Monthly Archives: September 2016

What is Art and Why Do We Do It?

dreaming-kandinskyThe Merriam Webster Dictionary defines art as: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.

Leo Tolstoy described art as “the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others.”

Pablo Picasso said, “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Those are all pretty good definitions, but they don’t really answer the question, why do people make art? Why are some artists willing to face great hardships in order to paint, or write, or compose songs and symphonies? Only a handful of actors reach stardom. Only a few artists have paintings in prestigious museums. The stereotype of the struggling, starving artist has reached mythic proportions, and yet artists in every field seem compelled to do whatever it is they do. I am both a visual artist and a writer. I have asked friends in both fields, “Why do you do it?” The reply is almost always the same, “Because I have to.” The desire to create seems to be an inner compulsion that not everyone understands …unless you’re an artist.

That compulsion to make art is a thread running throughout history… from the earliest cave paintings to the Renaissance cathedrals, to the street murals and graffiti of the present day. But its expression is unique to each particular time and place and creator. None of it can ever be repeated. For myself, each piece I create is the best one I can do between two moments…the moment it is conceived and the moment it is completed. All are personal and, I think, distinctive. No one else could have produced them.

I have been drawing and painting as long as I can remember. I started a writing club in the fourth grade (horse stories only). My first poems were published in the local paper when I was in high school. I always had that desire to create something out of my imagination and share it. I could pontificate about how art separates mankind from lower life forms. I could talk about the spiritual aspects of art and describe it as a form of meditation. All of that is true. But my final answer to the why of art is this, “Creating art is what I do; what I have to do; what we artists all must do.” Martha Graham, the great 20th century dancer summed it up when she described art as “a queer divine dissatisfaction, a divine unrest.” That’s why we do it. We just can’t help ourselves.