What Drives Us to Make Art? (And what drives you to be interested in art?)

Updated: Nov 4, 2020


I have four sons, two from my first marriage, and two from my second, forever marriage. I call them by number; otherwise I would need to run through each name before I get to the one I’m addressing. Dan, Matt, Aubrey, dammit, I mean GALEN!! Number Four is much easier.

So, Number Four began saving for and buying Lego sets with his allowance from a very young age. The sets became more complex over time, until they were entire space colonies or Pirates on a ship and/or island, and would take hours to assemble. He wouldn’t be parted from that assemblage (except for emergency bathroom breaks) until it was done.

I’ve seen this happen throughout my life: a human being becomes interested in something, starts to pay more attention, finds it more and more absorbing, and then becomes passionate about it. It’s true for many humans pursuing an enormous range of interests.

Passion is a marvelous part of being human, and as that feeling starts to dominate it would be helpful if we could make ourselves more aware of what is driving it. We artists should be honest with ourselves and with you, our audience, about what drives us in making our artwork and then sharing it.

In talking with other artists, I notice some are making art without a clear reason to do so. I think they do it because they have a spiritual, intellectual, intuitive need to, and they know they’re good, or even very good at it. Others have formed an idea in their head that enables themselves to explain why they are devoted to their career, regardless of its success or lack thereof.

Understanding Who We Are

How does making art define us? Should the public believe that artists can’t exist without its engagement with art? They should not. A symphony colleague, in my days as a musician, once told me she could not live without performing music. Of course you could, I quietly thought to myself. If she had to, she would move on to something else, be changed by that, and be accepted by people in the new identity she would have. Actually, she did have to give up performing way sooner than she had expected. She adapted, and she is still the same exceptional and wonderful person today. She works and creates differently, but all her abilities such as discipline, adaption, spirituality, imagination, expression are still evident in how she leads her life and does her work.

My conclusion is that each of us consists of qualities and abilities, and those are what define us. While making art is how we apply those abilities, the making of art does not define our essence.

Understanding Myself as an Artist

So, What DOES Drive Us to Make Art? One can make art because you feel you are good at it or because people seem to like what you make. Alternately, making art can be about making a living, or being noticed. Perhaps an artist feels they make art because it is fundamental to how they understand themselves or is the critical component of their identity.

You can tell that I feel there are many reasons and forces that compel some of the human race to make art.

At the beginning of my career I started out just loving the experience of making art, mostly in photography, then came to liking the following I got. I went on to see it as a challenge, wanting to become unique in how I saw and expressed my art. Years went by. As I realized the lessons learned from being alive for so long, my point became more spiritual, and I decided that I am here on Earth’s surface because I have something of value to contribute. And the best way for me to do that is through one thing I seem to have been born to do, that is create art. I have done that in one phase of previous life as a classical musician and throughout my adult life as visual artist.

Driven to Continue Making Art, No Matter What

It’s a rare artist who has not felt at times that they should change their art, or change their career, or change their life in other ways. It is a time of toweringly high inner drama. Doubt, self-loathing, the urge to become a hermit, and who knows what else, descend to make life miserable for a while. Maybe there’s a long period of what seems like non-inspiration. You might feel your work is underappreciated, or despite your expressive and craft skills, the public just doesn’t seem to care. Sometimes you can be so tired that the idea of taking time in your day to create seems debilitating. Another day you feel lazy, then guilty, then confused about your feelings.

On and on, the little tragedies come over you, though they are unworthy of your time, thought, depression, or attention when seen from an outsider’s viewpoint. After sharing your regrets with a friend or family member who has a ‘regular’ job, you are embarrassed, because to them, the opportunity to think and do art every day is Nirvana compared to their office cubicle life.

Still, this is the way of life for many artists. Therapy may help, but the best therapy is when you keep trying and suddenly a new work seems inspired, and when it’s finished you know you have created something extraordinary and unique. Right then, it feels as if all the negatives have evaporated. At that point you think, “So what if people don’t care about it or won’t buy it?” You know this miracle has happened to you before and will again. You know most humans go through an entire life and don’t experience this inner magic.

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