The Eight of Pentacles and the Death of Creativity

The Eight of Pentacles looks like a pretty happy card.  A craftsman sits at his bench carving away at one pentacle after another and seems to have several of them displayed, as if they were for sale.  My original definition of the card in my book, “Just the Tarot,” pretty much agrees with that:

Profiting from your skills.  Learning new skills that will advance your career.  Possible promotions or awards at work.

And, yet, as an artist and a writer, I have to say, “Ugh.”

And, “Yuck.”

In some ways the Eight of Pentacles is sort of the anti-creativity card.  Real creativity involves an interesting balance between competence and incompetence.

If you’ve ever gone through the pains of starting a new job or you’ve supervised someone who was new at their job, you know that there’s a definite learning curve.  For about the first six months you can count on a pretty high level of screwing up. The new employee has to learn new skills or – in some cases – unlearn what he thought he knew.  At about six months to a year, she’ll start to develop the abilities to perform the job and, after a year, it should be easy peasy.

We see a lot the same thing with artists.  Having a creative vision isn’t enough. The painter has to learn how to blend the colors and which brushes to use.  The wood carver has to know which chisels do what and what types of wood have smooth, tight grains that will take the details of the carving.

You study it, you practice it, and you learn it.  I used to refer to that as, “getting the knowledge out of my head and into my hands.”

But, the thing is, the second you’ve REALLY learned it, the second you can do it perfectly over and over and over again . . . you’ve stopped creating.  You’re just repeating.

That’s what I see when I look at the Eight of Pentacles:  a line of perfectly carved pentacles that are all exactly the same.  It would have been really cool if some of them were orange and some of them were purple, if there were a few folk art pentacles mixed in with some abstract pentacles.  

But there aren’t.

Henry Ford invented the assembly line in 1913.  It was a novel concept at the time: a product moving down a line, being assembled by a team of workers.  Each worker was highly trained in doing one separate part of the assembly, over and over and over. Doing exactly the same thing day after day after day until they retired or dropped dead from boredom.

It was a brilliant idea for a capitalist and an absolute soul killer for the workers.  Real creativity involves trying something new that you don’t actually know how to do perfectly.  It’s a meshing of your skill set with unknown territory that results in something unique and different AND increases your skills.

Unfortunately, we don’t see a lot of that in our work places.  We see people stuck in jobs where they do one or two things over and over again and are never challenged and never grow.  We actually give them awards for that and congratulate them on knowing how to do those one or two things better than anyone else, on accepting the concept that they should be, “good”, but not creative or different.

The Eight of Pentacle is a safe card, a card that shows that nothing bad is happening to that person.  But nothing particularly wonderful is happening to that person, either.  The real story is in the definition of the Eight of Pentacles Reversed:

 Employment problems that may involve a need for retraining or learning new job skills.  Possibly the questioners position being eliminated or some sort of a reshuffle of employees that will place him or her in a job requiring different skills.

In other words, THAT person is going to have to GROW.  It’s all really a question of choosing emotional safety or choosing growth.  Sit in the nest or jump out and learn how to fly.

Life is way too short to choose safety.

Author: Dan Adair

Artist, writer, semi-retired wizard, and the author of, "Just the Tarot," by Dan Adair

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