Work and Art

Yesterday my new ukulele arrived and I immediately sat down at my desk, learning how to tune it, how to strum it, and how to play a few chords. I even learned the first few versed to Ukulele Anthem.  That was work. I rearranged the universe a little bit (in this case, I rearranged neurons). When I was done with the work, the world was shaped a little differently. We don't create matter, but we do rearrange it like pros. Building a house, filing paperwork, washing your dishes, paying your taxes - these are work. Work is any action that rearranges the universe in a useful and designed manner.  

Now back to the ukulele.


Tonight, I played those few verses I learned for my Dad. That was different - that was art. There was someone there to witness me, and that someone was the whole point of the event. I played for my dad.  When work is for someone, when it's designed to move them, to make them smile, to make them laugh - then it's art. Art can come from the teller at your bank, the honest auto-mechanic, the 4th grade teacher, and yes - from the musician. Art is about connecting to other human beings.


Work doesn't need a mascot; it already seems necessary to us, it's a cherished cultural value. Without work, after all, our country would literally fall apart: bridges collapsing, lettuce rotting in the fields, cars rusting back into dust. We don't like that image, so we go to work.


Art, on the other hand, does not seem necessary us. Without art, the bridges still stand up, the lettuce gets harvested, and the cars keep rolling. A world without art might be depressing and boring and exhausting, but that's a fate with which we seem much more comfortable.