Creative Labor

Was there a time when your hard work resulted in something creative or beautiful?

Creativity:  that’s how something new comes into being or is formed. We often think of creativity in terms of the arts, like painting a picture or composing a song.  But creativity is expressed in many dimensions of life, including things like computer programming and technological development, decorating a cake, arranging flowers in a garden and, yes, even our day to day work.

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania called Johnstown.  Those who know of it are generally familiar with the floods that nearly destroyed the town.  In my youth, I was often amazed at a stone structure which sat in the middle of a series of athletic fields.  We knew it as the band shell.    The architecture and stone masonry captivated my attention.  It was (and remains) a thing of beauty.

When I was older I came to learn that the band shell was built in the 1930’s as one of the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs: the Works Progress Administration, commonly known as the WPA.  The WPA employed unskilled laborers, housing them in camps around the country, and paying them a wage meant to lift them and their families out of the poverty which characterized the Great Depression. WPA laborers, usually single men between the ages of 18 and 25, built roads and infrastructure that were the foundation for the economic growth in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.  They also built amazing structures like the band shell.

Not only did these laborers work hard, usually from sunrise to sunset, but they learned new skills and brought things into being that had not previously been formed.  They also engaged in creative pursuits by making structures, walkways, and edifices of beauty that have noted architectural merit.

Labor is often associated with the hard work that results in sweat dripping from the brow.  As my father would often say, “Hard work isn’t easy.”   But there’s another dimension of labor:  it’s creative.  It brings something new into being or gives form to what has been known.

As we mark the American Labor Day weekend and enjoy the last holiday of summer, it’s appropriate that we remember the laborers who build and continue to build so much of what we depend on.  We also have the opportunity to recognize that labor and work are creative processes can provide a depth of meaning to our lives.  Labor brings something new into being.  In the case of band shell, labor gave form to beautiful architecture which continues to serve as a home for community concerts and events.  The labor that gave meaning and purpose to the lives of young men in the Great Depression continues to be a source of meaning through the art of architecture, music, and performance. Theirs was labor that gave birth to so much more!


How can you come to view your work as a creative process?  In what ways do you find meaning or purpose in your work?

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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