Selfishness and the Sistine Chapel.

I went for collective solitude tonight with my friend Jen (who, bt-dub, wrote her highly-anticipated second blog post and it did not disappoint!). Collective solitude started a couple years back. The idea is that you and a friend or two go somewhere and bring work to do. Each person works separately but in the same space. That way you can share ideas and get opinions and chat a bit, but you don't have to work together. It's nothing short of magical and, really, my preferred way to work.

Anyways, as she was writing that stellar post, I was working on a blog design. And also mulling over in my head what I would write about in my own post. You see, I kind of shot myself in the foot the other day when I wrote about the importance of quality, original content. Because that means my ramblings are no longer acceptable. Which means I had nothing to write about.

Jen said, "Oh, the irony" and went back to wordsmithing an entertaining post and I returned to blog designing and stewing in my  jealousy of her ability to work "treasure trove of curiosities" into a post.

Then on the way home, we got to chatting. Jen's a creative and an artist to boot. So we, quite philosophically, discussed the importance of creativity and art. I was telling her that somehow, taking the time to be creative just feels selfish to me. That it just does not matter as much as my teaching. That at the end of my little life, I will be more proud of myself for having been a teacher than I will for having designed blogs.

And yet, in my classroom I strongly encourage creativity. I want my students to use their imaginations and to create an environment within their home that allows their children to do the same (I teach adults). And when someone has artistic talent, I offer suggestions of how they can further develop that talent.

So why when we take the time to develop artistic talents or to explore our creativity, why does it feel selfish? Why do I feel like there a billion other things that would be more worth my time and energy?

Sometimes there are stories in me that just won't let me rest until I've taken the time to let those stories run through my fingers. And sometimes, I feel selfish for sneaking out of bed to grab those floating words and place them in a pleasing order.

I wonder if Michelangelo laid in bed at night, wide awake as the lines and shapes and colors and figures of the Sistine Chapel came together in his head. When he finally started to paint it, I wonder if it was like doing a paint by number from having envisioned it all those nights before falling asleep.

And I wonder if he felt selfish for having spent four years painting that. And for all the years before those four, the years that he spent developing his talent.

I've never been to the Sistine Chapel, but I imagine if I do go, I won't look up at that ceiling and think, "How selfish of Michelangelo."

Do artists and creatives always feel selfish or  is it that once you reach a certain level of creativity and artistry, you suddenly feel less selfish? Or did Michelangelo and Dr. Seuss and Ella Fitzgerald feel selfish right up through their last days?

And would we, collectively, be lesser had they felt selfish and decided to wash the dishes instead?
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  1. I think that it's taking a step back and realizing that "selfish" doesn't necessarily have to have a negative connotation. I think being able to let your creative juices flow and putting beauty out there (writing, blog design, painting, sketching) is therapeutic and makes me stronger in knowing who I am and what I like and what makes me happy. And I think if I make sure to give myself that time that I am providing in turn the best version of "me" to my friends and family, because I'm happy. I love nights that I spend by myself painting in my apartment bc I feel like I always emerge a little bit happier the next day.

  2. hmmm, this post really got me thinking. i can completely relate to that feeling.i guess it really comes down to your passion for me its more helping people than being creative. great post!

  3. I don't know that I can say I've ever felt selfish about being creative. Mostly I feel energized and alive after I've spent time creating. Sometimes I think, "Wow! I spent way more hours doing that than I planned for today." But, I don't regret it.

    PS. I updated my "blogs I love to read" section of my blog today to include this one. I really do love reading your blog!

  4. Where do you teach? I'm curious!

    I think at some point you make a switch and start thinking of art as work. Creative work, but also something of value- intrinsic & extrinsic.

  5. Somewhere along the way, I felt like I got taught this message... "You should leave art up to the people who are good at it, you're not good at it so you're wasting your time. Spend your time on doing things that are practical." Personally, I believe that's an utter line of crap, and being creative is a process that's good for the soul, but there's always this niggling guilt that I'm not good enough, and I will never be good enough, so I shouldn't try.

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  7. GREAT post!! And not just because it mentions me. :) I'm glad we aren't the only ones who struggle with this, and Shawn also brought up an interesting point - he said he thinks that our culture really impresses upon women that when we do things we enjoy, it is a "selfish" thing. Leave it to my husband to be the feminist of the family...


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