I love Colombia and I know this because I learned to love the country from the bottom upwards. I have sort of watched, studied and practiced how to live here – ever since that famous day when I arrived in the country and was forced to ask: “Erm, who is Uribe?”
(I know I have told you this before, but I was never meant to come here. I bought a ticket in 2010 to travel from Ecuador to Brazil, diverted to Colombia and never left. That was three years ago now and I still can’t really explain what happened. I guess Bogotá happened)
Anyway, the great thing about moving to a country you know absolutely nothing about is you get to study it in a forensic way and, faithful to my inner nerd, that is exactly what I have done. From history, politics and economics to movies, books and art, I have learned to be Colombian. And, above all, the Colombian people are my absolute favourite things to study.
Among them is Fernando Botero – probably the most famous Colombian artist of all time and currently one of the world’s most successful living artists. Everyone will tell you he is recognisable for his chubby figures but, for me, it is not so much his art that is fascinating, but his character.
You see, Fernando Botero gives so much away for free. I am not suggesting for a minute that the guy is broke at the hands of his own philanthropy (who actually does that?) but more that the level of his personal generosity should be noted, at the very least. He gave the entire series he did on Abu Ghraib, a year-and-a-half’s work, to American universities but, above all, he has given millions of dollars worth of art to the people of Colombia (he once donated his entire private art collection which was said to be worth more than 100 million dollars)
When asked, his daughter, Lina Botero, said: “There are things he paints that are not meant to be sold. He does it because he has an interest in doing so, but he doesn’t think whether it will sell or not. He also has no need to sell. I mean, he could very well not sell another piece in his life without a problem.”
Now it might be true that once you have made your money from something, you are not worried about whether you need to make any more – but I am inclined to believe that sometimes we should just do things for love. Worrying about making money from something destroys your love for it and, ironically, that often means it will be worth less in the end. People are not stupid. They can smell ambition and commercialism from a mile away.
I once interviewed a popular and brilliant young Bogotá graffiti artist. “Are you interested in making money from your art?” I said to a man who sprays his work all around the city for free. “Nah,” he replied. “If you start trying to turn it into a business you find you are chasing your ass all the time.” I feel exactly the same with this blog. I don’t want to make money from it. It is my escape. The day I start to feel pressure or obligation and put Banana Skin Flip Flops on my ‘To Do’ list is the day this little blog will die.
I was thinking about this recently because I felt a little sad, a little worried about my future and I thought about all my creative projects (and there are loads, just like Banana Skin Flip Flops, that I love with all my soul but I have no idea – and really struggle to care – whether they will ever make any money) and I realised that, yes, I make money by grafting, like everyone here. But often, when I am grafting and forcing myself to concentrate on the paid stuff, I am really thinking about my projects, my babies, because they give my life in Bogotá that all-important meaning.
We all know that doing things for free benefits other people too. Free stuff obviously goes beyond feeding our egos, nurturing our creativity, offering us an outlet. We know that volunteering our time, giving our brilliance away, well, it makes the world a better place. Just look at this guy running around Los Angeles planting free gardens for other people. I even found a ‘Guerrilla Garden’ (that name sounds so wrong in Colombia, sorry!) here in Bogotá the other day so I know I am not the only person who feels this way. Doing stuff for love. It’s okay.
So the next time someone looks at a project of yours and says: “Well, what is the commerical value?” or “Who is the market?” or “What research have you done?” or, even worse, dares to use that horrible word ‘monetize’ (which can only have been invented by our American cousins – spot the ‘z’ – and should be struck from the language immediately) please tell them from me: “I’m doing it for love, honey.” Because that will be so much better in the end.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.