Work, Art, and Money

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (Harcourt, 1941), 219–220:

Whether it is possible for a machine-worker to feel creatively about his routine job I do not know; but I suspect that it is, provided and so long as the worker eagerly desires that before all things else the work shall be done. What else causes the armaments worker to labor passionately when he knows that the existence of his country is threatened, but that his heart travels along the endless band with the machine parts and that his imagination beholds the fulfillment of the work in terms, not of money, but of the blazing gun itself, charged with his love and fear. As the author of Ecclesiasticus says, he “watches to finish the work”; for once, that is, he sees the end-product of his toil exactly as the artist always sees it, in a vision of Idea, Energy, and Power.

It is unfortunate that so little effort should be made by Church or State to show him the works of peace in the same terms. Is the man, for example, engaged in the mass-production of lavatory cisterns encouraged to bring to his daily monotonous toil the vision splendid of an increasingly hygienic world? I doubt it; yet there is much merit in sanitary plumbing — more, if you come to think of it, than there is in warfare.

But if the common man were really to adopt this high-minded and Christian attitude to the worth of his work and the needs of his neighbor, are there not some products which he would refuse at all costs to produce? I think there are; and that many of the machines would stop, unless the art of propagandist deception were carried to even greater lengths than it is at present. And who would issue the propaganda, if profit were no longer a motive? Perhaps some state which, not having enough useful commodities to exchange for necessities, was obliged to specialise in the export of trash. And if nobody would accept the trash? In that case, we could scrap a very great number of the machines, and the “problem” of industrialisation would assume a different aspect; because, in that case, every man in the world would have become an artist after his fashion.


From Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, 1974), page 52:

“A very able surgeon put it to me like this: ‘What is happening is that nobody works for the sake of getting the thing done. The actual result of the work is a by-product; the aim of the work is to make money to do something else. Doctors practice medicine, not primarily to relieve suffering, but to make a living—the cure of the patient is something that happens on the way. Lawyers accept briefs, not because they have a passion for justice, but because the law is the profession which enables them to live. The reason why men often find themselves happy and satisfied in the army is that for the first time in their lives they find themselves doing something, not for the sake of the pay, which is miserable, but for the sake of getting the thing done.’”

HT: Ray Ortlund