Heroes of the Everyday: An epic post

Heroic everyday window washers at a children's hospital in Pittsburgh

Heroic everyday window washers at a children’s hospital in Pittsburgh

“Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”~ Sitting Bull

Is it possible that we misunderstand the roles of our community members? Say artists? That we have a skewed and misleading sense of what they do and who gets to be one? Is it possible that misperception or an inflated institutional sense of importance beguiles us? The notorious examples that everyone knows and which seem so outlandish? The idiosyncratic aloofness (Warhol) and eccentric showboating (Dali) that confuses us? Or just how ‘normal’ (Richter) most of the rest otherwise seem? What exactly is it that artists do? And who are they? Are they somehow, in some way, separate from the rest of the community?……

“…what you do in your community for your audience is the value that you have to articulate. And you have to keep telling that story over and over again in different ways. Umberto Eco’s wonderful essay Travels in Hyperreality unpacks the distinctions between — and value of — both high and low culture. Long before we had coined the phrase “audience participation” he noted that art lives when people who partake of it do so actively, intellectually, emotionally and energetically. Sequestering our institutions from the daily lives and concerns of our audiences and communities does not work and will be our undoing if we are not careful. We know now that the rise in amateur art movements is going to happen either with us or without us, and it may in time take the place of the educational spot that the arts had in schools a generation ago as a way of developing loyal and informed audiences. What role do we want to play in encouraging or advancing this “movement”?  -Russell Willis Taylor, from his Keynote Address at the Midwest Arts Conference, September 2012

Artists don’t live only on distant mountaintops, or on otherwise deserted islands. They live among us. They are us. Rather than distorting the idea of an artist’s uniqueness and singularity perhaps we need to embrace something more inclusive. Perhaps we do best to see our own humanity in the humanity of others. And perhaps we can applaud the small acts of daily creative heroism, because they are not unrelated to the larger, or to our own….

No man is an island entire of itself; every man  is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;  if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom  the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.  ~ JOHN DONNE

And so, I’d like to call a quiet thanks to all who make a creative difference in their lives and who share that with others. Its not a small thing they do no matter how bashful the gesture or how often it falls on deaf ears. They tried to do something different, and they didn’t have to. They could have sat on their couches and eaten frozen pizzas (an all too frequent autobiographical note from yours truly), put their butts in homogeneous institutional seats, stood in line, sat at the back of the bus, resigned themselves to consuming only other people’s ideas, survive on only predigested morsels, and gone creatively to sleep for all eternity. They did not. Nor, I suspect, did you. And isn’t that worth celebrating?

Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach

An image of Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach, two great friends and extraordinary pioneers in bringing humble and quiet beauty to the world. This image has watched over my pottery wheel and my pot making activity since the mid 90’s.

Whether it is turning a lawn into a garden or knitting a sweater: You were creative. Whether it was planning a meal or telling a bedtime story: You were creative. Whether it was taking a dance class or painting a picture: You were creative. Whether it was helping to build sets for a play or helping a child to read: You were creative. You did something. You did something different. You were engaged. You were not simply going through the motions. You brought something new to the world. A gift. And no matter how trivial or inconsequential it seemed, you should be applauded. Go ahead. Take a bow. In my book you are a hero.

Its all too easy to pick out the heroes standing in the limelight, but something else to see the ones toiling in the shadows. If a window washer can put on a costume to brighten the day of children in a hospital, what can you do? What do you do already? Even with little effort and no planning? How do YOU make the world a better place? How is this community we share nurtured by our efforts, by what we give back, to the benefit of all? How are our tiny creative acts part of the brick and mortar that builds a better world?

If we are not merely taking up space on this planet one hopes that we are bringing something of value to it. We may not always be setting records or stepping up to the podium, but the world is an accretion of all these things. Its not only the thunder and lightning that make a difference. Not only the bells and whistles that are worthy of attention. The world is built from ALL its parts, both large and small. Honor that. Honor the heroic acts of the everyday. Affirm and nurture creativity wherever it springs up. Act creatively when you can. Cherish the simple and the mundane. Not everyone gets to wear a cape. But sometimes that’s all it takes…..

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Beauty, Creativity, Ephemera, Imagination, metacognition. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Heroes of the Everyday: An epic post

  1. Tracey says:

    Carter, I have been feeling pretty beat up this week fighting with Goliath. This post is just what I needed, I’m going back to read it again! Thanks!!

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