Makers as takers

Somewhere within Strangers In Their Own Land, Hochschild refers to the struggle of the current US left as between haves and have-nots, and the struggle of the right as between takers and makers. I nodded; this squares with what I hear in my liberal enclaves, in my Southern conservative surrounds, and even back in my teen years living in a blue-collar (conservative) Pennsylvanian sea.

Hochschild moved on with her painting of the current US conservative mindset, but my brain wandered off: aren’t the sculptors, painters, writers, songmakers among us makers, too? Like the MakerFaire movement claims? Um, no.

I am frustrated that, within the maker/taker split, art isn’t real making. It’s taking, because you seldom earn a living from it. The libertarian tech minds agree: if art had value, then people would routinely hand over money for it, right? Isn’t a $10 poster just as worthy as a $250 collage? And a better value, too, because you spent less!

(I suspect My Sweetie had no earthly clue his words stung me so ferociously 20 years ago.)

As a poet, maker of an art form even less saleable than the others, I have long pondered on what it would take for art to be valued in itself the way other elements of our life and culture are valued. But I’ve gotten exactly nowhere…

…except to draw sad parallels to children and their education, to the old, the ill, the exiled and lost. To the parts of our collective life that are defined by and managed in relationship. Relationships, we all know, are outside the bounds of money–are priceless.

So I wonder whether “priceless” is steadily transformed into “worthless” in a culture that defines itself by its profit focus. I know I’m far from the only person to think this, and I know this is not a new insight–Isaiah is one among many Biblical prophets calling out the damage done when the people’s measure of good work is high profit.

This does not make me feel better. Nor does it make me hopeful to contemplate an indistinct future when the least and lost are cared-for, when (maybe) artists are thriving while making more art.

I am tired of asking, “How long, Lord? How long?”

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