Why I Fight for Beauty (my journey from the 3rd world to the studio)

We will be known by the problems we solve.


I grew up in the Middle East and in North Africa.  Beautiful, beautiful places, rich with history, but depressed with poverty and unrest.  My mom bought extra baby food each week for the homeless mother who came to our door often, starving, asking for food for her little one. We talked with the old man without legs but with kind eyes as he held out his little tin cup, asking for pennies. I played soccer with the street boys (well, really, they played circles around me and I watched in amazement). I was dressed up in magnificent wedding attire and was invited to be part of the most spectacular wedding ceremony – because I was an American. I have seen lepers, met with elderly people in the lowliest of living places, been a part of a society that is, in many ways (but not all) so very, very different from the one I live in today.

While I am mixing colors on my palette in a lovely studio, I know there are people praying for just a scrap of food. I have gone through many moments of guilt with this thought in my head.  Why do I do this work?  Is it of any value?

The undercurrent of this sentence, “we will be known by the problems we solve” reminds me to continually notice the things that need to change in the world, in my community, and in my own life, and to work hard to improve the failing parts.

My tools of creativity and beauty-making are not a waste and they are not silly or frivolous. They are literally a picture of hope and grace. Every human needs beauty. We need to see that life is worth improving. Working to make those truths sink deeply into my heart, and sharing them boldly, is the most valuable thing I can personally do with my abilities during this chapter of my life.

While my work often speaks my messages for me, sometimes I need to look away from the canvas and pour some of that beauty tangibly into the lives of others.

It means that sometimes, even though my calling is to communicate the messages of grace, hope, and beauty through my art, it is more important for me to put down my brushes and make someone a meal, or spend time getting dirty with my little girls, or giving my hard earned money to someone who needs it more acutely than I do.

It means that the rainbow of paints on my palette can be used to not only lift someone’s mind and soul, but very physically bless someone in a tangible way.

That is powerful.

That dispels the lingering guilt that seeps into my mind whispering false thoughts about my work being only for the upper-crust of society; so very 1st world.

Beauty acts like water through the social classes. It is not bound by race, rank, or education.  It cannot be caged by the haves and the have-nots.  Beauty is free because it is somehow bigger than us.  Beauty represents resolution.  The chaotic and distressed things in the world have been put in order for our eyes to see or our ears to hear and something in our souls understands that this is good.  This is right.

Never stop pursuing beauty.

Prettiness and trends will fade away, but connecting with that thing that makes your heart sing – that is beautiful.

Fight for that. Fight to share that.

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If you are interested in getting immersed in this idea, and are looking for an outlet to truly help people, may I recommend checking out the Plywood People.  They’re changing the way communities relate and are working hard to bring hope and change to the many social needs right here in America.

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Emily Jeffords

Most days you can find me, in the studio with my little girls, speckled in oil paint (drinking too much coffee), creating artwork for collectors around the world and collaborating with select brands. Check out my artwork on EmilyJeffords.com

13 comments

  • I’m glad you posted your insight on this. I, too, sometimes think that some people might think that I’m splurging on my art materials and being insensitive to the needs of the people around me who are less fortunate. That making art is expensive and only for people who has the money to splurge on it.

    But yes, you are totally right – we need beauty…our work is a reminder for us that there is hope and we have the power to inspire, encourage, empower those who are going through rough times in their lives without us knowing them.

    But yes, we can do so much more tangible ways to help other people. I’ve been supporting a local fair trade company by using their handmade paper to make my invitations. By patronizing their products, the company is able to give jobs to people who used to be fisherfolks and housewives and in return, they are able to support their families. Little acts when done by many can do great things. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  • I am so glad MJ led me here tonight. This might be the most beautifully written piece I have read in a very long time.

    These words especially stick with me, “Beauty acts like water through the social classes. It is not bound by race, rank, or education. It cannot be caged by the haves and the have-nots. Beauty if free because it is somehow bigger than us. Beauty represents resolution.”

    So many folks right now need to hear this. I too have spent many a night in Africa and other poverty stricken area across the globe. I get where you are coming from and agree wholeheartedly. What you are doing is beautiful and the way you share has the potential to change people from the inside out.

    I went to a food distribution center once that’s output was staggering. The work they were doing almost incomprehensible. I felt compelled to roll up my sleeves and throw myself all in. When I asked the coordinators how I could be of assistance they assured me they had no need for me stocking shelves or handing out bags to families in need. What they needed from me most was my voice. For me to tell their story as often as I could, as loud as I could, to as many people as I could.

    That was a big turning point for me, a defining time when I could not only see value in what I was doing but knowing that others could see it too and if given the choice to use me in any fashion, this was the path they needed me for.

    What we do is important, how we do it even more so. Thanks for touching my heart with your words tonight.

    Like

  • I’ve also struggled with the guilt of “making art is not important” and selling paintings is such a first world pleasure. But art is an essential pleasure to so many people yet many people feel nervous about it. Finding ways to make it accessible is one of the things I admire about the way you work, and something I feel strongly about whenever I hold an Open Studio. I also realised that as well as selling work, by donating pieces for auctions I have allowed money to be raised for 3 different charities since the start of the year. That’s a lovely way to make it feel like a more circular process of giving back and turn a love of finding beauty into a tangible benefit for more people.

    Liked by 1 person

  • seeking permission |
  • But We Will Stay
  • Oh dear, I love this post. It’s so meaningful and thoughtful. I’ve just turned twenty and have wanted to have a job with which I “help people” all my life. This year I discovered photography. First I felt drawn to documentary photography, thinking it is more meaningful than other forms of photography. Then I discovered portrait photography and fell in love with how I can make (insecure) people feel about themselves. However, I was doubtful because I didn’t see a deeper meaning in it. But your post opens up another facet. I’m sure I can find a way to make it more meaningful and I’m very thankful that you’ve opened my eyes 🙂

    Like

  • #ArtforSyria |

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