How do we answer the question of “Why make art?” Maybe its not Why but rather Who?
Why make art? The question has been asked many times and answered in numerous ways. It would make a great research project but that has probably been done before. Still I would love to hear what other artists have to say on the subject. Why do you make art? There are numerous philosophical opinions. There are many cerebral answers. Some respond from the heart in deep felt ways. Van Gogh, Picasso, even Albert Einstein discussed the topic of Why make art? Quotes abound on the quote sites. Why people make art is probably unanswerable in many cases.
Megan Coyle says, “Artists have a deep rooted love for making art.” That is so true. A love from the heart that cannot be squelched. “As for myself, I create art because it has always been something that has brought balance to my life,” is one answer given on the Artpromotivate website. I cannot argue with that answer either. Art does bring something from the inside out that needs to get out. Getting it out seems to bring a sort of balance to life. Madhans Art says “Whether an art lover or an art student, it’s essential to understand why artists create art.” That’s another point that I cannot find any fault with. Probably the best response I saw was from Walking Ledges, ““We make art because we must.” Yes we must. But does that really answer the question?
Yes we love it. Yes it brings balance to our lives. Yes it is essential to understand why. And why we must. But the answer is summed up not in Why? But Who? Answer that question and all the rest falls into place. A Creator greater than us, creates through us. We are the vessel. How cool is that! Julia Cameron’s groundbreaking book, “The Artist’s Way” is the best direction for finding the answer to “Who.” Connect to the Who and all the answers make sense.
“I think all great innovations are built on rejections.” Louis-Ferdinand Celine, (from The Painter’s Keys)
All artists face rejection at sometime or other. It is inevitable. For many artists, myself included, our art can feel somewhat like our child. Art comes from the depths of our souls, our hearts. A piece of who we are is in each artwork. To put it out there for others to enjoy is what we create for. Each time we do, we face the possibility that others will not respond with the same love and acceptance that we feel for our art. It is a hazard of the job.
Every artist is admonished to “not take it personally.” Hearing that statement over and over does not make it so. But each rejection can become a learning experience. The majority of rejections are likely due to the simple fact that a particular artist’s work does not fit with the vision of the venue. On other occasions, the rejecter may feel it necessary to explain the rejection in terms the artist may find hurtful or discouraging. Other rejections can be deliberately demeaning. Unfortunately, it happens. And sometimes a rejecter attempts to provide constructive criticism. Daniel Grant writing for The Huffington Post states, “Part of the job of being an artist is determining which one applies, and there is not a Website as yet to help with that.”
Grant’s words can be taken to heart, as I recently found. While applying to a number of juried venue’s this summer, I encountered some success but not without the inevitable rejections, as well. Most rejections were of the variety, “We have XY applications for only X number of places, …” followed by some explanation. But one such rejection was of the hurtful type. The rejection included the scoring by each of the 5 jurors with comments. Four of the five scored me as a one (the worst) while the fifth scored me as a five (the best). What could be made of that?? Was the fifth one a genius or an idiot? Were the four a mean little clique or a group of learned critics? And no one was in the middle. There were no scores of three.
The first reaction was hurt. The four had been explicit in their criticisms. The second reaction was puzzlement. Why was number five an outlier? And why no middle ground? Either the art was terrible or great, not mediocre. That was the first glimmer of hope. No one scored mediocre! After running through all the emotions, a sober look back at each comment produced the final enlightenment. I could remain hurt or look for what was constructive in each comment. What did number five like and what did each of the four dislike. Surprisingly, I found some truth to work on.
Rejection has been written on over and over, sometimes helpfully and sometimes not. Some artists just want to stay stuck and grumble, others want to take positive action. Taking positive action requires Courage. For some encouraging ideas, Artpromotivate offers, “How Can Artists Deal With Rejection When Promoting Art?” On her website, Maria Brophy offers additional encouragement in an article titled, “The Illusion of Rejection and How to Deal with it.”
Artists can take positive action to overcome rejection or they can treat rejection as an illusion. Either way is better than wallowing in the rejection mud, unless you are a mudwrestler. In that case…nevermind, wallow all you want. For the rest it is worth remembering that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and we all know what his paintings are going for now. Not that we are all budding Van Goghs, but you never know! Someone out there reading his/her latest rejection letter may be sitting in the studio staring at a multi-million dollar masterpiece that is awaiting discovery. No rejection letter is so muddy that a little soap and water can’t do the trick. Time to wash the mud off and move on.
“The best cure for a dry spell is simply to keep at it. Good things are happening, soon to be revealed.” Eleanor Blair (from The Painter’s Keys)
Those first thoughts of panic when you find yourself in a dry spell can take over and consume you. What if you are never inspired again? What if this is it? Your artistic life is toast! You’re done. All the art in your soul has dried up and you will have to find something else to do. The love of your life has walked out the door. The cold hand of panic is about to get a firm grip on your throat. Everything you do is dry, dry, dry! You can go to the nearest bar and get stone cold drunk or you can sit down and take a deep breath. While taking that deep breath, check out what others suggest. Or wait until the hangover is over, then check out these suggestions.
Graham Mathews has several suggestions in an article for Artpromotivate. Number six on his list is to experiment with a different style or medium. Following this recommendation frequently leads to new discoveries that can change the course of your entire artistic direction. How many artists have you read about whose experiments in times of drought have resulted in the biggest breakthroughs of their career? If something is not working, that is usually a signal from the artist within that you are not listening. Trying something unfamiliar forces the outer artist to stop and pay attention to the inner one. A new direction can’t be put on automatic. It requires an effort on the part of the artist.
