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Shopping versus Creativity

September 21, 2010

The consumerist sexist bullshit is the idea that shopping somehow empowers women.

I have noticed a trend among creative personalities that may particularly affect women: the struggle to balance shopping with creativity.   The best example I have of this is the mother of a friend who took an interest in doing traditional leaded stained glass windows.  She bought hundreds – probably thousands- of dollars of equipment and sheets of stained glass and died having actually made three windows over the course of some years.  The ones that actually got made were done in a workshop classroom despite her having studio space and work benches for the whole gamut of what she bought.  She left behind a richly stocked workshop she failed to use.

I’ve been guilty of this behavior to a degree myself.  I have more yarn balls than plans for the yarn balls.  I just offloaded a bunch of beads in a flea market for other people to play with.  I definitely have a hoard of different kinds of artist papers.

I feel striking a balance can be hard for creative women; we have beliefs of shopping as being desirable, enjoyable, fun, empowering, part of our identity as women foisted upon us.  The sexist stereotype tells us our perfect day is spent out shoe shopping and grabbing lunch with our best friends.  This mentality can carry over into your creative life.  All of the colors and new things in a store can tickle your fancy, because making art is enjoyable and often playful; and it is easy to imagine what you could do with all of the creative supply merchandise.  I have walked into an art supply store more than once and thought “I want it all!”  The important question is, if these supplies are purchased, will you actually use them?  I guess the flipside of this is the guy who wants all of the tools in the hardware store.  It is very easy to like the idea of something.

Polyester is a favorite petrochemical in ribbons, glitter and many other things.

The trend of over consumption is fueled by a few interesting facts.  We live in a manufacturing economy, and a lot of art and craft supply stuff available is in a lower price point / affordable range thanks to the availability of a variety polymer based and petrochemical materials, and the unequal economics from the nation of manufacture to our own.  If humans pump the last barrel of the planet’s oil, all of that will change; but for now we are swimming in products.  We are culturally neck deep in an ocean of affordable manufactured goods.  There are a wide variety of forms of creativity available that can be learned and engaged in easily.  For example, anyone can hot glue an assortment of fake flowers on a flippin’ wreath and it will look great.  Crafting and creative pursuits are a major industry in our stressed out nation; major corporations and companies earn billions yearly by bringing sleek, shiny, colorful, varied and attractive merchandise to the public.  We are taught to confuse wants with needs; advertising constantly reinforces that our wants are actual needs.  We need to be creative; but we do not necessarily need a load of products to do that.

I feel it is okay to bring home something interesting to play with and keep yourself in supplies to work with.  I still have concerns for where supply shopping can easily spiral out of control in someone’s life.  Here are some of my ideas to help everyone to stay focused on creativity and minimize shopping:

  • Stay away from crafty crafter stuff.  If you catch yourself bouncing from one popular fad craft to the next, you are being creative for entertainment reasons.  It’s easy to bounce around because it is fun to learn new things and get good at the new things.  I do not recommend you do this.  Find one to three forms of expression that you want to dedicate your energies [and wallet] to.  If you prefer to bounce around and do the project of the moment, and all you expect is to have fun doing it; then enjoy yourself.  If you want to be a Serious Artist, then you are going to be seen as a hobbyist artist or a hobbyist crafter rather than a dedicated creative person.  If you are a woman and your stuff is some traditional “feminine” craft, then the crafty crafter stuff is going to be a big barrier to you being taken seriously as an artist.  A lot of fiber art, paper craft, quilt, home decorative type things are generally seen as decorative, practical or ephemera; veer toward formal, traditional art forms because you can easily be pigeonholed in the crafty crafter box canyon.  “Hobbyist” is a label that is easy to acquire, hard to remove.
  • Keep your receipts.  The papers do not lie; receipts show where you have been spending your money, on what and how often.  Save a year or more of your receipts.  Consider how much time the creative pursuit is given relative to how much money you spend on it.  This will tip you off as to whether you enjoy shopping for the creative pursuit more than you enjoy actually doing it.  It is very easy to like the idea of things more than the work of actually doing something.  American culture particularly encourages people to shop for entertainment.  try to buy only what you need for what you are actively working on right now; do not get sale items or supplies for something you plan to do in the future.  That future may never come.  You’re better off buying a nice sandwich.
  • Assess how creative your pursuit really is.  How much of the final creation actually coming from you?  A lot of the big box stores offer so many hobbies and projects that hinge on selling a product line.  I walk the aisles of these stores and feel pretty creeped out seeing all of the “crafts” and projects that are little more than selecting, purchasing and engaging in home assembly of highly finished components.  Are you actually making something or are you assembling components from the manufacturing industry?  These highly finished components give the hobbyist and entertainment crafter a sense of accomplishment on a short time frame; they cater to being entertainment, provide temporary distraction, require little to no effort to be skilled with and keep kids out of your hair for a while.  You are better off with a big pad of heavy drawing paper and some nice colored pencils than with much of the assembly based project goods on the market.  Make something that comes from yourself.
  • Make a list of things to get in the art supply store.  If you have a list, you will remember everything you need and not make more trips to the retail outlet.  More trips to the retail outlet means seeing more great supply stuff and means more spending.  I found using clear lists of needed supplies very helpful for art skool classes, which can empty your wallet in a hurry.  Stick to your list and do not get side tracked by the merchandise that catches your attention with its desirability.  I used a list today, had checked sale items in advance, stuck to my list and came out five dollars under budget.  I spent exactly what I meant to on planned purchases, with no impulse grabs at all.  If you do make many trips to a retail store, do it to use a juicy coupon [like 30% off an item or similar]; buy just the one item the coupon will be the most benefit to use, then get the hell out.  The juicy coupon is to lure you in, so you will want things you see in person, be able to pick them up right there and thus spend more money; few people have the willpower to buy just one item.  If you do this, make the most of the juicy coupons.

Hopefully, these pointers will help people to go against marketing and get more out of their creative pursuits.  Some people use recycled materials or make their supplies to a greater degree to resist consumerism as artists or artisans.  I’m not inclined to grind my own pigments and mix my own paints.  If you are the the potter that digs her own clays out of the earth, more power to you.  I want all of the creative people that may read this to consider these thoughts and make themselves empowered through their creativity rather than have the false sense of empowerment from acquisition.

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