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Jan 22, 2018

The Meaning of Work

"Finn Cellist" by Tim Holmes
Work has become so central to the meaning of our lives, it presents a hidden danger that we'd be wise to address. This wonderful Andy Beckett article points out many of the problems that seem invisible to much of contemporary discourse. In fact, it's rather strange to me that for all the common talk of the coming digital revolution, the approach of AI in every sector of our lives and the rise of inequality around the world, there is so little attention paid to what work means. Politicians use "JOBS" as shorthand for the good life, never addressing what underlies the concept. We cling to the idea that work gives meaning to life without really examining that concept.

All my adult life I recall hearing predictions that automation and democracy would assure us that work would be gradually replaced as the work week would grow shorter, workers would have more time off for home and family, and the creative pursuits would edge out labor as our prime occupation. But every such prediction only led us all to more work. What gives?

Partly it's our own fault for opting so often for increasing work and money rather than quality of life. But also we are all subsumed in a value system promoted by the omnipresent consumerist culture, exerting constant pressure on us and from which we can never escape. Then there is a secularist efficiency-driven trajectory of modern times that seems to minimize the value of anything that doesn't proceed from empty materialistic thinking.

For being so wise and creative, sometime humans strike me as being incredibly clueless! How can we spend decades of our lives plodding toward a future that, when it finally is achieved, will horrify us? Our relationship to work seems one of those dangerous areas where if we don't think ahead we may end up voluntarily imprisoning ourselves in a mechanical, boring future.

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.