Another technique for breaking a dry spell is to return to original inspiration. PsychCentral.com has a blog post on creative block. Author Margarita Tartakovsky suggests stashing away anything that inspires you. Tartakovsky says tucking away interesting thoughts, quotations, films, ideas that strike your fancy can be a source for watering the drought. My favorite thing to do is collect images from magazines. I’ll tear out anything that even remotely looks interesting and put it in an inspirational images folder. Over the years, I have ended up with a number of folders. Sometimes I get a laugh from wondering why I chose certain images. But it causes me to rethink why I found those images inspirational in the first place.
Not giving in to panic is the best first step to getting through dry spells. Once you make that decision, trying some new things could be fun. It may keep you out of the bar. At the very least it will occupy your hands so they don’t continue moving up toward your neck region. While the hands are occupied, your inspirational wells are free to start working again. Once the wells are working, the water will start flowing. But if all else fails, you can try a rain dance. You never know. It may open up a new career for you as a dancer.
“The Muse visits during the act of creation., not before Don’t wait for her. Start alone.” Roger Ebert
It’s been a long week and you are counting on having some time to create art this week-end. You are pumped, you are ready, all your supplies out, then… nothing. A big fat nothing! The Muse has left the building. Major bummer! All the planning to have this time and the inspiration has dried up. All dressed up and nowhere to go. What now?
In Twelve Steps to Stay Inspired the authors have some great ideas such as get outside, go looking for inspiration. If the Muse is gone, go looking for where she went. Do some searching in a park or the shopping mall. Drop in to a local tourist site and mingle with the tourists. Seeing things through the eyes of the tourists may change your perspective.
Listening to dreams is on Artpromotivate’s list of 20 Art Inspiration Ideas for Creativity. That is an interesting one. Can you remember what dreams you had last night? Were you too tired from the week before to even have dreams? If not what was the last memorable dream you did have? Write it down. Sketch it. Think about its meaning. See if there might be some sparks lurking down in your dreams ready to light some fire. Hopefully, you haven’t had any nightmares recently. Or maybe you have!
Smashing Magazine says if you have a regular “go to” place for inspiration, change it up. Go somewhere different. ArtistsInspireArtists.com suggests a look into what other artists are doing. Find inspiration from your peers. See what is inspiring them.
If all else fails, go to the studio and make some marks. Any marks. Taking the steps may bring out the rest. The effort will, hopefully, start to take shape. Sometimes the best things happen when feeling lost in the drought. The defenses are down and feelings dejected. You never know. There just might be a pleasant surprise waiting to show up on the canvas, paper, etc. Something wonderful may grow out of the wasteland!
“The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.” Piet Mondrian (from Artpromotivate)
What makes an artist create? For some it is the process of art- making. Others are obsessed with some particular subject, model or location. some just want to make a living. But does that really explain what makes a painter, paint or a sculptor, sculpt? There are lots of postulations on the subject.
Artist Charles Spratt has several different ideas. He says, “It must be for the love of it—it can’t be for the money.” Spratt is likely right on that point. He goes on to discuss the pleasure of creating and developing new ideas. The satisfaction of selling work is also a good reason many artists continue working, according to Spratt.
In the Painted Generations blog, author Barbara Hartsook gives three reasons why painters paint or writers write. Her first reason is, “to lose oneself in play and discovery.” Artists get lost in the process of creating and by the fascination of experimenting with the materials. Secondly, Hartsook states, “To reconnect with oneself.” And lastly, she says, “To express oneself and tell stories.” What this author has laid out is likely very true with a number of artists, may be even the majority of artists. We play, we connect, and we tell stories.
The LaMantia Gallery wrote on the subject of why artists continue to paint the same subject repeatedly. The writer gives three reasons: “market expediency, pursuit of perfection and experimentation.” Artists staying on the same subject because it sells might be a very good reason to continue with a particular subject. The other two reasons suggest that it is something the artist is compelled to do whether in search of perfection or for the fun of experimentation.
All three writers give good reasons why artists paint. And all are right. “For the love of it.,” is important. To lose, reconnect, and express oneself is part of the process, too. Making a living is vital for most artists, as is the pursuit of perfection. But the long and short of it, no matter what reasons you may give, is, simply, artists create because they must. Inside every painter is a little Voice that says, “Paint!” And writer, “Write!” Sculptor, “Sculpt!” While all other reasons are true, that little Voice is the only one that matters.
“The object isn’t to make art, but to be in that wonderful state that makes art inevitable.”-Robert Henri (from Skinnyartist)
The search for inspiration can be a never- ending battle. Nothing is working. The feeling can range from confusion to panic. What if you never get your inspiration back? Where do you turn? Listening to what other artists say from their own experiences is frequently helpful.
Artist Issac Julien is quoted in The Guardian as saying “It is important for inspiration to go elsewhere.” He further goes on to suggest getting out of the city, going to places of tranquility. Being out in nature and away from the bombardment of the over stimulation of the city gives the brain a chance to think without the constant backdrop of the cacophony of traffic, people, hustle and bustle. In the peace and quiet of being out in nature, it is easier to hear what your brain is telling you.
For people who already live and work outside cities, the opposite action may be of benefit. Go into a city. Listen to the sights and sounds. Watch the people. Absorb the energy of the constantly moving atmosphere of city life. Artist, Susan Phillipsz from the same Guardian article, states “always have something to write with.” Taking notes or sketching what you see may bring on renewed energy.
And if these ideas don’t work, Artpromotivate has an article “20 Creative Ideas for Art Inspiration.” I have written quite a bit about this subject lately because it happens to me and I have a tendency to go off in too many directions at once to try to get that inspiration back. I go into an inspiration panic instead of following the wisdom of other artists who have also been there. At times I have followed both directions suggested by these two artists, going into the city and going into nature. Nature seems to work better for me but I have occasionally found the city helpful as well. The point is to stop the panic and seek a change in scenery.