I am told that one of the reasons Tolkien was able to write the things he did, with an attention to Anglo-Saxon linguistics and wordplay unmatched by any before or since, was because he had a lot of people handling the daily needs that would have otherwise distracted him. He had a wife and he had servants at his home and graduate assistants at his work, which was in Oxford, a place where intellect could be pursued in peace.

And that, likewise, the great astronomers and physicists of the late 1800s and early 1900s had the output they did because their wives were doing half the work without being credited, and anyone who tries to match them now winds up doing the work of two people.

And that, likewise, the great thinkers of Athens had the ability to chatter as they pleased in the Symposium, to philosophize and ponder, because their society depended in great part on slave labor, so that certain people could avoid being distracted by drudgery.

The idea is that those at the top of society can put forth great intellectual and artistic works because they are not busy.

And goodness knows I am able to post as much as I do on my favorite websites because I am living unemployed and rent-free beneath the roof of my parents. (And my father cooks, and my mother vacuums, and my sister cleans the litter box and I don't have to walk the dog all the time; when I am keeping house alone my attendance to chores and the cat and and the dog takes up a great portion of the day.) Currently I'm one of those leisurely intellectual types like Tolkien, until I manage to land a job.

But I think the difference between a leisurely class and the lives of the poor and ordinary is primarily in output, not in quality. The works of the poor, when they are made, are often as not of great precision and craft, despite the daily exhaustion of their makers.

Consider the artifacts of the ancient past. Many of these objects are from eras in which leisure was unknown, either from times when all were nomadic foragers, busy most of the sunlit day with survival tasks, or perhaps later at the dawn of agriculture, when the lives of many people became drudgery at the plow. We can be fairly certain that the majority of artifacts, artistic and not, were produced by people without the time to be lazy like an Athenian philosopher. If you believe that those mired in the exhaustion of drudgery are bound to produce only crude work, then these artefacts would look universally terrible. And they do not. The pots of the Corded Ware culture in central Europe (ca. 2500 BCE) are precisely made, and decorated in a manner not all that different than what I would come up with.

In the same era, on the other side of the continent, the Jomon Pottery of Japan frequently has a flamboyant style not entirely different than what I see in the greatest spray-painted graffiti of our own time, with a similar attention to detail and precision in its loops and swirls. The difference between the painters and the potters is that the poverty of one is born out of the hardscrabble life of hunter-gatherers and the other is politically enforced. And the potters were making their wares long, long before anyone on earth had the chance to consider a leisurely life built on the backs of miserable laborers. In the Xianren Caves there was found a pot in fragments, perhaps thirteen thousand, perhaps twenty-three thousand years old, whose attention to artistic detail belies the busy nature of a forager's life.

Earlier than them the foragers of Australia, those people collectively called Aborigines, living in a land far less hospitable to them than Japan was to the Jomon, by all accounts were forced to spend two-thirds of each day looking for food, and yet when they had the chance, they not only painted on rocks in the famous Dreamtime style, they carved INTO the rocks, which, judging by my own frustrations with wood carving, is no easy feat. And from the distant past until now they paid the greatest attention to the stories they told, such that those stories have changed little, if at all, from the very distant past.

Into Neolithic times the craft and precision of pottery among the Taisan culture of the Nile valley, one of the oldest known pre-dynastic cutures in the area, is at a level I can see today in the trinkets sold at the local art craft store. If these people were suffering the misery of early agriculture, their pottery does not show it.

Go back further than that, to the same time as the  early Aborigines, and there are cave paintings in Europe, some of them with sophisticated attention to realism, some of them painted in sequence as if they were meant to be animated by firelight.

Go back further than that and the Hohe Hels Venus is a 40K-year old little figurine as stylized as those paintings.

In our own era, where people are forced to work one, two, three jobs, not a bit different from the ancient misery of foraging, where time and again I see people begging for money just for the sake of paying their medical bills or moving apartments, these same people, when they have at last a little time to spare, produce writings of great insight and paintings of stunning complexity. I have mentioned the great street paintings of the cities, which to my judgment is often horribly ugly, yet this style is clearly deliberate, for it is as precise in its execution and as creative in its depiction as what I would expect from a professional – and some of these people are professionals, and some of them have simply been allowed to do as they please at last, and come up with work that has clearly been practiced where it had not been permitted.

Without the hope of compensation or expectation of permission, in their spare time that they have, the readers of my own era have taken the published materials that they know and built stories upon them, twisting them as they please, choosing prose as they please, so as to outshine their source material.

They are as busy as the poor and the miserable have ever been, and yet their creativity is not diminished.

And that’s just on the artistic side of things. When it comes to science, great discoveries have not come from the leisurely class alone either. Wilson Bentley was a self-educated farmer in Vermont and he came up with a process for photographing snowflakes not very different than what people use today. Many of the mechanical developments of the past came from ordinary people who had some time and some ambition, like the Wright Brothers, or one of two Pierres (Lallment or Michaux) who took their mechanical skills and created the basic form of the bicycle.

And somebody bred dogs out of wolves, somebody bred cattle out of Aurochs, somebody domesticated the Llama, somebody domesticated camels, somebody turned Junglefowl into Chickens and boars into pigs and wooly mountain beasts into sheep, without being a philosophizing layabout.

Somebody first told the tale of Cinderella without having access to writing material. Somebody carved the first flute out of bone without having any paid gigs. Half the songs I sing are from anonymous people who came up with them as they pleased, when they could, and how many of them sound like something an aristocrat would think of?

The difference between aristocratic and ordinary artists is that the aristocrats have more time for more output, so there’s a certain suvivorship bias towards thinking their stuff is more sophisticated. And they have more opportunity to make sure their stuff survives. But if they think they're better artists than the masses, the output that has survived from pot shards and cave paintings says otherwise.

This is a very roundabout way of saying that if someone tells you Shakespeare couldn't possibly be such a good playwright if he was an ordinary man, you can tell them that I said they should stuff it.

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