I met Samuel at the CTN Animation Expo last year. He’s an animation student from Puerto Rico. Last summer Puerto Rico was hit by a massive hurricane that destroyed a lot of the infrastructure of the country and, by extension, the infrastructure of the art school Samuel attends.
I’m trying to imagine the full extent of the damage this caused. Two months after the hurricane Samuel told me that there was still no power. A trip to the school that took 45 minutes took 2 hours. Instead of washing clothes in a washing machine, clothes are washed in the river.
I’m trying to imagine finishing school under these circumstances.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of news cycles, the situation in Puerto Rico has largely gone forgotten by the world. There are problems that can’t be fixed in six months and the effects of this hurricane will be felt for years to come. This leaves the people left cleaning up the mess to feel even more isolated and marginalized.
At CTN Samuel asked me if I had any words I could send along to his fellow classmates. Anything positive that might inspire them to keep going.
At Samuel’s request I’ve written this letter to offer a message of hope in the face of such hardship:
To the art students of Puerto Rico let me first say I’ve never had to face mountains like yours, but I’ve had my own mountains that have tested me. In those times I’ve had to remind myself this:
You need to create.
Your community needs you to create.
The world needs you to create.
There’s a reason you chose art as a career path. It is in your nature to create and share. That’s because you have stories, images, characters, and experiences inside of you that need to get out. Leaving those things to wither and die inside of you is not an option. The act of creation is also an act of healing. It requires your mind, your emotion, and your body to make something. Engaging all of those at once provides an outlet for your frustrations, but also elevates you out of your situation for a moment, and shows how things can be. For your own well being you need to create.
As your country rebuilds it needs healthy communities who live and work together peacefully. Your art can be a part of this by showing your community an ideal by which it can strive for. Your art can be the language in which your community uses to understand each other. As your community comes together there are experiences it might not necessarily fully understand or know how to express. You art can help share thoughts, ideas and a vision of your community that may not be able to be articulated any other way. In order to thrive your community needs you to create.
Lastly, artists are on the frontline of culture. They give us tools to understand our past, what we are dealing with now, and most importantly how things can be. Throughout history the world has been changed forever by small groups of artists who dared to create in the face of uncertainty and instability.
Think of Picasso’s Guernica which brought the horrors of the Spanish Civil War to the attention of the world. Or the impressionists which showed us that art shouldn’t just be a representation of what we see, but also of what we feel. Or Disney’s Snow White which showed that animation wasn’t just for gags and laughs, but could be used to tell meaningful, emotionally impactful stories. Your art could be just as provocative. What you create in this situation could just be what the world needs to see right now. The world needs you to create.
Now, telling someone to create, and actually creating are two different things. I understand that making a work of art falls to the bottom of the list of priorities when most of your energy is finding a way to feed yourself that day. Don’t let that stop you from doing these two small things:
Make something every day.
Be 1% better than you were yesterday.
It might be one drawing on one page in your sketchbook. Or a scribble on a napkin. Or a journal entry. Or a quick sketch you made on the bus. Whatever it is, make/draw/write something every day.
It might be that today you spent one more minute creating than you did yesterday. Or you started a second drawing and the day before you only did one. It might be that instead of having a moment of feeling sorry for yourself you took one moment to feel gratitude toward some thing. Whatever you’re doing, try to just be one percent better today than you were yesterday.
Both of these compound. They are small, but after weeks and months of doing these seemingly insignificant things you will see change happen. Something bigger will start to come from your small, consistent acts of creativity and self improvement.
First you will see change in yourself.
Then you’ll see it in others around you.
One day the effect will be noticeable in your community.
In time, it will be felt around the world.
And that’s something you, your community, and the world need right now.