A Question: Why Do You Create Art?

Feb 16 2021
Edd Johannemann

“Why do you create art?” This question popped up during an artists round table I attend. One of my fellow artists had been asked this during an interview for a residency, and she was struck by how difficult that question was to answer. I understood her dilemma.

 Ask any artist about their craft, process and/or inspiration and most likely they can talk with enthusiasm and detail for hours. These are questions about the physical creation of art, where ideas come from and how they are made manifest in the world; things artists do on a daily basis. But “Why do you create art?” It is a valid question and the curious thing is that I, as most of the artists I know, have posed that question of ourselves at one time or another during periods of doubt or frustration. Yet I have never really tried to answer “Why?” beyond, “It is what I do.”

 Art as a profession is not highly regarded in our society, as evidenced by cuts in art education and other programs. Youth are often discouraged from pursuing a degree in the arts. The arguments go something like; “how will you make a living?”, “Be a doctor or lawyer, you’ll make more money.”, “that was fine when you were kid but it’s time to grow up.” I heard these statements when beginning college. I have since discovered that for the most part those statements are true.

So again the question remains, “Why do you create art?” From a purely economic perspective I am wasting my time. I could have been an excellent lawyer, and absolutely could have made a lot more money. As for “growing up,” I simply cannot imagine life without a sense of awe and wonder. The deeper truth is that economic considerations are not necessarily priorities for artists, I know they are not for me.

From my point of view, and I think many artists would agree, the value and importance of creating art cannot be measured in dollars. That is not to say that the people who choose to be artists do not need or desire to make money. Obviously working as professional artist requires income to pay the bills and buy the materials to keep working. But money serves more as a resource that is needed to keep working rather than an end unto itself. The goal is to keep working, keep creating. The economic principles that drive society at large are simply not a part of the equation. 

It is my belief that the work of creating has value in and of itself. Every one of my sculptures is begun with the knowledge that in shear economic terms I’m working for pennies per hour. Yet this work is something that only I can do because it is tied directly to my creativity, and experiences. These traits are common to all creative persons, yet the work that results is unique to each individual. The expression of an artist’s creativity is a rare and valuable thing, and it is shared universally among anyone who pursues any creative endeavor of craft. I think for many artist there is a feeling of responsibility to creating their art; I know there is for me. This is not hubris, but rather the knowledge that this is what I can contribute to our world. There is a very real sense that the work left undone will not be done. In the end the my answer to “Why do you create art?” is not “It’s what I do.” Instead the answer is, “Because it is what I can contribute.”

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