Excellent piece from The Book Of Life on how we value work and the people that do it.
We’ve caught the lacemaker in what looks like a quiet mid-afternoon. She’s concentrating on her difficult task, carefully threading her needle. It will take her around five hours to make just one square centimetre. Her eyes will tire. She will make something dazzling and moving, an externalisation of the best sides of her nature. And her reward for her exquisite craftsmanship will be a few pennies at best.
Interestingly, many artists were drawn to paint lacemakers at their task. These artists had no hopes of reforming how lacemakers got paid, but they had an ambition to change the lives of lacemakers nevertheless. They wanted to use art to alter the status of these lacemakers. By directing viewers to the intelligence and dignity of the craft of lacemaking, they hoped to redeem the social standing of this economically slighted class.
The artists painted lacemakers with all the same tenderness and appreciation as one might accord to a wealthy patron. Through art, we were to stop seeing lacemakers as people who deserved to be ignored and whose low income was any kind of reflection of a lack of merit. Instead we would see them as people full of talent and humanity who – as it happened – were just doing a low wage paid job by the accidents of the economic laws of supply and demand.
What the artists were doing with lacemakers reflects a general capacity of art: to redraw what we think of as prestigious and to return proper appreciation for what certain people, especially those deemed marginal by the dominant social hierarchy, are and do. Art offers us a sensitive re-appraisal of a person’s true merit – and a complete willingness to disregard wages as a guide to human value.
Using art to alter the status of workers is exactly what I'm trying to do with Beyond Work.