Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Jim Henson and why we make art
This spring I attended a wonderful exhibit at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington MA, Jim Henson's Fantastic World. The exhibit brought together a treasure trove of rarely-seen photos, drawings, storyboards, puppets and films by Jim Henson and the Muppets. It gave an overview of his entire career in television and film, which really could have filled twenty such exhibits.
There were original puppets of Kermit, Ernie, Bert and others, original drawings and sketches, storyboards for commercials, proposals for early shows, and animated films. I came away with a greater appreciation for the breadth and variety of his talents, which went beyond puppetry to animation, illustration, design, writing, television production and more. Jim Henson could have made a career in any one of these areas, but his creativity and ambition were far beyond the scope of any existing career path, so he had to invent his own.
Another revelation that I took from this exhibit was the relentless amount of work and perseverance that continued throughout his career. Realizing his goals was not as easy as he made it seem, he spent years doing commercials and small works while pursuing his dream of bigger things. He also had many ideas and proposals that were never produced, that were turned down by the television networks, but he still kept on trying. If one idea didn’t work, he would try something else.
Seeing his prolific output and the many lesser-known projects that he created, you realize that his primary motivation wasn’t fame or money, but simply the love of creating. Even if he had not become a success, you get the impression that he still would have spent every day of his life creating art and telling stories, and I think this is an important lesson for artists everywhere. Certainly artists have to make a living and sell our work, but we should also have a little fun and do what is meaningful to us.
One of his most famous quotes is, “My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.” That certainly turned out to be an understatement; but it shows that keeping things in perspective can help us focus on what is important. Follow your creative ambition and do something that makes you happy. And if you leave the world just a little bit better than when you found it, I’m sure Jim Henson would approve.