High Stakes vs. Low Stakes
Of course, it must be said there are dark and evil places in the world where people’s creativity cannot simply stem from a sense of play and where personal expression has huge and serious repercussions.
If you happen to be a dissident journalist suffering in jail in Nigeria, or a radical filmmaker under house arrest in Iran, or an oppressed young female poet struggling to be heard in Afghanistan, or pretty much anybody in North Korea, then it is the case that your creative expression comes with extreme life-or-death stakes. There are people out there who bravely and stubbornly continue to make art despite living under god-awful totalitarian regimes, and those people are heroes, and we should all bow down to them.
But let’s be honest with ourselves here: That ain’t most of us.
In the safe world in which you and I most likely live, the stakes of our creative expression are low. Almost comically low. For instance: If a publisher dislikes my book, they may not publish my book, and that will make me sad, but nobody’s going to come to my home and shoot me over it. Likewise, nobody ever died because I got a bad review in the New York Times. The polar ice caps will not melt any faster or slower because I couldn’t figure out how to write a convincing ending to my novel.
Maybe I won’t always be successful at my creativity, but the world won’t end because of that. Maybe I won’t always be able to make a living out of my writing, but that’s not the end of the world, either, because there are lots of other ways to make a living besides writing books—and many of them are easier than writing books. And while it’s definitely true that failure and criticism may bruise my precious ego, the fate of nations does not depend upon my precious ego. (Thank God.)
So let’s try to wrap our minds around this reality: There’s probably never going to be any such thing in your life or mine as “an arts emergency.”
That being the case, why not make art?