"We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls."
--Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There
This quote really captures the way I've been feeling about things lately. Looking back on human history, I can't help being disappointed in the human race as a whole. How is it that we've let ourselves deteriorate into this morass of fast-food, instant gratification, corporate sponsored, self-destructive greed? We gladly hand over our precious personal power to governments and so-called spiritual leaders who clearly do not have our best interests in mind and then have the nerve to whine about it when things don't turn out the way "they" told us they would.
I was talking with some of my 5th grade students the other day about the idea of art being a verb. And in many cases, it depends on a group. For instance, Stonehenge. You have these ancient people who all agreed to build this incredible piece of architecture in the middle of an island with nothing around it for miles. And not only that, but it needed to be oriented in such a way that the sun would rise over a certain point in the structure on the same day every single year. Can you even begin to imagine the agreement that had to take place among an enormous group of people for this to happen? Everyone had to agree on building materials, location, means of transportation, set up and placement. Did someone just wake up one day and say, "I know, let's travel to the opposite side of the country, hack huge stones out of the ground that weigh thousands of pounds, cut down gigantic trees and strip them of bark and branches, lift the stones on top of them, roll them across the countryside for miles and miles and miles to this flat space, drop them off, and then go back and do it several dozen more times! In the meantime, we need someone to sit at that flat space and watch where the sun rises every single day of the year so we know where to put the stones." And that was just the start. After they got all that rock to where they were going they had to set it all up in exactly the right spots and put more huge boulders on top of the standing stones. (Can you imagine it? "Uh, guys, we've gotta shift everything over about 3 inches...") All of this without the aid of cranes, bulldozers, tractor trailers, computers or anything else that we moderns feel we can't live without. Plus, you'd have to have the societal infrastructure that would take care of feeding this group of artists. What do you suppose the motivation was for these people to wake up every single day and keep doing this back breaking work until the project was completed? I really doubt it was a weekly paycheck with retirement benefits.
The point is, we as humans are capable of incredible things when we put our minds to it. But somehow we've become incredibly lazy and complacent. We don't want to think, we want other people to tell us how to think. We don't want to use our initiative and talent, we'd rather sink to the level of mediocrity that has become the status quo. And the majority of us would rather stare at the television rather than invest our energy in the creative process. We've become consumers rather than creators. If we keep going at this rate, we will use up everything there is without replenishing the supply.
Creativity is our birthright as humans. It is our responsibility as well as our privilege to keep the creative force moving. So here's the challenge: in the next few days find some friends and agree to create something together. Or if you can't convince your friends to participate, then YOU create something. When you're done you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you've changed the world by creating something that wasn't there before, and reclaimed some of your personal power.
Art is a verb, people. Just do it.