Here's something I've been thinking a lot about lately:
If you ask someone like, say, a nurse or a teacher or a social worker or any of a number of other kinds of people, and you ask them why they chose to do whatever it is they do, they usually say and can very certainly say that they chose that field because they "wanted to help people."
That's a great reason to want to do something, right?
I've used that line before, myself. I have an undergraduate degree in English, which led on to a secondary teaching certification in English, which led into a graduate program in English where I worked my way through as a teaching assistant. I come from a family of teachers. And if you would have asked me why I was choosing that field that I thought I would spend my life in, I would have said it was... you guessed it... because I wanted to help people.
It seemed like a worthy thing to do.
But, you know, when I first started painting, I never would have cited "because I want to help people" as a reason for doing it.
That thought wouldn't have occurred to me.
I started painting for me. I did it because I love it. It's fun. It brings me joy. It helps me to think about and see the world in new ways.
Painting/art is a way I connect to the Divine. It is in so many ways my spiritual path.
The more I paint, though, the more I realize that while, yes, painting and creating art is fun and fulfilling for me, it is also a way of helping other people that is just as legitimate and worthy of a choice as anything else.
[An aside, here: Though all this stuff may seem obvious, I am writing about all this, I guess, because I think that too many people make wrong choices about not following a path they should probably be on because they think the arts are frivolous hobbies as opposed to real life choices and professions. This is too often reinforced by our government cutting money to arts programs and schools making cuts to arts programs in favor of what they see as more "practical" choices. It is also, unfortunately, too often reinforced by parents.]
I know-- Zoe's right. I'm a little preachy today, perhaps. Hang on, while I shove a banana chip in her mouth to quiet her down...
OK, so the larger point is this: Doing what we love, whatever that is, is what helps people the most. (See also Blisschick!)
When I paint a commissioned portrait of someone's beloved pet or when a milagro I've designed and made helps a friend to focus her intentions on hopefulness and healing, I've helped someone just as sure as I would have if I had been teaching a 10th grader about reading Shakespeare.
When I look at a beautiful piece of art on my own wall or hold a set of lovely mala beads that someone has made for me or look at a little felt bunny that someone else has crafted with love and good intentions, that helps me just as much as a nurse giving me stitches. Reading poetry or prose can heal better than any medication if I let it.
Art and artists change the world. They help people in ways that nothing else can.
It may be less measurable than a a standardized math test or even an essay, but it's no less real.