups and having each of them work on the same problem at once. She was scolded by the much older leader of the organization for making the suggestion because the older leader did not believe that they would achieve the same result if they did not all slog through the problem as a part of the large group and that this young lady should "know her place in the meeting". 

She was devastated. I could see in her face how taken aback she was that she was scolded for speaking up and that the message was clear for her to take her seat and not say another thing. And she likely would never have spoken up again. But then some other people in the meeting started to pipe up that she had a good idea. And some other people piped up. Finally, the older leader of the group thought for a second and decided to relent and try her idea. The group was done with their assignment in half the time scheduled for the meeting, so much that they all had the opportunity to report on the results and time to discuss the project as a whole.

At the end of the meeting, when I was in the hallway, I chatted for a bit with the older leader of the meeting and she admitted that she had not thought of what the design of the meeting should be and that she thought the young lady was criticizing her ability to plan a meeting, when in reality, the young lady was trying to practice collaborative design - a bit of artwork meant to help achieve efficiency in the work product. 

What does this mean? It means some of us artists are trying to make it in the corporate world. We're trying to make it work in a world that doesn't think the same way we do and we're trying to provide something of value to the corporate world in the best way that we can. All we need in return are people who are willing to try and meet halfway - hear the thoughts and try out the ones that the older folks think might be valuable. Do I think all my ideas are brilliant? No, but I'm going to try and argue for them as if they are if I come upon resistance because that's what artists do - they defend their artistry, whether it be a stroke of a brush or an elegant new payments system or a nicely formatted report. Are these people selfish because they defend their artistry? I don't think so (well, some are, but most...) In fact, I think most of them are very self-realized because they understand what they want to fight for versus what they don't. Importantly, they are not ALL Millennials. They are of every age range, willing to work together but at the same time, defending what they think is important. That's collaborative design in action, and I hope someday it will be commonplace rather than a nice thing that I see in around half of the people around me. 

So drawing this to a close - why are so many people starting to go back into the visual arts and hand arts? Its because they see more of the stereotypical "older leader" in the workplace than the more open risk takers who are willing to appreciate a bit of new art in the workplace. They are going back to the arts because there's less of a chance that people are going to reject their artistic thinking there (and for the most part, they're right...though I draw the line at vaginal knitting). There's more to art than just "Art" and an artistic workforce needs to put their art and creativity somewhere people will appreciate it, even if it costs more and takes longer and drives them to drink copious amounts of wine.  
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