Why Make Art?

The idea of artists not making a valid contribution to society has certainly crossed my mind, and at times hindered my ability to maintain a steady path in my life. A teacher once told me that every artist needs to figure out why they make art, why they think it is valuable, and never forget it. When I heard this I knew that she was right and that I would have to find my own meaning for why I make art, at the time I had no Idea. Recently the question has surfaced again and I finally think I am ready to explore it. I have also been reading, “The Mission of Art,” by Alex Grey which has been inspiring many thoughts on this topic.

The main reason for me personally to create art work is an outlet for creative expression. You can probably apply this to any artist of any medium, the important thing is recognizing the validity of this action. I am seeing more and more how much creating is an essential part of human existence. It is apparent every time I see a blank sheet of paper; I imagine the possibilities of what it can become, and I yearn to manipulate it. There is something deeply satisfying about creating, when I sit down to draw or to work with metal, I am calm, I am exactly where I want to be, I have a feeling almost of relief, nothing else matters but what is in front of me.

As for my contribution to society, I am still a young artist and figuring it out. I have some Ideas of where I would like to go with it. I know I want to make social commentary, possibly within the realms of feminism, but not confined to it. I want to show people how I think, give them a peek within my subjective world. Whether it be something specific or just a vague feeling I want to make people think about something new.

Here is an particularly thought provoking quote from Alex Grey’s book:

“Artists need an audacity, an almost arrogant self-confidence that what they are doing could be worthwhile, because they often sustain many critical insults if they are developing an original approach. True creativity depends on fostering independent thought, and the ability to peek beyond the current cultural horizons. To see beauty demands that we see freshly, that our perceptual sensitivity be attuned to discovery. After a life of accumulating theories and techniques, the artist has to toss is all and return to ground zero-an empty mind and blank canvas. For the Zen practitioner, this state is called beginner’s mind, a surrender not to knowing what comes next, and an attunement to the flow of the creative core. In Hindu sacred arts, surprise is one of the essential elements of beauty. In the Taoist and Zen arts spontaneity is especially revered. Artists are self-reflective creators reliant on intuition for guidance. By questioning what has gone before and inwardly seeking the new, artists bring the vital force of creative transformation into our lives. The personal yet universal artwork both catalyzes the artists inner spiritual progress and serves the community. The creative arts are redemptive when they deepen us, reminding us of our unity with spirit and the sublime beauty of nature and the cosmos.”

I don’t think arrogance is a necessity in becoming a successful artist, I believe being able to truly listen to what other people say and learn from it is a rare and admirable quality in a human, but Grey does have a point. From an art students perspective, we certainly do take A LOT of criticism, we have 3 hour class periods several times a semester dedicated to critiquing our projects. Teachers often recite their mantra: “no work of art is ever perfect.”(So the work is always criticized, sometimes constructive, other times not.) It can also be confidence shattering to attempt to have your works shown in a gallery, and encountering repeated rejection, especially when you might be submitting to a gallery that doesn’t appreciate the type of work you do. That doesn’t mean that no gallery will, it may be as simple as knowing who your audience is. In order to wade through all the criticism and rejection a person must have an astonishing self- confidence and will to continue. Art students are told from their first day of class how difficult it is to make it as an artist, teachers basically set you up for failure. Instead of building you up and helping you become a competent, confidant artist they seem to have the goal of driving you toward another major. I have been told constantly by teachers or other people I encounter in life that,”its really hard to make it as an artist,” in that oh so familiar sympathetic and slightly condescending tone. Nobody goes out and directly says it, but they are basically saying, “your degree is worthless why don’t you study something that will get you a paying job,” and when this may be the case for many art graduates, there are successful artists making it happen today, and I intend to be one of them. You have to TRULY believe in your mission or vision, which can be difficult at times. Especially if you are an art student who doesn’t have it all figured out yet, while people are demanding to know your artist statement when you haven’t figured it out for yourself. It reminds me of an Einstein quote I once heard, “It’s not that I am smarter than anyone else, I just stick with the problem longer.” I believe it is this unrelenting determination that makes great artists great, or anyone who has ever been an original thinker about anything.

There is also something to be said about spontaneously creating a work of art. I have spent countless hours in painstakingly study of an image, trying to replicate it exactly. As art students we do so much of the grueling aspects of art that sometimes we forget about the spontaneous and playful nature of creating a work of art purely from within ourselves. When we return to “ground zero” as Grey says we are allowing all of these influences to work with us on a subconscious level, we just need to trust that it is there and we don’t necessarily have to be conscious about every step of the process. This is a valid and necessary way of doing art, however I believe it is important to create work in the opposite way as well and be conscious of every step of the way.

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6 thoughts on “Why Make Art?

  1. Very cool post. As you probably know, I am dealing with a similar issue of practicality in my own major. That’s okay though, other people tend to have poor insight into what another person should do. At the end of the day you have to trust your own judgment and forget other peoples. Good message and also good writing.

  2. Pingback: Why Make Art? | artsygenius

  3. Am curious, as someone who’s done a little art on the side as a hobby since childhood, but graduated with a practical degree (Finance and Information Systems), worked a 9-5 for a couple of years, and then quit with vague plans of doing art professionally: how much time is spent in art school learning to market ones work?

    Because from what I’ve seen in the industry, sometimes the quality of art matters less than ability to present it well, and build a customer base. It makes me feel like any place that teaches art skills should also focus greatly on: teaching how to discover and reach your audience; develop confidence in your work (and not only by becoming stoic in face of criticism).
    Admittedly, I’ve only taken official lessons in high school – so my semi-indignation could be completely misplaced. 🙂

    Thanks for the post!

    • I am about to start my senior year as an art student, and as of now they have given almost zero instruction on how to market my work, or myself as an artist. This is possibly because most of the people pursuing an art major want to teach and will not need to market their work because they will have a teaching license. Sadly this means the curriculum has been structured for the majority and those of us not on the most beaten path will slip through the cracks and many wont succeed. Some of my peers already seem to have accepted defeat and have no intention of trying to use their degree after graduation. Though on a lighter note I am doing an internship for a hand crafted jewelry studio right now, whose owners have very little formal training, and despite all odds they are successful. I think if you really want to make it happen you can, so don’t become discouraged! Also the internet is a goldmine as far as tutorials and information on how to do technical stuff!

  4. Oh and yea the women who own that studio basically did exactly what you want to do, graduated with degrees that got paying jobs and hated it. They had the confidence to pursue an alternative path. Its two ladies, one has a degree in business, the other was biology I believe. Not that I think there is anything against formal training, I have learned a ton and grown a lot as a person while pursuing this degree,and have a profound respect for the teachers, and the institution I attend.

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