There’s a proverb, “genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains.” The main thing that determines our capacity to do well at a task is how much we work at that task; the main things that determine how much we work at a task are our interest in the work and our freedom to pursue it. If, as a society, we want to see a lot of great art made – as well as, incidentally, a lot of great everything else – the path to making that happen lies in creating environments which foster a deep and powerful interest in pursuing the act of creation – and which allow the freedom to pursue that creation.
This is not the environment we live in. Most of the education we provide is shaped to develop a keen interest in the rewards work can bring rather than an interest in the work itself. People who show an interest in work for its own sake are usually branded nerds or dweebs of one variety or another. Moreover, we seldom have the resources to wholly pursue our interests, being forced away from them by the pressures of financial solvency or other obligations to society. This is why most successful artists come from wealth: It’s not that wealth enables them to train more effectively at art, it’s that wealth enables them to focus entirely on art in a way not available to others.
Both of these are problems that need fixing. The latter, of how to provide everyone with the freedom to pursue their own interests, is at this point a matter of fierce debate – though not generally couched in those terms. We talk about this kind of freedom in terms of health care, in terms of food and shelter security, in terms of basic income: These are the tools that might grant freedom to people by shielding them from the elements long enough for them to do work they actually care about.
The former is a bit trickier. How do you make people care? Why is it it we think it’s uncool to care? Is it even ethical to lead people to care in a world where precarity makes taking an interest in more abstract subjects potentially dangerous?
There’s something vital at stake here. If we stop creating, we are done. We are in a desert, and though we are starving and dying of thirst, it is the worst time to stand in place. We have to keep moving – and, to move, we have to want to move. We must create, so we must find our passion for creation.
Or maybe that’s just self-serving. Maybe I just want us to keep creating because that’s what I care about, and this passion is a path to our self-destruction. The point remains, though, that interest, or passion, is a limited and vital resource, and that we so often just let it drain out through our fingers without even noticing it’s there. When you pay attention, there are no refunds.