I bought a potholder for $2. When I handed the vendor the money, she said quietly, “Thank you. It really helps.”
We were there in the closing hours of the festival, and I watched artists packing up their wares: piles and boxes of hand-crafted woodwork, paintings, jewelry, and odds and ends to add beauty to life, all going home unsold.
Of course some people do buy art, and I try to when I can. I’ve chosen to buy handmade leather flip flops for $23 from the workshop up the road from us instead of plastic ones for $1 from the mall. And I’m hoping to save up for one of the paintings shown in this blog.
But other days I tell myself I should buy these things cheaper somewhere else. I don’t need these things.
If we judge the value of things only by their necessity and their cheapness, we choke out the beauty in life.
When we value only low prices, we become the people of Walmart. We support only the kind of jobs that make humans into automatons. Our dollars place a vote not for work that gives passion and fulfillment, but for work that is trudging along just to get through another day. We make people into machines and beasts of burden. We stifle the complexity and the wonder that humans are created for.
Eugene Peterson writes that people are created to be “Necessary but not only necessary – each one also beautiful. And beautiful but not only beautiful – each one also necessary.” Just as our very bodies are formed for both necessity and beauty, we crave to surround ourselves with things and experiences that satisfy both needs of survival and needs of beauty. We want things that inspire wonder, awe, and love.
We crave to connect with other humans by exchanging not only necessities, but also exchanging whatever expresses the beauty in us.
As I speak to people about the pursuits and occupations that make them come alive, I often meet people who feel beaten down because all the world asks of them is to do something necessary. Become a cog in a machine and make the product that sells. Get whatever job pays money. Make money for your employer, and then (and only then) will you be valuable. Make useful things, things that sell, things that are necessary. Stop asking to be happy or fulfilled; shut up and do what’s necessary.
I also meet people, though, who have found ways to live not only for what is necessary, but also for what is beautiful. They make beautiful things, whether fashion design, hip hop music, or paintings. They work with a passion for the purpose behind their jobs, whether monitoring safe workplaces or helping customers choose shoes.
I came to the art fair because I was invited by a painter from the township where I research. He is one of the few I’ve met who finds a way to combine working for necessity – selling what people will buy to make money – and also working for what he finds beautiful, meaningful, fulfilling, and important.
At the end of the first day at the fair, he had only sold only one painting. I’m sure there were vendors who sold even less.
When you look at people, do you see what’s beautiful in them, or just what’s useful? Do you choose the places you shop and the products you buy for their low cost and convenience, or also for the ways they give employees and producers opportunities to express beauty through their occupation?
The paintings in this blog are from my artist friend. Take a look. Enjoy. Prices range from about $30-$150. If you’re interested in buying, I’m happy to connect you to the artist.
Whether its Muzi’s artwork or the next person you greet today, take a minute to appreciate someone as more than just a producer of necessities.