Post by Sierra Roberston
Image Description: Negatives of dozens of hands painted on wall of Lascaux Cave in France. 25,000-30,000 years old.
Recently, I’ve been really interested in early humans, people from tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of years ago. I think I find learning about them so compelling because despite how monumentally different human society is today from the early days of humanity, at our core, humans have always been humans. This is so evident to me when looking at cave paintings. Across the world many groups of early humans that never interacted with each other all separately created art and felt the desire to leave marks on the world. They created negatives of their hands on the cave walls, which is so similar to the nearly universal experience of tracing our hand on paper that we still do today. In the same way, humans across the world have been making music and dancing since the earliest days of our species’ existence. And we have been decorating ourselves with designs on clothing, our hair styles, and tattoos for just as long.
Humans have always made art. Even at a time when nearly all efforts had to go into basic survival. But that truth has largely been forgotten in Western society. We’re told that if our creative work doesn’t meet a particular standard, largely European standards based on white supremacy and ableism, that it is not worth doing. Capitalism further distorts the way we think about hobbies and self expression by telling us that for any activity to be worthwhile it needs to be profitable. That anything we enjoy or are reasonably good at doing is an opportunity to make money that we should seize. There’s immense pressure for us all to have side hustles on top of our already exhausting day jobs. And like, it makes sense from a capitalistic standpoint, if you can make money off of something you’re doing already, why not? But the damaging effect of this is that many people end up giving up on these activities if they are not commercially successful or don’t meet dominant standards. Or people end up not enjoying an activity they used to love because it has become a creativity-destroying grind.
I’ve fallen into these traps myself. I like to draw and paint, but for years I barely picked up a marker or paint brush because I had such a hard time not comparing myself to all the other amazing art out there. And when no one showed any interest in buying my art when I posted it online, I wrote it off as pointless.
But I’ll let you in on a secret that took me too long to figure out – you can do things just because you enjoy them. Just because they make you feel human. And it doesn’t have to be art or other creative endeavors, it could be baking or collecting knick knacks or taking pictures of birds or any millions of things. It’s okay to draw poorly, bake lopsided cakes, dance without rhythm, and sing out of key. In a world dominated by grind-culture, it is a radical act of self-love to do something just because you like doing it.
Creativity, the pursuit of knowledge, the satisfaction at finishing a project, the desire to fill our space with beautiful things is as about as human as it gets. You deserve that in your life. You deserve to make your own cave paintings, whatever they may be.
“We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is full of passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”. - John Keating, The Dead Poets Society, 1989