—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —–
Suppose I was given 2,000 dollars for a birthday gift, what would I do with it? 2,000 is definitely not little, but not too much, either. With the normal spending habits of the time, the trace of this 2,000 will be in thin air the next month. Worse, I probably have a hard time trying to remember what I bought with the money. I consider this a really sad reality of my memory and state of life. Like this:
The short-term happiness
1. In a flash of extravagance, I could buy a nice piece of jewelry. And there you have it: after 20 minutes, 2,000 dollars are gone. That means 2,000 in this case gets me ‘high’ for 20 minutes. Plus minutes of pleasure weeks later every time I wear the jewelry, the total is still minutes of happiness.
2. With some calculation, I would like to expand my shopping spree into hours. I would walk around and look for or surf around for an Ipad air, a necklace, and a pair of shoes, for instance. That is hours of jubilation I have bought for myself with 2,000 dollars. But no matter how much I enjoy the electronic toy, the shoes and the necklace, after a couple of months, the pleasure of possessing those items probably wears out. I am left with a desire to buy something new.
In short, nothing surprising about the scenarios above. Studies have shown that among activities that bring us most happiness, shopping is at the bottom of the list, and volunteering the top. In light of that, what to do, then, to turn this 2,000 dollars into an everlasting memory?
The long-term happiness
I am not suggesting donating the 2,000 dollars to a non-profit organization as a gesture of volunteering. Volunteering here actually means donating your time and effort on a regular basis to a non-profit organization in the long run. With 2,000 dollars, I have a better idea. It is similar to volunteering in that what we receive in return for our action are cultural, emotional, and unmaterialistic or spiritual values that last and last. It is actually very inspiring. Those deeds are:
1. Buy a painting. As one of the highest forms of art, an original painting – not a print – is, in my opinion, the most inspiring gift of all. To possess a genuine artwork is to have in hand a slice of the artist’s life, to bear witness to a moment of artistic, cultural, emotional, spiritual transcendence. What else can get you ‘high’ more beautifully and in a more healthy way? Besides the fact that the painting will never cease to give you pleasure, you could be proud of yourself as an art patron as well. This pleasure and this pride will last as long as you live. Better, they can be transferred to the next generation so that your children and grand children can continue to enjoy the pleasure and carry the pride associated with the painting.
A painting by your favorite artist is great. As I am rooting for the Vietnamese ones, my choice would be Ann Phong (see her paintings here), or Hùng Việt Nguyễn (see his paintings here.) The presence of their painting in my house is a clear manifestation of my pride as a Vietnamese and my support for the arts at the same time.
2. Commission an artwork. Depending on the demand of the artist, the type of painting and its size, the commission fee will vary. Yet, with 2,000 dollars (or less), you can definitely commission an artwork. Just like buying an artwork, I want to repeat that to possess a genuine artwork is to have in hand a slice of the artist’s life, to bear witness to a moment of artistic, cultural, emotional, spiritual transcendence. What else can get you ‘high’ more beautifully and in a more healthy way? Besides the fact that the painting will never cease to give you pleasure, you could be proud to be an art patron as well. This pleasure and this pride will last as long as you live. Better, they can be transferred to the next generation so that your children and grand children and so on can continue to enjoy the pleasure and carry the pride associated with the painting as long as they have it. It even gets better in the case of a commission, the artwork gives you an opportunity to state that you commissioned it. Not many human beings have the privilege of saying such a thing. This naturally elevates you to a prestigious group of people who patron the arts.
3. Be a sponsor. That is right. You don’t always need a lot of money to sponsor an event. For example, with 2,000 dollars you could be a sponsor for a writing contest such as Đại Phan Prize for best essay about Vietnamese cultural identity for four years. This contest is open to everyone writing in either English or Vietnamese. The winning essayist receives a prize of $500 plus the publication of the essay in both English and Vietnamese on www.diacritics.org. Such a neat contest! As a sponsor, your name will be honored for eternity. To support Vietnamese culture this way is a visionary movement on your part to take and an admirable expression of your patriotism.
A competition like Đại Phan Prize is among a plethora of contests in all fields out there for you to choose. Sponsoring an event to promote cultural awareness is one of the most inspiring actions that I can ever think of. You can take it so far as to be an annual sponsor for a competition of your choice with a prize of $500. Then the prize could bear any name you wish. As human beings, many of us often think about our legacy for posterity. Putting your loved one’s or even your name on a prize is one great way to do it. We only need to skip a dinner here and there, control our impulse to buy a new pair of shoes that we don’t really need, etc. then $500 a year could very much become a piece of cake.
Promoting art and culture or trying to find meaningful things to do in life is a tough call. It may feel like a burden sometimes. Other times, put some control on our spending habits and we can buy ourselves some of the most celestial moments in life. Buy a painting, commission an artwork, or sponsor a competition such as those discussed above are all quite doable.
If there are two people, for example, putting money together, annually, at the beginning of the year to buy or commission an artwork, we already have a Taking-turns Artwork project. At the end of the year, one person receives the artwork. The second person, in turn, collects the second artwork the next year. This is one way we make artwork more accessible. We spend less money each year, we do an incredible and a very meaningful thing every year, and we each get one original painting every two years. If there are three of us working together, it will be a 3-year Taking-turns Artwork project. With five people, sponsoring an annual $500-prized competition, for example, literally is within reach. The scenario looks better and better the more people we have involved. Let your imagination do the work for you, and enjoy!
I call this living with style.
–> Read the Vietnamese version