Creativity and the American Dream

Zac Garrison Senior from Franklin, Ky.

I often write about creativity. I wholeheartedly believe that it is one of the most effective ways to remind ourselves just how truly unique we all are.

Not every person draws an apple the same way. Not everyone has the same vibrato. In a world that is whitewashed with conformity and fitting in, creativity helps us stick out.

But ask yourself – how is creativity viewed in modern society? We look at those who would rather spend their time singing and drawing instead of learning long division like they lack ambition and are not serious about their schoolwork. Why is that? What it boils down to is that modern America looks at creativity as a distraction from the “American Dream.”

You can’t find the term “American Dream” in any dictionary, because there is no concrete definition for the term. It was in the early 1900s when Ellis Island immigrants became enamored by America’s opportunities for wealth and its navigable social class structure.

It is a place where you could truly start at the bottom and work your way up with hard work and elbow grease, which is different than some countries. Their “American Dream” was to come to America, work and rise to the top.

However, that term doesn’t apply to creativity. People look at those who want to be artists and poets as lost souls and emotional teenagers. Professions in the creative world are in a tough place. Imagine how many parents scoffed when their child told them they wanted to major in musical theater or creative writing.

Being a professional creative is looked at like it’s illogical, comical and provides no use to the world. The common rhetoric in this situation is, “You need to major in something that will make you money.” I understand this, but would you rather spend your days pushing pencils across paperwork wishing it was a sketchpad?

So, what kind of jobs should we have? Should we be accountants? Should we be politicians and let our allegiance lie with whoever is slipping the most coins into our pocket? I’m not saying those are bad professions, but the world needs creative minds just as much as it needs people who professionally make other people money.

It’s a known stereotype that artistic or creative industries don’t make a lot of money, but that because we have structured our society that way. We have let people tell us that being creative is silly and unessential to the world, so why pay them?

To me, the worst part of it all is that these young creative kids’ role models are famous singers, dancers, artists and poets. As a child I worshiped the ground that D.J. MacHale and Shel Silverstein walked on. But I was told early in life that being a professional writer is a terrible career choice because odds are that you’ll never make it.

Teachers tell that to young children in elementary school every single day. We tell kids at young ages they can grow up to be anything they want, then turn around and shoot those dreams down by telling them few people go on to be professional singers and writers.

We tell them to dream big but, we put a box around that dream if we think it’s getting too big.

I can’t imagine a world where people no longer see creativity as a necessity, but this is the direction that we’re headed. When we teach our youth that punching numbers into a calculator is more important than learning to play an instrument or draw a picture, they learn at a young age that there is no need to nurture their creativity because it will never be useful when they grow up.

We need to remind ourselves of how necessary creativity is before we turn our “American Dream” into the American Nightmare.

Column by Zac Garrison, Senior from Franklin, Ky.