In light of the recent tragedies across the globe it has provoked a number of different responses in people; some have admirably taken physical action, others have felt overwhelmed, not knowing how to respond at all. Most people will have asked the question over the last few weeks “how can I help?”. Often that is a question that comes outside of our career choices, offering money or volunteering, but should our careers be exempt from making the world better? And what of me as a creative? Wouldn’t I be better off becoming a medic, an aid worker or a politician? Can I make a difference with what I do?
I would guess that the majority of people would say that they don’t feel they make a difference to the world around them through their careers. Perhaps they go home and watch the news and are prompted to make a charity donation every once in a while, but once they’re in their place of work the rest of the world seems very far removed. I have been feeling this way. The majority of my days are spent alone at my desk, responding to emails and working on ideas and visuals. It’s easy to feel guilty, not only because I don’t make a direct difference by drawing at my desk, but because I actually enjoy it. Imagine that? I love being on my own and thinking up stuff, creating things with colours and shapes – being as far removed from the ‘world’ as possible.
So, short of a career change as a charity worker, I have been thinking a lot about whether my work makes a difference to anything other than consumerism. And if you’re a creative too I would urge you to take a step back from your work and know you have immense influence amongst the world around you to make change. So, here’s how I think you are vital amidst a world where tragedy happens.
1. Art has the power to make people think.
I am rarely influenced by large documents or long speeches. I don’t connect with waffle. An image can do something for me that words cannot - in a second it can provoke something in me and even change the way I think. One of my favourite artists is Banksy; his work is powerful because he uses the world around him to help people to think differently. He uses the unexpected and challenges us in such a simple way. Art has tremendous power to change people’s actions, or provoke thought, so regardless of whether your work speaks of war or poverty, being armed with the fact it is a weapon should give you confidence that you can make images that count.
2. We all speak its language
Show a child a picture book with no words and it can be ‘read’ in any country because the pictures speak for themselves. Visuals have no boundaries, they can bridge the gap across humanity - we all feel pain and suffering, we can all feel encouraged by an image of hope. Where others are trying to translate their ideas and blog posts, you don’t have to.
Expression is vital and everyone expresses things differently. Some speak it, some write it, some sing it, some draw it… It doesn't really matter but all are equally valid. When I went through difficulties as a child I would draw them out – drawing helped me to come to terms with things I didn’t want to speak about. It can be a great source of help and should be encouraged. Not only that, but people benefit from seeing other people's expressions; there is a need to hear other people's stories and connect with them. They are one of the only sources of meaningful hope. That’s why creative expression that comes out of real life experience can be the most powerful.
Art doesn’t have to even make anything ‘change’ in terms of politics to be powerful. Jean Jullien’s Peace for Paris icon didn’t change anything regarding the terror or the suffering that had just taken place, but it did give a powerful message of solidarity amidst the pain. The world embraced it as if to say ‘we stand with you.’ How many times have you benefitted from a friend who was simply there for you in a tough time? Art has the power to make a stand for people, to show courage, strength and solidarity.
5. The icing on the cake
Even if you still think art a luxury, just think how luxuries make you feel. Imagine someone bought you a birthday cake with no icing, how would it make you feel? And imagine a world with no colour or smell or taste. Sure, we would survive, but life would be pretty dull. Do we not want to make life better for people? Do we not want to give people more than the basics in order to survive? People focus so much on the physical, yet the psychological effects of war and devastation are often far greater. Healing and clothing people is one thing, but what then? Do they not deserve more from life? The people who make the most difference to me are those that go the extra mile - who do more than expected. They are not concerned with ‘their job description’ but want to make a positive change that does beyond it.
So, if you feel like your creative career makes little difference, it’s important to know that the world is made up of individual people. Make a difference to one and it can have a domino effect; inspire someone through your creativity, go the extra mile for a client, share with people your tips for creating, and the small changes make the world more positive. Not only that, but, if you work for yourself as many creatives do, you are in charge of how you spend your time and money - little things like who you bank with can make a massive difference to the world around you. Who do you buy from? Which jobs will you turn down? Your business decisions, however small, can make a change.
So if you are a creative, please know that your work has massive potential to influence the world around you. You are not a luxury and your role in the world is important – keep creating, sharing and connecting in order to bring positive change.