The Creative’s Conundrum, or Something More?

Over this past weekend I stumbled onto a PBS program, featuring a story about one of my favorite artists, Mark Rothko (1903-1970).The highlight of the segment was the fact that one of Rothko’s paintings recently sold for over 24 million US dollars. According to the spokesperson for the prestigious auction house that made the sale, such mind-boggling sums are less about the pleasure derived from the piece of art, and more about the investment with guaranteed re-sale potential. Would Rothko have cared about this? I’d like to think so.

NYC entry, Ellis Island

Like many artists, his drawings started at an early age. Rothko’s parents indulged his “doodles”, but insisted that he go to college to study engineering. Which he dutifully did — until he didn’t. Rothko left university without a degree, spending his last dollars on a train ticket from his uncle’s home in Oregon (his family had emigrated from Europe) to New York City. He joined an artists’ community in the 1920’s. Rothko later wrote that he’d spent years living without enough food, warm clothing or shelter, but he felt driven to paint. More than this, he was driven to find his own style and method of painting which, at first, was unimpressive to New York society.

nusu.co.uk

The Rothko story isn’t unique. Some of us may know, or have heard of, writers, painters, sculptors — as well as other creative-types — who were challenged by the process of living their most cherished dreams. If artists were the only ones suffering from such existential angst, we might think of it as an eccentricity. But a 2018 Quora article presented research showing that a large percentage of recent college graduates had pursued and received degrees in fields that actually held no interest for them. As one professor interviewed said, “How many of us would spend thousands of dollars on a product we knew nothing about, and cared even less about?”

Life regularly presents us with choices and options. We use our brains to analyze the facts and take action of some kind. We’re taught, in Western culture, to listen to our ‘heads’, as opposed to following our ‘hearts’. As adults, we like to believe that our choices are borne our of our own free will. But pressure comes from all directions, urging us, warning us, to tune-out our creative urges, tamp down our dreams, and lower our expectations about what our lives can be like. Recently I caught myself doing just that, as I was day-dreaming a new venture that felt exciting, but out of my Comfort Zone.

Then Mark Rothko’s story came to my rescue. What if this artist hadn’t risked life and limb, and even his own sanity, to create the the strangely-moving paintings that bubbled up from somewhere deep inside him? I can’t imagine a world without Rothko’s art; in the same way that I can’t imagine not being able to read poetry from women (like Sexton & Plath) for whom writing was as arduous as giving birth, and as terrifying as peering into the darkest of nights, in pain and in lonliness. I repeat my current mantra, once again: This courage; this is bravery. “This is Life…the very life of Life” (Deepak Chopra).

Shopping Seduction

I’ve been trying to pinpoint the exact moment in time when shopping for items became a meditation on Conscience and Responsibility.  Not that the timing matters very much, compared to the actual Fact of this shift in reality. While I’m not a completely shameless consumer, my Prime membership is pushing me closer to that precipice.

courtesy, shutterstock

A couple of days ago I bought a pair of shoes (a blue “vegan” suede, as it happens) online from a company I’d never heard of. In the Checking-out process I noticed that I had the “option” of Amazon-Pay. Lately I’ve felt like Amazon is crowding me a bit:  so ubiquitous that it’s almost creepy. So I skipped this payment method, feeling smug. But wait – there’s more:  when the shoes arrived they were in the unmistakable “smile” bag of this nefarious company. What the…?? Bypassing this annoyance for a minute, I tried the blue vegan wonders on and instantly realized they were too small. Back you go, Cuteness. To Amazon. Which now, by the way, allows me to take the shoes, sans box or bag or wrapping to any UPS – and UPS takes care of everything for me.  I hope I’m not the only one that finds this unsettling and weird.

Amazon, Tracy, CA., USA

Returning to what I’m now thinking of as Shopping Seduction: Who doesn’t like 2-day shipping and a totally indulgent Return process? But recently I saw an exposé (was it Vice News? I can’t remember) about working-conditions at this company. Am I going to thumb-my-nose at this story, disregarding the unfortunate  Pickers (Fulfillment Center employees) who’re on their feet almost non-stop to meet impossible quotas, not risking bathroom breaks when they need one, for fear of being written-up by Management?

courtesy, independent.ie

Now I have to think and also feel while Consumer-ing with any company that may have a veiled sort of partnership with Amazon. (You literally never know) I mean, I’m already posing critical questions with most of what I buy:  Is it Fair Trade? Check. Does the company pay a living wage? Check. Is the celebrity spokesperson for the product secretly funding a sweatshop? No thanks. Is my food the product of toxic or harmful practices? Nope.

Not too long ago I was in my front yard putting out some “FREE, please take” items.  A battered, older truck pulled up and a man got out. Super-friendly, super-talkative:  my antennae went up. We started talking. Turns out he was a “Prepper”, trying to make enough money to get to a piece of property he’d inherited (he said) from his mother, in a remote area of Washington state. The man offered to clean all of my windows on the outside of my house (actually, he wanted to do ‘inside’ too, but that felt beyond my comfort level). We settled on a price and he got to work. (So…he just drives around, collecting old stuff, with all kinds of window-washing equipment – just in case? Strange, but I rolled with it.)

What an amazing job this man did. As he worked, I cleaned out my garage, which gave him ample opportunity to “school me” on what Preppers are all about. It’s not just preparing for The Apocalypse:  it’s also (in his case, anyway) a rejection of the very Consumerism or never-ending consumption that leads to having to question oneself constantly about the ethics and sustainability of Choices. Yes, I can relate.

Back in the Day, this is what communes were pretty much all about. I lived through (and participated in, for a while) the obsession with Back to Nature in every sense. I respect anyone who chooses this lifestyle, or variations of it. Having said that, at this point in my life I’ve grown accustomed to a few things:  technology, and the ease it brings being a Biggie. It’s a balancing-act for sure, but I just can’t escape the feeing that Amazon’s winning this tug-of-war. Which doesn’t mean I’m letting-go of the rope.

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