Tag Archives: talent

On the working class, manual labour, and how it is still perceived

There is a famous story about Philip Glass installing a dishwasher for Robert Hughes who was then Time magazine’s art critic, among other things. Upon realizing who was his installer, Hughes exclaimed: “But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?” Glass replied that he was installing his dishwasher and he would soon be finished.

I have been thinking of that story and more after recently reading these two pieces:

In all three cases there is an implicit bias against being working class.  All three men are doing jobs of physical labour. In each case, the implication is that they could be doing something else, something better. The conclusion is that they have a talent and that their time could be better spent elsewhere applying it.

I agree that if you have a talent, it is good to use it. But you may be tired of using your talent. Or your talent doesn’t pay the bills. Or you don’t value your talent. In any case, it’s up to you what you do with it. Like money, talent is yours to use as you will.

Perhaps though you get more satisfaction out of performing manual labour than performing your other ability. If so, then that can be the best use of your time. You help people and you help yourself with your physical efforts. There is nothing wrong with that, whatever society thinks.

Glass and Richardson make a defense for what they do. To me, no defense is needed. Glass did installations and applied his artistic talent. Richardson is done with his talent and now gets satisfaction out of working in Whole Foods. They were living their lives in the best way they knew how. We all should be so fortunate.


On being moderately gifted, and the pain and pleasure that brings

This piece by Austin Kleon on being moderately gifted got me re-thinking this idea he discusses.

I say re-thinking because it is something I have thought about since I was a young man. Back then I was getting into  jazz (as one does) and someone told me: the problem with being a jazz musician is your new album is always competing with the albums of Armstrong and Fitzgerald and Davis and Coltrane and Simone. People putting out pop music don’t have to worry about that. It’s tough to be moderately gifted in jazz, I thought, for you are always competing with the best. But in pop music, you are usually competing with the now. There’s more room to get by being moderately gifted. (Especially in the era I grew up when three chords was all you needed.)

If you have a creative spirit but moderate talents, it is easy to get dispirited and put your tools away. You will never be great you say, why bother? But I think the answer comes from looking at pop music. You may never be great, but you can enjoy putting in play whatever talent you do have. Maybe you can only paint flowers, or knit scarfs, or bake brownies. Do it with gusto! Do it like a punk rocker pounding away on his guitar with the 3 chords he knows! You might never be great, but in the moment, you are living large and the audience at the time is loving it. That’s enough. And enough is as good as a feast.

Perhaps you will go on to greatness. Whether you do or not, shine on as brightly as you can. Not all of us can be the sun, but sometimes being a campfire is fine.