The Value in Creativity

September 21, 2015

It's Monday morning and for me that means a few things.  It means my amazing friend Becky is here watching my boys so I can do work.  Monday means that I have approximately 7 hours to myself, to drink coffee while it is still hot and email my remarkable clients without my two-year old asking to see pictures of trains on my computer.   It means I can spend the day going over sessions of beautiful photos while listening to good music or an excellent book.  It means I can go to the bathroom by myself and run to the post office without needing to bribe anyone with anything.  I love Mondays.

It also means things are quiet enough for me to think about what it is I do.  I get to spend time being thankful for the past year where I have been fully self-employed and for the people who have surrounded me, supported me and lifted me up when I have fallen down.  A year ago right now I was due with our second son and unlike his brother, he was not planning on showing up early. 

It was one of the most exciting and nerve racking times of my life.  I had quit my full time job nannying, where I could bring my son Soren along and it was the best of both worlds, working mom and stay-at-home mom.  But something was missing and I couldn't shake the feeling that despite being "busy" I wasn't spending my time well.  So my husband looked at me and said, "Let's do this, I trust God and I trust you and your creativity."  Talk about humbling and weighty all at the same time. 
As much as I was eager to take on the lovely clients that would come my way, I started to realize more and more that I needed to seek out avenues to be creative if I wanted to grow.   So I decided what it was that my heart wanted to make and I pursued it.  

I decided that I needed to buck up and ask people with remarkable stories and ordinary stories and beautiful stories if I could take their pictures.  I didn't ask them for money but just the chance to explore a vision of a world that tells good stories and not just tragedies.  I emailed friends and asked if I could shoot their weddings simply because I loved their style and I wanted to create art with them.  I took up watercolors and hand-lettering, not because I'm especially good at either of them, but because I was tired of thinking that not being an expert at something was reason enough not to do it.  I partnered with beautifully talented people and learned from them and with them and found out that sometimes they feel just as lost as I do.  I realized that I love sunrises  and even though I hate mornings, sunrises make mornings worth it.  And in all those things that filled up my heart on my own terms, I made no money. 

Now that isn't to say I didn't ever make money, I shot weddings and senior portraits and family session and head shots and worked with terrific people I am honored to call my friends now.  But the pursuit of creativity, of finding my voice and seeking out stories that the world needs to hear, rarely comes with a paycheck.  That does not, however, mean it doesn't have value.

In a world that automatically defines value as monetary, I think it is the job of the creatives to turn our perspectives to something much greater than money.  I think we need to redeem value as cultivating a full life even in the simplest of things. 

If the value of my job as an artist (which by the way, it has taken me five years in this business to refer to myself as an artist) lies solely in the pursuit of dollars and cents I would never stop working.  It would mean the time spent with my husband or children or a good book or great friends is worthless.  When we determine value as capital and not as cherished time, we tell those around us that their presence isn't warranted unless it gets us something.

One of my favorite times each week is on Wednesday mornings, Soren and I paint water colors while Jude sleeps.  He paints me Seahawks and fire trucks and trains and I work on making floral wreaths and he tells me they're beautiful and I tell him he's amazing.   I lose money on time not spent working and paper used and the number of stain removers needed to clean our carpets, but I couldn't care less.  This is valuable to me. 

Recently I've had a lot of conversations with other photographers who have been struggling with the same thing.  The constant onslaught of people telling us what to charge and how to charge it.  Reminding them to be bold in determining their worth and demanding it.  But the more we talk about it, the more we're tired of it.  No one else can define what you determine to be valuable. 

Is it worth it to shoot the wedding simply for the beauty of it?  Then shoot it.  Is it worth making the print just so everyone can have a bit of encouragement?  Make it, share it, be proud of it.  Does the chance to go home fill your heart enough to do the work just for the cost of travel?  Pack your bags.  Are the lyrics something you need to get out of your heart because they need to be heard by a world that needs better music?  Sing it out.  You are free to spend your creativity however you choose.
I'm not saying that bills don't need to be paid and I would never advocate for debt to take over in the quest for inspiration.  But if the value no longer resides in the art but in the affluence, it might be time to reevaluate your purposes. 

I am writing this listening to one of my very favorite artists, my longtime friend Aaron Espe.  I have known him since I was born and I know that making music has been a long road for him and it continues to be a remarkable journey, but if he had just done it for the money he probably would have stopped after leaving Roseau, MN.  I am so grateful that he continued to find value in the creative process because his music fills my Mondays.

So be bold in how you seek out the creative, get daring in what you conceive, get fierce with the time you spend with those you love, learn something simply for the sake of gaining knowledge.  Love what you make and make what you love and join the revolution of transitioning the definition of value from cash to craftsmanship.  Your creativity has value, spend it well.

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  1. beautifully written Ali! What a fabulous read to start the week! I feel so lucky to have you as a friend.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Katie, I'm grateful for you!


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