I Make Stuff

by beccaborrelli

Hugh MacLeod


In an experiment, nursery school children were given the opportunity to draw with special markers. After playing, some of the children were given “good player” awards and others were not. Some time later, the markers were reintroduced to the classroom. The researchers kept track of which children used the markers, and they collected the pictures that had been drawn. The youngsters given awards were less likely to draw at all, and drew worse pictures, than those who were not given the awards.—- Money for Nothing: Barry Schwartz

No shit.

But Barry has a pretty good job writing for the NY Times and his work regarding practical wisdom, rules, and incentives got the attention of TED a few years ago. He’s getting attention because all of our systems… our social systems, educational systems, political systems, and of course economic systems are built around the idea that rules keep people from fucking up, and incentives make people want to do better.

It’s just that for the past thirty years, psychologists have proven time and time again that humans just. don’t. work. that way.

Humans do things for the intrinsic value. The things that feel good just because. The stuff in your genetic make up.

Children draw because it feels good. Because it feels good to assert your will, and then see something visual appear before your eyes. Michael Jordan played basketball because it made sense to him, and because it felt awesome. Martin Luther King gave speeches. Steve Jobs makes computers. The greats on this planet didn’t wake up and say:

“I want to sell something.”

They said:

“I want to make something.”

Every religion on this planet believes in God(s) that create. Our creation myths feed our sense of who we are. Therefore it makes perfect sense when I tell my students:

“You are built to create. I don’t care what it is, but you were built to create.”

We aren’t creating very much anymore are we?

We are consuming.

We are eating food. We are watching television. Reading the media. Playing video games. Buying toys. Decorating our bodies. Beautifying our faces.

Doing these things feels good because it creates an illusion that we are living. Why build a garden and cook our own recipes when we can eat up the street at Applebees? Why craft our own clothing when we can watch “Project Runway?” Why battle poverty in the third world when we can battle aliens on the Wii?

It’s not enough to hang mass produced hispter-ish knock-off art from Target on the wall and call oneself an interior designer. Consumption without creation makes us parasites, and what happens when parasites reach critical mass? They consume themselves. (MacLeod, p. 26, 2010)


Before I taught Art, I worked as an assistant preschool teacher.

In my class there was a boy named Max.

On Mother’s Day, as was the tradition, the teacher would ask the preschoolers reasons they loved their Moms, and we would hang up their quotes in the hallway for parents to read.

I called up Max for his turn and he put down his trucks to come sit by me.

Max was the shy old soul that every class seems to have one of. He had gray eyes that looked through you, and as he peered up at me I asked:

“Max, what is one reason you love your Mom?”

Max answered right away:

“Because I love her.”

I admit I was confused.

“Well, what are things that she does for you, that make you love her?”

“I don’t know. I just love her.”

As the reader I’m sure you’re following right?

At the time I was frustrated and dense from the self-sold idea that I was the teacher and therefore smarter.

“Does she tuck you in at night, does she make your favorite snacks…?”

Max shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“I don’t know….”

I think when I first told the story I retold it with this light bulb shattering above my head. But really, I forced Max to tell me that his Mom “read him good stories,” before he went back to playing with his trucks. It was a slow creeping realization that happened over a period of a few days when I realized how wrong I had been.

Preschoolers don’t need a reason to love. It’s intrinsic. They just do it because they were built to do it and it feels good.

Adults outsource love. Adults need tangible reasons to grace another person with their love.


In 1988 when I was in the Third Grade- I got my first “N’ on a report card. It was from a failure to consistently complete homework on time.

By 1994 in High School I was regularly getting C’s and D’s… even once getting a B in Art for my lack of motivation.

In 1998 I got my ACT scores back which prompted my mother to say: “Goodness if only you applied yourself, look at how smart you are!”

During my undergrad I barely pulled off a 2.9 GPA. and that was because I cheated and cried to professors a few more times than I care to admit.

Then I became a teacher. A professional.

Everything changed.

For the first time in my life I had an intrinsic reason to organize my life. To learn how to file. To be punctual. To namely… work my ass off. I loved teaching. I loved how I felt when I was teaching. I loved watching students joyfully create and express themselves. I loved feeling the love they have for life. I wasn’t working for a grade. My salary wasn’t tied to student art production. I was working for love.

So there was a measure of fear (alright… terror) deciding to go back to school. GRADUATE school. Would I deflate at being asked to do work I didn’t find meaningful? To jump through hoops that wasted my time?

And this funny thing happened. In graduate school they want you to create your own work. To weave your own ideas into something personally meaningful. To MAKE stuff. And if you need help, well there they are.

And for the first time in my life- my GPA is a 4.0.


MacLeod, Hugh. 2009. Ignore everybody. Portfolio: New York, NY.